KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 8: All About the Money

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LESSON 8: All About the Money

 All About the Money- Meja

For the past couple of months, each week we have been examining a dozen or so useful idiomatic expressions that you hear and see all the time in American and British English.  We offer detailed explanations of what each phrase means, give several sample sentences to show you how it us used in various situations, and provide you with useful synonyms and equivalents.  We want to make sure that you understand each and every expression so well that you can put it to good use in your own writing and everyday conversation.

So, what exactly do we mean by “idiom”?  The dictionary defines an idiom as “a combination of words that has a figurative meaning separate from the literal meaning.”  Usually, an idiom’s literal meaning cannot be guessed just by looking at its individual parts.  In other words, the phrase must be learned.  There are an estimated twenty-five thousand idiomatic expressions in the English language.  Most have meanings so “separate from” their literal meanings that unless you know them, they can come across as utter nonsense.  One good example is the popular expression “cash cow.”

No, it’s not what you think: a “cash cow” is NOT an expensive farm animal, although one explanation does place the expression’s origins in the farming industry: Wikipedia reckons that the term stems from “milch” cow, a cow that puts out a steady, reliable supply of milk.  The phrase “cash cow” entered the world of business in 1960 when Peter F. Drucker coined it in his book, The Frontiers of Management.  Today, companies use it to refer to a part of their business—a product or service—that makes a steady, reliable profit and helps to keep the rest of the business afloat.  Moneymaker, money-spinner, golden goose, and meal ticket are related terms, though not all of them are solely about money matters.  These days, “cash cow” (despite its being a bit “slangy”) is an almost ubiquitous term in the business world and in the financial media—and on the entrance exams of many universities’ schools of economics and management—so you should know it.  Here are a couple of examples of how a certain daily newspaper recently used the expression.

A group of international students has accused a British university of treating the students and their “exorbitant, out-of-country tuition payments” as CASH COWS.

Some senior police officers claim that speed cameras are a CASH COW for the city and do not necessarily save lives or deter motorists from speeding. 

A phrasal verb, on the other hand, is an “idiomatic expression made up of a verb and another element such as a particle, preposition, or combination of both.”  In past broadcasts, we looked at some examples of how using the wrong preposition or article can lead to (potentially dangerous or embarrassing) misunderstandings because of subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) differences in meaning.  You can’t usually “make out” what a phrasal verb means just by looking at it.  “Pay in” and “pay off” are two more good examples.

To “pay in” simply means to deposit money into your bank account, as in:

The money the PTA earned from its summer barbecue fundraising event was PAID IN last week, bringing our current balance to £3,200.    

To “pay off,” meanwhile, means to pay the full amount of a debt or loan, either finally or all at once, as in:

If we double our minimum payment, we can PAY OFF our credit-card debt in one year.

Kelly used her rich uncle’s inheritance money to PAY OFF her student loans.

But even more idiomatically, to “pay off” can also mean to succeed at some endeavor.  It has nothing to do with paying money, but is used to talk about a risk that you take or the time that you spend on an activity that eventually “works out” and brings the results you want.  Here’s an example to show you what we mean.

All my hard work and study have PAID OFF.  I just received my acceptance letter from Harvard University!

Some other phrasal verbs with “pay” as the base include “pay back,” “pay up,” “pay out,” “pay down,” and, recently, “pay (it) forward,” all of which have subtly different meanings.  Which means that phrasal verbs, like idiomatic expressions, must be learned—and used carefully.  And for that, you’ve come to the right place.

In last week’s episode, we looked at twelve idioms and phrasal verbs based on the word “make.”  If you missed the lesson, be sure to check it (and any others you may have missed) out on the KA Voicecast website.  Today, as our opening song “All About the Money” by Meja suggests, we will examine twelve idiomatic expressions related either literally or just figuratively to money.  This lesson is available for download in PDF format for your reference.  To test your knowledge before the lesson begins, there is also an activity sheet with a “pre-test” exercise that you can download from our website.  Then, after the podcast, you can go back and check to see how well you did and how much you have “picked up.”  Remember that reviewing and practicing over and over again is the best way to “build up” your English speaking and writing skills.  Hard work will “pay off” in the end.   You can “count on” it.



EASY MONEY is one idiomatic phrase that is an exception to the rule: you can probably figure out what it means just by looking at it.  EASY MONEY is money that comes easy—that you get or earn without much effort.

