skip to main content

See the results of our 2022 Personal Finance Study!

200 Money Idioms Explained

Samantha Rose
Samantha Rose is a personal finance writer covering financial literacy for OppU. Her work focuses on providing hands-on resources for high school and college-age students in addition to their parents and educators.
Read time: 22 min
Updated on December 21, 2022
Bang for your buck? We’ve got a list of money sayings that you can take to the bank.

1. A day late and a dollar short

This is another way to say, “too little, too late.” When someone is a day late and a dollar short, they have missed an opportunity because of tardiness and because they haven’t put in the effort.

2. A fool and his money are soon parted

If someone acts foolishly or unwisely with their finances, then they will soon lose their money. This phrase is best used to describe gamblers and risk-takers with bad luck.

3. A light purse is a heavy curse

For those without a lot of money (those in poverty), life is incredibly difficult. To have a light purse means to have a wallet that is lacking in coins and bills.

4. A penny saved is a penny earned

This common phrase is used to encourage people to save money. It’s as useful to save money that someone already has as it is to earn more money. Money spent is gone forever.

5. All that glitters is not gold

Appearances, no matter how lovely and sparkly, can be deceptive. A deal or opportunity that looks or sounds valuable may actually be worthless. If it’s too good to be true, than it probably is.

6. Almighty dollar

The “almighty dollar” is more important than anything else. At least that’s what people who use this idiom often think. They view money as a representation of prosperity, success, and a vehicle to wealth.

7. Ante up

To pay money owed on a good or service. In poker, an ante up is a request for players to put their antes, or starting bets, into the collective jackpot.

8. As phony as a $3 bill

A person, thing, or situation that is fake and not genuine. Since $3 bills haven’t been printed since the 1800s, they aren’t considered real money with any value.

9. As poor as a church mouse

To be very poor to the point of starvation or begging. This idiom is an alteration of “as hungry as a church mouse,” and came from the idea that priests meticulously prevent any crumb of the sacrament of Eucharist from falling to the ground, meaning that church mice couldn’t eat the crumbs.

10. As sound as a dollar

To be very secure and dependable like a dollar bill. Money is always reliable; worthy of being exchanged for goods and services.

11. At a premium

A premium is a costlier, more valuable alternative. When compared to the original, an item or service purchased at a premium was bought at a higher price than usual because of a special reason.

12. At all costs

At any expense of time, money, or effort; someone would figuratively spend all of their money in order to achieve or get this thing.

13. At the drop of a dime

Think about how quickly it would take a dime to fall from your pocket to the ground. If you do something “at the drop of a dime” you are doing it very quickly; instantaneously.

14. Back on your feet

After a devastating financial setback or loss, someone gets “back on their feet” by returning to good financial health.

15. Balance the books

To make sure that all money is accounted for by taking stock of the financial accounts.

16. Bang for your buck

To get the value for your money.

17. Below par

To be priced lower than average or less than the face value; that which is subpar.

18. Bet on the wrong horse

To base your plans on a wrong guess about the results of something, similar to betting on a losing horse at the races.

19. Bet your bottom dollar

To bet all that you have on something because you’re sure that you’ll win. To go all in during poker or a similar betting game.

20. Beyond your means

More than you can afford. To live beyond your means is to live outside of your wealth bracket.

21. Big bucks 

Used to describe a person who makes a lot of money. “Big” is used as a quantity, similar to “many” in this context.

22. Blank check

To write someone a blank check with unlimited funding, no constraints, and complete freedom of control.

23. Born with a silver spoon in your mouth

To be born rich in the lap of luxury, wealth, and comfort. People born with a silver spoon in their mouth are often the children of wealthy parents.

24. Bottom dollar

The last dollar. When someone spends all of their money and has only a single dollar bill left, it’s considered their bottom dollar.

25. Bread and butter

The source of a household’s income; how they pay for food. People make “bread and butter” with their job, businesses, or other source of income.

26. Breadwinner

Someone who works hard to earn money for their family. Often this person is the sole or primary earner in a household.

27. Break the bank

To use up all of the money in a bank account. It can also mean to win the whole pot of money at a gambling table.

28. Break even

When income is equal to expenses. There is no profit or loss.

29. Bring home the bacon

To earn a family’s livelihood by bringing home a salary.

