20 Money Idioms Explained to English as a Second Language Learners

Idioms definitely make up one of the most difficult English topics for students of English as a Second Language.

This is because English as a Second Language learners often cannot understand idioms or idiomatic expressions.

Idioms have meanings that are far removed from their literal definitions.

To make things more complicated for English as a Second Language learners, idioms are very common in the English language.

It is said that there are more or less 25,000 idioms in English.

Below are just 20 idioms that refer to money, with so many more out there.

English as a Second Language learners may want to take time to understand and remember these idioms because they are very commonly used when people talk about money.

The idiom born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth means to be born rich. People born with a silver spoon in their mouth 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.

The idiom bread and butter refers to one’s source of income. A person makes bread and butter with his or her 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.

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 and used up all her money in luckless gambling.

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.

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.


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

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


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

An idiom that represents from poverty to prosperity is from rags to riches.


She went from rags to riches with pure hardwork.

The idiom get a run for one’s money denotes receiving a challenge. 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.

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


Keep an eye on your belongings. He has sticky fingers and might get your things when you’re not looking.

When somebody is described with the idiom head over heels in debt, then he or she owes so much money or is saddled with debt.


She became completely broke – head over heels in debt – when she lost her job and remained unemployed for a few months.

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


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

Live from hand to mouth is another idiom that insinuates living on very little money.


We have to live from hand to mouth to last these tough times.

The idiomatic expressions pay a king’s ransom and pay an arm and a leg both mean to pay dearly for something. The amount used to pay for something is very high, somehow unreasonable.


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

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 does not want to spend anything for his family.

Penny-wise and pound foolish is an idiom that may be similar but still different from the previous idiom penny pincher. This idiom means being careful in handling small amounts but careless in dealing with large amounts.


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

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


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

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


Our company has money down the drain with its investments in the bankrupt firm.

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.

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.


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

An idiom that means to lose so much money is take a beating.


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