Leo:                How would you like to make some EASY MONEY?

Lillian:           That’s the best kind.  What did you have in mind?

Leo:                I’ll pay you $50 to clean out my garage this weekend.  It shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours. 

I was told that the job would be EASY MONEY, but looking after three children, even if it’s only for an hour or two after school, is hard work.

Many people think that running a pub is all fun and EASY MONEY, but a recent survey revealed that pub owners in the U.K. earn even less than primary-school teachers and are the least happy on a list of more than 270 professions. 




ON THE MONEY (often preceded by “right”) is one of today’s expressions that sounds as if it’s about money and money only, so you may be surprised to learn that it usually has nothing to do with money. ON THE MONEY just means exactly or precisely.  On the button, on the nose, on the dot, and dead on are other common idiomatic expressions that mean much the same thing but that are used to describe or talk about different situations or needs, as you will see in the examples below.

That’s a great answer, Ellie.  I think you’re right ON THE MONEY.  Most of us have never looked at anti-child-labor laws from that perspective.

George:          I just knew they would find the missing airplane somewhere near Australia. 

Elaine:            Well, you were right ON THE MONEY with that theory, George.

You were right ON THE MONEY about The Shawshank Redemption, Mom.  I loved it.  What do you recommend I watch next?

One TV political analyst estimated that the president would win 62.5 % of the popular vote, and he was right ON THE NOSE (BUTTON).

Emma:           I’m having a surprise birthday party for Steve on Friday evening.  Can you come?

Jasper:           Yes, of course.  I look forward to it.  

Emma:           Steve always gets home at 7:30 ON THE DOT, so make sure you’re at our house by 7:15 at the latest.



You might think that to BRING HOME THE BACON means to go to the store, buy some bacon, and bring it home.  And you would be right—literally speaking.  So how then does this expression relate to money? TO BRING HOME THE BACON is a historical reference to a 12th-century contest in England where the winner was awarded a side of bacon, which at the time was a very valuable prize.  But nowadays, to BRING HOME THE BACON is used figuratively to mean to earn a salary—to bring home money earned at a job.   The member of the family who BRINGS HOME THE BACON is often called the “breadwinner.”

Adam:             I’ve heard you’ve gone back to work, Lisa.

Lisa:               Well, with Chris off work with a back injury, someone has to BRING HOME THE BACON.

Teresa BROUGHT HOME THE BACON for five years while Martin went to medical school to become a surgeon.  But now that he’s the breadwinner, she has gone back to university to study law. 

With the cost of groceries rising by as much as 4% a year, consumers will need to BRING HOME a lot more BACON to make ends meet.

You might also see BRING HOME THE BACON used very informally (most often by sports writers) to mean to do something successfully, especially to win a game or a race.

The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl last season, but will they BRING HOME THE BACON again this year?

In last weekend’s game, the Trojans were up against one of the strongest teams in the league, and though they put up a good fight, unfortunately, they weren’t able to BRING HOME THE BACON. 

Just for the record, “bacon” has been a slang term for a person’s body since around the 17th century, as exemplified by the phrase “to save your bacon,” which means to escape bodily harm or injury.  Other “meat”-related expressions that you might come across are “to give someone the cold shoulder,” which means to shun, avoid, or be indifferent to, and “chew the fat,” to chat or gossip.




Many English expressions include the words death, die, and kill: “starve to death” (to be very hungry) “die laughing” (laugh long and hard) and “kill the audience” (make the audience die laughing) are some good examples.  The expression to MAKE A KILLING is another.  It simply means to make a lot of money.  Rake it in, clean up, strike gold, and laugh all the way to the bank are related informal idiomatic expressions.

Oscar and Wendy had a plot of land next to the highway that they held off selling to developers for nearly a year.  But when they finally did agree to sell, they MADE A KILLING.

Daniel:           How’s your new job, Louise?  I’ve heard you’re doing very well for yourself.  

Louise:           I’m not exactly MAKING A KILLING, but I earn a lot more now than I did in my old job.

Matt got lucky and MADE A KILLING at the racetracks last weekend.  I heard he is buying a new car with the money he won.

Yolinda:         This new app you’ve developed has the potential to MAKE A KILLING, if you market it properly.

Walter:          That’s exactly what I’m counting on you to help me do, Yolinda.