30. Burn a hole in your pocket

To influence someone to spend money quickly. Spending on unnecessary purchases for instant gratification, because the money was burning to get out of your pocket.

31. Buy someone off

To try to persuade someone with a financial bribe in order to stop them from doing their duty.

32. By check

To pay for something by writing the individual or company a physical check.

33. Cash-and-carry

Selling something, but only if the buyer can pick it up (no delivery) and pay cash.

34. Cash cow

A descriptor of a business or product that generates a continuous flow of income.

35. Cash in

To exchange coupons or bonds for their equivalent value in money.

36. Cash in on

To make money from an opportunity–one that is successful and fruitful.

37. Cash in your chips 

This idiom implies to sell something with the intent of using its proceeds to go towards something else. Typically a person will “cash in their chips” to get the best deal when they suspect the value is about to fall.

38. Cash in the barrelhead 

When an item is paid for in cash. This idiom comes from the custom of customers paying for their drinks by leaving money on the top or head of a barrel (used as tables in bars).

39. Caught short

Not having enough money to pay for something.

40. Cheapskate

A stingy person who doesn’t like to spend money.

41. Chicken feed

Chicken feed is food for poultry that is made up of small cereal grains. As such, chicken feed means a small amount of money.

42. Chip in

When multiple people pay jointly or contribute money toward a purchase.

43. Clean up

To make a huge profit, especially when gambling or taking part in another high-stakes venture.

44. Close-fisted

Someone who is so stingy with money that they keep their fist closed around the cash.

45. Cold hard cash

Physical cash made up of coins and bills. A hyperbolic idiom that suggests money in its physical form instead of stored in a bank or electronically.

46. Color of their money

Making sure that someone has enough money to buy something. Also, the amount of money available.

47. Control the purse strings

The person who is in charge of the money in a business or in a household is said to “control the purse strings.” This suggests they are in charge of managing the family’s finances.

48. Cook the books

To illegally change information in a business’ accounting books. This could look like writing down false numbers to hide the true profit or expenses.

49. Cost a pretty penny

When something “costs a pretty penny,” it costs a lot of money.

50. Cost an arm and a leg

When something “costs an arm and a leg,’” it costs so much money that it is likened to losing a body part. Someone might have to sell their limbs in order to be able to afford this thing.

51. Cut your losses 

Abandoning a plan or a project that is obviously going to be unsuccessful before more money is lost or the circumstances become worse.

52. Cut a check

To write a check. This can also apply to when a company digitally prints a check for someone.

53. Cut off

When someone stops giving another person a regular amount of money. Often, this means a parent will leave their beneficiaries without money in a will or an inheritance, or stop paying money for an allowance.

54. Cut-rate

An item that is on sale at an unusually low or reduced price.

55. Deadbeat

Someone who doesn’t pay up the money they owe to someone else. Someone who can’t be trusted with money or is considered lazy and unmotivated.

56. Daylight robbery 

An obviously unfair overcharge;a rip-off. When someone has been overcharged for a purchase or is underpaid in their job.

57. Dime a dozen 

Something that is common and easy to get, and is therefore, of little value. An item that is in high supply and low demand.

58. Dirt cheap

To be low in price or unbelievably inexpensive.

59. Dollar for dollar

To consider multiple options based on their cost. This is often done in comparison shopping.

60. Dollars for doughnuts

Something that is certain or a sure bet.

61. Don’t take any wooden nickels

This idiom is advice to warn people of avoiding being cheated or ripped off. They should avoid taking “wooden nickels” or fake money in exchange for something else.

62. Down-and-out

Someone who is in a bad situation because they’ve lost all of their money.

63. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise

An idiom suggesting that someone who goes to bed early will sleep well and be able to wake up early in the morning. This will make them physically, financially, and mentally healthy.

64. Earn a living 

To make enough income to live comfortably and pay necessary expenses.

65. Easy money

Money that doesn’t require a lot of effort to acquire.

66. Fast buck

Money that can be earned quickly and easily. It can also be money that is earned dishonestly or illegally.

67. Feel the pinch

When someone “feels the pinch,” they are experiencing financial hardship. They will have to pinch their pennies, or save more than they spend, in order to make it through their rough financial situation.

68. Feel like a million dollars/bucks

Someone who feels wonderful, as if they won $1 million dollars. They feel healthy and prosperous.

