Understanding and using idioms is one of the easiest ways to sound like a native English speaker, especially when it comes to idioms about money. Money idioms can be heard at the bank or during budget negotiations, job interviews, and everyday conversations that may not even be about finances.
While these cultural phrases are easily understood by native speakers, language learners may be tripped up by their meaning.
This blog explains why that is and provides you with 20 examples of common English money idioms, along with their actual meaning.
What are idioms about money?
An idiom is a saying or expression that has a meaning that cannot be figured out by looking at the individual words, though their meaning is understood by native speakers. Idiom comes from the ancient Greek word “idioma,” which means “peculiar phraseology.”
There are idioms for just about everything: time, the weather, emotions, and of course, money.
Most idioms about money deal with one’s financial status, though they can also be used to describe a person’s appearance or attitude, and even to express disdain toward someone.
20 idioms about money
To help you understand when and where to use idioms about money, we’ve compiled a list of the most commonly used phrases, their meaning, and examples of how to use these idioms in a sentence.
1 Break the bank
Meaning: To be extremely expensive or spend all of one’s money in one shot.
Example: Joanna struggled to find a car that would last her a while but wouldn’t break the bank.
2 Bring home the bacon
Meaning: Earning a living.
Example: It’s hard work, but someone has to bring home the bacon.
3 Time is money
Meaning: Time is a valuable resource. Used to emphasize that time is not a free commodity.
Example: Why are we sitting around doing nothing? Time is money. Let’s get to work!
4 A penny saved is a penny earned
Meaning: Meant to encourage people to save money, specifically through a savings or investment account. May also be used to describe money-saving practices in the workplace.
Example: You should invest in a retirement plan. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned.
5 Born with a silver spoon in your mouth
Meaning: Used to describe someone who comes from a wealthy family, and is typically used to show resentment or disdain.
Example: They’re not sitting with us in economy class. They were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, so they only fly first class.
6 Fork over
Meaning: To hand over a large sum of money, usually begrudgingly.
Example: I had to fork over $500 just to get my car out of the towing impound.
7 Looks/feels like a million bucks
Meaning: A phrase that means someone either looks really good or is in a good mood.
Example: Did you see her new hairstyle? She looks like a million bucks.
Example: I slept great. I feel like a million bucks.
8 Go Dutch
Meaning: To split a cost evenly between two people.
Example: If you’re unsure who’s paying for the date, you should just go Dutch.
9 Gravy train
Meaning: A job that pays a lot of money for minimal effort.
Example: I’m riding the gravy train with this job; all I do is sit at a desk and watch movies, and I’m making $40 an hour.
10 Cash cow
Meaning: A business venture that is easy to operate and generates a lot of revenue.
Example: Ticketmaster knew that implementing new fees would be a cash cow for their business.
11 Money doesn’t grow on trees
Meaning: Used to remind someone that money is limited and shouldn’t be spent carelessly.
Example: We’re not going back to the mall—money doesn’t grow on trees!
12 Money talks
Meaning: Describes how money can be used to influence an individual or entity.
Example: The executive wasn’t worried about their critics in Congress. After all, money talks.
13 Balance the books
Meaning: To ensure that money spent (expenses) doesn’t exceed money brought in (revenue). Can be used when discussing personal or business finances.
Example: Our accountant helps us balance the books at the end of the fiscal year.
14 Cook the books
Meaning: To manipulate financial data through unethical or illegal accounting practices to make it seem as if you have more money than you actually have.
Example: Shareholders were shocked when they found out the company had been cooking the books and was in serious debt.
15 Pick up the tab
Meaning: To pay for something.
Example: Put your card away; I’ll pick up the tab this time.
16 Save for a rainy day
Meaning: To put money aside in case of an emergency, such as losing your job or a major medical expense.
Example: They could’ve used their bonus to buy a new motorcycle, but they decided to save it for a rainy day instead.
17 Highway robbery
Meaning: Being charged an extremely high price for something.
Example: You want $12 for a beer? That’s highway robbery.
18 Quick buck
Meaning: Money made in a short period of time.
Example: You can make a quick buck by selling bottled water to people in line for the show.
19 Flat broke
Meaning: To have very little or no money.
Example: I can’t even afford fast food—I’m flat broke.
20 Tighten your belt
Meaning: To spend less money or to live frugally.
Example: With no signs of inflation slowing down, the company is going to have to tighten its belt to avoid any money problems.