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20 Money Idioms Explained to ESL Students

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Kerlyn is a Filipina writer who has studied English. She wants to share her insights with new learners.

Read on to learn about 20 idioms related to money in English. Geared for ESL students, this article will help all learners improve their understanding of the English language.

Read on to learn about 20 idioms related to money in English. Geared for ESL students, this article will help all learners improve their understanding of the English language.

What Is an Idiom?

Idioms definitely make up one of the most difficult English topics for English as a Second Language (ESL) students. This is because ESL learners often cannot easily understand idioms or idiomatic expressions. The reason for this is that the meanings of idioms are far removed from their literal definitions.

To make things more complicated for ESL learners, idioms are very common in the English language. It is said that there are more or less 25,000 idioms in English.

This article covers just 20 of the most common idioms that refer to money. There are many more out there, but this is a good start. ESL students may want to take time to understand and remember these idioms because they are very commonly used when people talk about money.

20 Common English Idioms About Money

This is a brief overview of the 20 English money idioms covered in this article.


1. Born with a silver spoon in one's mouth

11. Keep the wolf from the door

2. Bread and butter

12. Live hand to mouth

3. Break the bank

13. Pay a king's ransom and pay an arm and a leg

4. Bring home the bacon

14. Penny pincher

5. Cash in one's chips

15. Penny-wise and/but pound-foolish

6. Foot the bill

16. Pick up the tab/check

7. From rags to riches

17. Pour money down the drain

8. A run for one's money

18. Put in one's two cents

9. Have sticky fingers

19. Put one's money where one's mouth is

10. Head over heels in debt

20. Take a beating

1. Born With A Silver Spoon in One's Mouth

The idiom born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth means to be born rich. People born with a silver spoon in their mouths are usually children of wealthy parents who can give their kids comfortable lives.


She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. By the time she was born, her parents were already self-made millionaires.

2. Bread and Butter

The idiom bread and butter refers to one’s source of income. A person makes bread and butter with their jobs, businesses or other sources of earnings.


Writing is her bread and butter. She feeds and sends her kid to school with her earnings from writing online.

3. Break the Bank

An idiom that can mean to use up all of one’s money is break the bank. This idiom can also mean to win all the money at a gambling table.


The mother broke the bank by using up all her money in luckless gambling.

4. Bring Home the Bacon

Bring home the bacon is an idiom that stands for earning a salary. This idiom specifically suggests that the salary would be used to support a family.


I work on weekends and holidays to bring home the bacon.

5. Cash in One’s Chips

The idiom cash in one’s chips implies selling something. This idiom particularly states that the proceeds from the sale would be used for another thing.

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Footloose, he cashed in his chips and went on a world tour.

6. Foot the Bill

Foot the bill is an idiom that means to pay the bill or the fees.


I will help my daughter foot the bill for her college education.

7. From Rags to Riches

The idiom from rags to riches describes a person's rise from poverty to prosperity.


She went from rags to riches purely through hard work and focus.

8. A Run for One’s Money

The idiom a run for one’s money denotes receiving or giving a person or organization close competition. This idiom can also mean getting what one rightfully deserves.


Our big company is getting a run for its money from the small-sized yet innovative competitor.

9. Have Sticky Fingers

To have sticky fingers is an idiom that means to be a shoplifter, pickpocket or thief.


Keep an eye on your belongings—he has sticky fingers and might steal your things when you’re not looking.

10. Head Over Heels in Debt

When somebody is described with the idiom head over heels in debt, then they owe a lot of money or are saddled with debt.


She was head over heels in debt after losing her job and remaining unemployed for a few months.

11. Keep the Wolf From the Door

The idiom keep the wolf from the door connotes having just enough money to support basic needs. This idiom also suggests that the money cannot cover excesses or luxuries.


While my job pays a salary that is just enough to keep the wolf from the door, I am still thankful I have it.

12. Live Hand to Mouth

To live hand to mouth is an idiom that insinuates living on very little money. It usually connotes that one's pay is completely gone by the time the next payday comes around.


We have to live hand to mouth to make it through these tough times.

13. Pay a King’s Ransom and Pay an Arm and a Leg

The idiomatic expressions pay a king’s ransom and pay an arm and a leg both mean to pay dearly for something. It implies that the cost of something is very high, so much so that it is unreasonable.


I paid an arm and a leg to throw her a great party but it was worth it. She had tons of fun!

14. Penny Pincher

The idiom penny pincher refers to someone who is overly conscious about money, even very small amounts of money.


My brother is a penny pincher. He never wants to spend anything on fun activities for his family.

15. Penny-wise and/but Pound-foolish

Penny-wise and/but pound-foolish is an idiom that is similar to but different from the last idiom, penny pincher. This idiom describes someone who is careful in handling small amounts of money, but careless when dealing with large amounts.


The old man is penny-wise and pound-foolish. He scrimps on food but indulges in traveling.

16. Pick Up the Tab/Check

Pick up the tab/check is an idiom that is similar to foot the bill. This idiom means to pay for a bill or expense.


He picked up the tab for tonight’s dinner since he just got promoted and his paycheck will be raised three-fold.

17. Pour Money Down the Drain

The idiom pour money down the drain connotes misusing or throwing away money.


Our company has poured money down the drain by investing in the bankrupt firm.

18. Put in One’s Two Cents

To put in one’s two cents is to give one’s comments. This idiom is often used to state that the comments are only a personal opinion.


I would like to put in my two cents during the discussions.

19. Put One’s Money Where One’s 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 about something and to actually start acting on their words.


I have to put my money where my mouth is and start building this business I have always talked about with my friends.

20. Take a Beating

The idiom take a beating means to lose a considerable amount of money.


We took a beating during the times we were unemployed. Now, we’ve learned to save enough money to cover hard times.

Money Idioms in English

© 2011 kerlynb


Ahmad on January 23, 2020:

Hello thanks for sharing the INFO and I have got a question ,what is the idiom for to spend more money that I earn or I can afford .


Tural Rustamov on August 01, 2019:

Thanks a lot from Azerbaijan.

¿Que? on June 03, 2019:

English is weird

Smile on February 13, 2019:

Many thanks

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on November 02, 2011:

@SimpleGiftsofLove Hello! Thanks for visiting my hub :) Really appreciate your comment.

SimpleGiftsofLove from Colorado on November 02, 2011:

Great hub, the English language is difficult to figure out, and we could make it easier for others to understand. You explained them well, another great piece! Have a lovely day.

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on November 02, 2011:

@Hubertsvoice Thank you so much! I learned a new definition from you :)

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on November 02, 2011:

@smahillah Hello! Thanks for stopping by my hub. Oh, I am still learning my idioms. I can't say I know them all. I think the best way to learn them is to study at least five idioms each day :)

smahillah from indonesia on November 01, 2011:

I like your article,that's very useful for me as a learner.really, I have trouble in idiomatic expression,give me your trick how to learn idiomatic expression.thank so much before

Hubertsvoice on November 01, 2011:

Very good. If I might add my two cents worth,

The idiom cash in one’s chips implies selling something. This idiom particularly states that the proceeds from the sale would be used for another thing. It also means to die. Example: Old Elmer cashed in his chips with that last illness.

kerlynb (author) from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on November 01, 2011:

@asmaiftikha You are so welcome :) Love reading your comments. Thank you so much!

asmaiftikhar from Pakistan on November 01, 2011:

Thanks a lot kerlynab for sharing this ,i get a lot from your hubs related to english language.keep benefiting the people like this .with love and a lot prayers.thanks dear.

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