69. Flat broke

To have absolutely no money.

70. Float a loan

To arrange for a loan from an individual or a company to get through a hard time.

71. Fool’s gold

Something that is mistakenly believed to be full of potential. “Fool’s Gold” is the name given to iron pyrites, which deceptively look like gold, but actually hold little to no value.

72. Foot the bill

When someone pays for everyone’s expenses or covers the cost of a bill/invoice..

73. For peanuts

To work for very little money that is valued below the cost of labor.

74. Fork out/fork over

To pay for something by putting forward money.

75. Free and clear

To own something outright and without owing any money on it.

76. From rags to riches

An idiom that means going from poverty to prosperity.

77. Front money

Money paid in advance of receiving something in exchange.

78. Get a run for your money

An idiom that means receiving a challenge or getting what is rightfully deserved.

79. Get along on a shoestring

To be able to live on a little bit of money by budgeting and limiting wants.

80. Get off scot-free

To escape a fee or punishment for a crime.

81. Get Your money’s worth

To get everything that you paid for, sometimes getting even more than its true value.

82. Give someone a run for their money

To give someone a challenge or what they deserve.

83. Go broke/go bust

To become bankrupt and lose all of your money.

84. Go dutch

A situation where each person pays his or her own share of the expenses, especially splitting the cost of a meal on a first date.

85. Going rate

The current rate of what something is worth.

86. Golden handshake

A payment made to a departing employee. When an employee, usually in upper management, is laid off or retires early and is given a large amount of money as severance pay.

87. Gravy train

A job that pays more than it’s worth. Suggests money that is made easily.

88. Grease their palm

To pay for a special favor, typically an illegal bribe.

89. Hard up

To be in a hard financial situation without a lot of money.

90. Have money to burn/burning a hole in your pocket

To have money that you are eager to spend on frivolous things.

91. Have sticky fingers

To be a shoplifter, pickpocket, or a thief.

92. Have the midas touch

To have the ability to make money easily. A reference to the Greek myth of King Midas, who turned everything that he touched into gold.

93. Have the penny drop

When someone finally realizes or understands something.

94. He who pays the piper calls the tune

An idiom meaning that a person who provides the money should have a say about how it is spent.

95. Head over heels in debt

When somebody owes a large amount of money or is burdened with debt.

96. Heads or tales

The face of a coin or the other side of the coin. To have to choose one of two options and decide by flipping a coin.

97. Heavy money

To have a lot of money.

98. Highway robbery

To charge a high price for something beyond what it’s worth. An excessive profit or advantage from a financial transaction. Likened to a robbery committed near public travel routes on travelers, especially in the past (like pirates or cowboys).

99. Hit the jackpot

To make a lot of money very suddenly, such as the jackpot in gambling.

100. Hush money

An illegal money bribe given to someone to keep them quiet.

101. I don’t have two nickels/pennies to rub together

The person who says this is implying they don’t have money right now or are very poor.

102. If I had $1 million dollars

A 90’s folk rock song by Canadian group Barenaked Ladies. People say this to talk about how they would spend their money if they had a lot of it.

103. If I had a nickel for every time that happened, I would be rich

This situation or thing happens often enough that the person would be rich if they were paid each time it happens.

104. Ill-gotten gains

Money acquired in a dishonest or illegal way.

105. In for a penny, in for a pound

Someone who is committed to seeing an undertaking through to the end no matter how much money, time, or effort it requires.

106. In kind

Paying for something in goods or services instead of money.

107. In the black

To be profitable and make a lot of money.

108. In the hole

To be in serious debt.

109. In the money

To suddenly become wealthy.

110. In the red

To lose money and become in debt.

111. It’s a steal

When something is described as a steal, it’s a bargain that is discounted and lower than its true value.

112. Jack up the price

To raise the price of something above its actual value.

113. Keep our heads above water

To keep up with work or responsibilities in order to survive financially—but just barely.

114. Keep the wolf from the door

The idiom means having money that is enough to support basic needs, but can’t cover wants and luxuries.

115. Kickback

Money paid illegally in exchange for favorable treatment.

116. Let the buyer beware

A warning to a buyer that they should check and make sure their purchase is in good condition without any problems.

117. Live beyond your means

To spend more money than you can afford; living outside of your actual lifestyle or the lifestyle that you can afford.

