Money Idioms, sayings and phrases

Learn these money idioms to sound smarter, richer and maybe even better looking. Maybe.
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What is an idiom? 

An idiom is a figure of speech that helps you to describe a situation without using the literal vocabulary.  It’s a great way to add colour and interest to your language and to sound more natural when speaking English.  You can find out more in our article: What is an idiom? Where you can also see our 50 common idioms. 

Idioms related to money

We’re going to look at 20 or so English idioms related to money. These are all common money phrases, so you may have already heard them in conversational English. There are many more which are not on this list so if you can think of one not mentioned, write it down for future reference.  These idioms often relate to being broke or, conversely, being “in the money”.  

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Ways to say money

Phrases related to money can include money idioms, coin idioms, cash idioms, broke idioms, accounting idioms.  Let’s look at a few ways to say money to help build some money vocabulary first, before we look at some common money sayings: 

Money synonyms: Money, cash, bucks, quid, wonga, dosh, bread, chips, dough, currency.

Right, let’s dive into some funny money sayings.

Idioms about saving money and wealth phrases

These idioms about saving money, where money comes from and wealth phrases are three very common sayings that you will find regularly used in English.

Money doesn’t grow on trees.

This is a saying that means money is not easy to acquire. It doesn’t grow on trees. You often hear parents saying this to their children when they ask for something expensive.

To earn a living

To make enough money to live on. For example: “He earns a living by selling his art.”

From rags to riches

From poverty to wealth. We hear this saying about celebrities who came from poor backgrounds but now have lots of money so they are wealthy.

Idioms about spending money

To spend a penny

This is an interesting one because it means something very different to what you’d expect. ‘To spend a penny’ means to go to the toilet. It’s a very British, polite way of saying it. “Excuse me, I’m just going to spend a penny.” The origin is the now outdated public toilets, which had a coin slot for an old penny to open the door and give access.

 

Costs a pretty penny

If something costs a pretty penny, then it is very expensive.

Phrases about losing money

Daylight robbery

Obvious, unfair overcharging. For example, a cinema selling a can of lemonade for £3 when you could buy it for 70p from the corner shop could be considered daylight robbery.

 

To foot the bill

To pay for something. For example: “It’s John’s birthday so I’ll foot the bill” and “He had to foot the bill for repairing the window his son broke”.

To cut one’s losses

To abandon a plan or a project which is clearly going to be unsuccessful before the situation becomes worse. It means that you will accept you have lost any money already spent, but you will not lose any more by continuing.  However, it can be used where the financial loss is not so important.  For example: “It started raining as soon as we went outside for the BBQ so we decided to cut our losses and have a takeaway inside instead.”

 

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Broke idioms

These broke idioms relate to money problems.  If you don’t have any money at all, you are broke.  Let’s look at these phrases related to money, or rather, the lack of it. 

I don’t have two pennies to rub together

This is a colloquial phrase based on not having any money in your pockets.  It means ‘I am very poor, I don’t have much money at all’.

Strapped for cash

To be ‘strapped for cash’ means to be short of money. An example where you might use this phrase is:: “The restaurant looks lovely but I’m a bit strapped for cash at the moment. Could we go somewhere less expensive?”

To feel the pinch

To experience financial hardship. For example: “Christmas is expensive so it is common to feel the pinch in January.”

To be in the money

This usually refers to someone winning a money prize or otherwise getting money..

A quick buck

Money which was easy to make. If you sell something you own very easily, you could say ‘it was a quick buck’ or ‘I made a quick buck’.

Coin idioms

These coin idioms are money phrases related to hard currency.  They are cash idioms that include words like penny and cents, the smallest coin denominations in the UK and US.


To have the penny drop

To finally realise or understand something. For example: “I used to find chemistry really difficult but now the penny has dropped.”

Two cents

Your opinion. You could ‘give your two cents’ or ‘put your two cents in’ and that just means to give your opinion about something.

If I had a penny for every time this happened, I’d be rich.

This phrase is not really about money.  It is used to emphasise something that happens a lot. For example, you could say “If I had a penny for every time you were late, I’d be rich.”

 A penny for your thoughts?

This is a question which means ‘what are you thinking about?’. If someone is quiet and looks thoughtful, you might ask them “a penny for your thoughts?”. In other words, you are interested in what they have to say.

Ten a penny

If something is ‘ten a penny’, it is very common and inexpensive. The Americanised version of this phrase is ‘a dime a dozen’.

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Clever money sayings and funny money phrases

Time is money

This common money saying is often used by supervisors and entrepreneurs when they are trying to look clever and busy.  ‘Let’s not sit around people, time is money!’

To be on the money

To be correct about something or someone. For example, you could say “I had an instinct that we should hire her, and I was on the money”, meaning you made a good choice to hire this person. She was the right choice. It means that if you had made a bet on the outcome, you would have won the bet.

Two sides of the same coin

Two people with a shared goal but opposing views. For example, you could say “I thought we should buy mum flowers but my sister said we should buy her chocolates so we’re on two sides of the same coin.” It can also be used to refer to something which has both good and bad points.

To give someone a run for their money

To be a challenging competitor. If they were running a race, it is difficult to know who would win. For example: “Florence is a good baker but Joe could give her a run for her money.”

Final thoughts on money sayings, idioms and phrases

If you’re trying to use funny money phrases or clever money sayings to sound more natural or advanced when speaking English, these common idioms are a great place to start.  Any native English speaker will be familiar with using them and what they mean.  

You should always follow the usual rule for idioms however: 

  1. Learn a few and practice using them
  2. It’s better to use a few accurately than lots poorly

Have fun using these money idioms in your English speaking practice and if you need more opportunity to speak, check out our Conversation Club Membership. 

You can learn more idioms in these other free English lessons:

30 Animal Idioms

30 Time Idioms

20 Idioms for Working Hard

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