For centuries people have used coins every day. It is not surprising that many coin related phrases and idioms have made it into everyday speech.
Here’s a list of the most common phrases and their meanings. If I forgot any, add a comment below or reach out to me on my Contact Page!
“Nickel and dime”
Meaning: When a person or entity is trying to get all the money they can from a transaction. Often used when something feels expensive, especially when people have no choice but to pay.
Example: If someone is charging a lot for an item you might say “They are nickel and dime-ing me.”
“Squeeze a nickel“
Meaning: Refers to someone holding tightly onto all their coins. Meant to imply that someone is cheap or not willing to spend money.
Example: “My mom only buys thrift store clothes; she sure knows how to squeeze a nickel.”
Similar To: Penny Pinching
“Penny pincher”/”Penny pinching”
Meaning: Someone who holds tightly onto every penny. It is used when someone is being cheap or unwilling to spend money. It is often a criticism.
Example: “Harold’s penny pinching ways paid off when he could finally afford a trip to Disneyland.”
Similar To: Squeeze a nickel
“A penny saved is a penny earned”
Meaning: Saving money is as important as earning money in keeping wealth. This is often used as advice for people who are overspending.
Example: If your friend was working extra shifts to make ends meet, but often spent money eating out you could tell them, “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
“Accept a wooden nickel”
Meaning: This refers to someone being conned. A ‘wooden nickel’ refers to a fake coin. If you accept wooden nickels it means you are easily fooled.
Example: If you lend a friend money and they always promise to, but never pay you back, then you are accepting wooden nickels.
“Chasing nickels around dollar bills”
Meaning: Used when someone is focusing on saving small amounts of money. Oftentimes, it is used when someone is spending money on a big purchase, but frets about smaller expenses.
Example: If your friend buys an expensive dinner, then complains about the cost of a soda at the restaurant, you can say they are chasing nickels around bills.
“Coin a phrase”
Meaning: Honestly, I always thought this was ‘coin OF phrase’. ‘Coin a phrase’ means to invent a new saying or expression. The phrase is usually used sarcastically, when someone is using a very common phrase.
Example: “That test was, to coin a phrase, a piece of cake.”
“Cost a pretty penny”
Meaning: Means that something is expensive.
Example: “By the glittering of the rhinestones, Paige knew Claire must have spent a pretty penny on the dress.”
“Earn an honest penny”
Meaning: When someone earns money in a legitimate way through hard work.
Example: John earned an honest penny by providing medical care to all the elderly residents of the town.
“Heads or tails”
Meaning: Refers to a coin flip.
Example: If you want to challenge someone to make a bet or pick a side you might say “Heads or Tails?”
“Can’t make heads or tails”
Meaning: Refers to someone who can’t understand or figure out something.
Example: “Rhonda couldn’t make heads or tails of the legal jargon on her rent agreement.”
“In for a penny in for a pound”
Meaning: Means that someone can’t be in halfway. Often used to signify someone’s intent to complete something no matter the barrier. (A pound is comparable to a dollar in the US.)
Example: “Although James had already sunk hundreds of dollars into the business, if he was in for a penny he was in for a pound.”
“Penny for your thoughts”
Meaning: Used to say that you will listen to how someone is feeling. Used instead of asking directly how they are feeling.
Example: “You look troubled. Penny for your thoughts?”
“Penny wise, pound foolish”
Meaning: Used to describe someone who is frugal on small purchases, but spends lots on big purchases.
Example: If you buy cheap toilet paper, but drive an expensive sports car, then I would call you ‘penny wise but pound foolish.’ (But I’m not a car person.)
Similar To: “Chasing nickels around dollar bills”
“See a penny, pick it up all day long you’ll have good luck”
Meaning: From an old rhyme promoting the good luck that comes from picking up pennies.
Example: Often chanted when seeing a penny on the ground.
“Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves”
Meaning: This means that someone who gets good at managing small financial transactions will become more financially stable.
Example: If you are saving for a cruise, I may advise looking at your everyday expenses by saying, “Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves.”
(Great advice for someone who is penny wise and pound foolish lol.)
“That and a nickel will… get you a ride on the subway”
Meaning: This phrase is used to call someone’s idea worthless. Most commonly people just shorten the phrase to “that and a nickel.” The idea is that this phrase was invented when a subway ride was actually a nickel. 0 + .05 = .05
Example: “Shannon told me about her new aromatherapy business, I told her, ‘that and a nickel will get you a ride on the subway.'”
“The other side of the coin”
Meaning: Means to look at the other side of things.
Example: “When I complained about how long it took to get my latte this morning, my mom told me to look at the other side of the coin and see how busy the employees were.”
“Pay someone back in their own coin”
Meaning: Seeking revenge by treating someone the same way they treat you.
Example: “When my step mother stopped inviting me to family events, I decided to pay her back in her own coin and didn’t invite her to the baby shower.
Can you think of any other coin idioms and phrases? If you have a better example or definition, share it in the comments below!