118. Live from hand to mouth

To live “from hand to mouth” means to live on very little money. This person spends their income immediately on basic living expenses and doesn’t have a savings account.

119. Live within your means

To live reasonably within what you can afford with no additional money for unnecessary purchases.

120. Loaded

Someone who is wealthy with metaphorical bags of money.

121. Lose money hand over fist

To lose a lot of money quickly.

122. Mad money

Money meant to be wasted on entertainment.

123. Make a buck

To make money. A buck is another name for a dollar bill.

124. Make a killing

To make a large amount of money.

125. Make an honest buck

Someone who works a job and has a simple life. They make their money in an honest way and not through unscrupulous means.

126. Make ends meet

To have enough money to pay bills and other expenses.

127. Mint condition

An item in mint condition is in perfect condition despite its age.

128. Money doesn’t grow on trees

A popular idiom that means money isn’t easy to acquire, because it doesn’t simply grow on trees. In reality, money is earned through hard work. The lesson is that money is valuable and people should be careful not to waste it.

129. Money grubber

Someone who is stingy and doesn’t like to spend money.

130. Money is no object

It doesn’t matter how much something costs, because this person has enough money to pay for it.

131. Money is the root of all evil

Money is to blame for the problems and wrongdoings in this world.

132. Money talks

Money gives people the power to get or do whatever they want, because it can influence a situation. Basically, money speaks volumes.

133. Monopoly money

Money that has little to no value. It is likened to the fake play money in the game of Monopoly.

134. Nest egg

Money that has been meticulously saved over time, often for a retirement fund. A nest egg is intended to provide security for the future.

135. Nickel and dime

To charge someone small amounts of money repeatedly, which eventually total a large sum over time. Often, the person being charged doesn’t realize how the money adds up over time.

136. Not for love nor money

Not for anything–not love nor money.

137. Not made of money

This idiom has a negative connotation to refer to someone, often a working class person, who doesn’t have a lot of money or enough money to pay for luxuries.

138. On the house

Paid for by the owner of a business so that it is free for the buyer.

139. On the money

To be right about someone or something. When someone has the right idea, time, place, or amount.

140. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

What is worthless trash to one person may be a valuable treasure to someone else.

141. Other side of the coin

When referencing the “other side of the coin,” someone means the exact opposite of the situation or subject. Every coin has two sides–heads and tails. Every situation also has two sides.

142. Out-of-pocket expenses

The actual amount of money that needs to be paid. Often used when referring to the portion of a bill a person pays for medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance.

143. Pass the buck

To force another person to make a decision, or to put the responsibility or blame on them.

144. Pass the hat

To pass around a hat for people to put money into in order to collect and raise funds for a cause.

145. Pay a king’s ransom/pay an arm and a leg

To pay dearly for something. The amount paid is unreasonably high.

146. Pay the piper

To face the results of your actions with a punishment.

147. Pay through the nose

To pay a very high price–most likely too much.

148. Pay top dollar

To pay a lot of money for something that is worth it.

149. Pay up

Money due immediately to pay for something that was purchased earlier. This might be money that was borrowed from someone who has come to collect.

150. Pay your own way

To support your lifestyle with your own money because you are financially independent.

151. Paycheck to paycheck

When someone lives paycheck to paycheck, they are unable to meet financial obligations outside of their regular income. They are devoting their entire paycheck to expenses instead of savings, so would be ill-prepared for an emergency cost.

152. Pennies from heaven

Money that wasn’t expected. It’s a miracle.

153. Penny for your thoughts

A request that asks someone what they are thinking. Share your thoughts in exchange for a penny.

154. Penny pincher

A penny pincher is someone who is frugal about their money, even small amounts. They are overly cautious to the point of excessiveness.

155. Penny-wise and pound foolish

Being careful when handling small amounts of money, but careless when managing large amounts of money. This person can be either thrifty or wasteful depending on the quantity of money.

156. Pick up the tab/check

To pay for the entire bill or the whole expense.

157. Play the market

To invest in the stock market and view it as a game with a clear winner and loser. Someone who plays the market is ready to test their luck.

158. Pony up

To pay someone the money they are owed.

159. Pour money down the drain

When someone misuses or throws around money without thought, they might as well just pour it down the drain into the garbage. This money is wasted.

160. Put in your 2 cents

To put in your 2 cents is to give your comments or advice in a matter. This idiom is used to mean that the comments given are a personal opinion.

161. Put Your money where your mouth is

When a person is asked to put one’s money where one’s mouth is, then that person is challenged to stop talking and start doing.

162. Quick buck

Money that was made quickly and easily.

163. Rain check

When someone misses or can’t make an appointment, but promises to reschedule at a later date and time. Presumably, the rain canceled their plans so they grabbed the check and left.

164. Rake in the money

To make a lot of money.

165. Red cent

A small amount of money.

166. Rolling in money

To metaphorically frolic in a large pile of money.

167. Shake them down

To blackmail or extort money from someone.

168. Shell out

To pay money for something.

169. Sitting on a goldmine

To own something very valuable, but not realize that it is.

170. Smart money

The best option in an investment.

171. Sock away

To save or store money.

172. Soft money

Money that can be earned without putting in a lot of effort.

173. Spend a penny

To go to the bathroom.

174. Spent a fortune

To spend a large amount of money.

175. Square accounts

To settle financial accounts with someone.

176. Squirrel away

To save some money by tucking it away like a squirrel with a nut.

177. Stinking rich

When someone is excessively rich to the point that they smell like money.

178. Stone broke

Having absolutely no money.

179. Strapped for cash

To have little or no money available.

180. Strike gold

To find or do something that makes you rich. People who sought gold by digging in gold mines had the opportunity to strike gold and become instantly rich.

181. Strike it rich

To become rich or successful suddenly, basically overnight.

182. Struggle to make ends meet

To have a hard time surviving on your current income.

183. Take a beating

An idiom that means to lose a lot of money is equivalent to taking a beating–not physically, but financially.

184. Take It to the bank

Used to emphasize that a statement is true. A guarantee that something will be successful.

185. Take the money and run

To accept an offer and collect on it before the situation changes and the offer is gone.

186. Take them to the cleaners

Don’t expect to go to the dry cleaners. Instead this idiom means to cheat someone out of their money.

187. Take up a collection

Gathering money or goods from members of a group for charitable purposes.

188. Throw good money after bad

By throwing good money after the bad, you’re not only wasting money, but wasting additional money on the same thing. It’s like doing something twice and hoping your luck will change.

189. Throw money around

To spend a lot of money without fear that it is going to waste. When someone has a large sum of money and buys expensive things within a short time period.

190. Throw money at

To spend a lot of money of a project or venture, often recklessly without thinking about how the money could be better spent.

191. Tidy sum of money

A tidy sum isn’t necessarily referring to organized money. Rather, it’s a large amount of money.

192. Tighten your belt

By tightening your belt, you’re living frugally with less money than normal. People who want to cut down on spending and save their money by living on the cheaper side are said to “tighten their belt.”

193. Time is money

Time is valuable, so don’t waste it. This idiom is a play on the time value of money concept, which states that money available now is worth more than an identical sum in the future due to its potential to earn.

194. To take at face value

Face value is the price printed on a stamp or bond or paper money. In this expression, it means to believe someone’s word or understand them at their literal meaning.

195. Turn up like a bad penny

To show up someplace where you’re not wanted. A bad penny is counterfeit and damaged, so a person likened to one is disreputable, unpleasant, or unwanted.

196. Two cents

A phrase used to preface an opinion on an issue. The longer phrase “put my 2 cents in” is taken from the English idiom “to put in my two-penny worth.”

197. Two sides of the same coin

Every coin has two sides–heads and tails. “Two sides of the same coin” means to see two people or things with opposing views. While they are closely related, they still seem very different.

198. Up the ante

To increase demands or the amount spent for something. In poker, the ante is the amount of money each player puts on the table before starting a round, so upping the ante is increasing the amount that everyone must buy in, or spend.

199. Worth its weight in gold

To be literally worth your weight in gold is quite valuable, since an ounce of gold is equivalent to about $1,400 USD. Someone or something that is so valuable and useful that life would be difficult without.

200. Worth your salt

Salt has long been considered valuable, primarily in the early preservation of food. To be “worth your salt” is to be worth the value you are paid in a job or profession.

California Residents, view the California Disclosures and Privacy Policy for info on what we collect about you.