To CASH IN ON something means to make money from an opportunity or to take advantage of some asset, sometimes in an unfair way. Similar expressions include capitalize on, benefit from, and profit from.

Travel and holiday companies have been CASHING IN ON families with school-aged children who can only take vacations during school holidays.  But now, nearly 170,000 people have signed an e-petition asking their MPs to do put an end to this unfair practice.

In my book, criminals should not be allowed to CASH IN ON their crimes by selling their stories to television and newspapers, unless, of course, all the money goes to a charity of some kind. 

These photos you took of your trip around India are fantastic, Gina.   You should CASH IN ON your talent and use them to put together a coffee-table book.




One explanation of the expression to PUT IN YOUR TWO CENTS’ WORTH (or its shorter version, PUT IN YOUR TWO CENTS), meaning to give your opinion on something, dates from the late nineteenth century when the cost of postage was two cents an ounce.  So to PUT IN ONE’S TWO CENTS’ WORTH IN possibly referred to what it cost to mail in a letter to the editor of a newspaper or to a person in a position of authority.  Today, the expression is used to mean to state your views during a conversation—whether your input is wanted or not.  In the U.K., to put in one’s two pence and to put in one’s two bob mean much the same thing.   The phrase is often altered slightly by changing the verb: you can also GIVE IN, THROW (TOSS) IN, or ADD YOUR TWO CENTS’ WORTH to a conversation.

Jordan:         Kylie as usual PUT IN HER TWO CENTS’ WORTH, which the manager just dismissed with a wave of his hand.

Meg:                That wasn’t nice of him, but I can understand why.  What she says often doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Why don’t you PUT IN YOUR TWO CENTS, John?  Why should I have to make all the decisions for the family?

Teacher:        Excuse me, but may I ADD MY TWO CENTS? 

Principal:      Go right ahead.

Teacher:        Rather than ordering textbooks from some publisher, why don’t we create our own text material, since we know best what our students need and like?

I think Harriet THROWS (TOSSES) IN HER TWO CENTS just to aggravate me and to try to embarrass me in front of my staff.




When you work FOR PEANUTS, you work or do something for very little pay.  One explanation for why we say FOR PEANUTS may be linked to circus elephants.  Performing pachyderms, of course, don’t get paid when they do well; their trainers reward them with food, often peanuts.  To work for next to nothing and to work for chickenfeed are similar expressions.

Lane:              Why should you work FOR PEANUTS when everyone else is earning a decent salary?

Judith:            I need the experience, and besides, it’s only a temp job.  I’ll earn a good wage once I get my degree.

Karen:            I’d love to live in the Philippines.  I’ve heard that you can hire a full-time, live-in maid FOR PEANUTS.  I’d never have to do any housework ever again.

Derek:            But that’s not very ethical, is it? 

By the way, when you add “gallery” to “peanut,” you get the (slang) name of a seating section in an American theater: the “peanut gallery.”  This is the area in the balcony above the main floor—the section highest up and farthest away from the stage.   The “peanut gallery” got its name because its tickets cost less than other tickets.   Even if you worked “for peanuts” you could afford a ticket in the “peanut gallery.” Nowadays, the expression has taken on a different meaning altogether.  It is often used ironically, critically, and even disrespectfully, to refer to someone whose opinion is unwanted or unnecessary.  You might hear it in the dialogue of a TV show (especially a kids’ sit-com on the Disney Channel) or movie or novel.  Here’s an example of how it is often used (though we don’t recommend that you use it unless you’re just making a joke with a very good friend!).

Frances:        Mom, may I say something?

Mom:              No you may not.  I don’t want to hear anything from the PEANUT GALLERY.   Keep your opinions to yourself.




If you CUT your LOSSES, you avoid losing any more money than you already have lost by getting out of a situation before it gets worse.  Say that you have agreed to help your friend start up a new business by investing some of your own money in it.  But after a few months, you realize that the business is not going to be successful.  You tell your friend that you can no longer help him and cannot give him any more money.   You may not get back any of the money you gave him, but you won’t lose any more either: you CUT (or reduce or stop) YOUR LOSSES, in other words.  You don’t “throw good money after bad.”

Agnes:            Only two customers came in yesterday, and neither bought anything.

Nathan:          I hate to say it, Agnes, but maybe it’s time you CUT YOUR LOSSES and closed up shop.  You can always try selling your stock on eBay.

One investment specialist has advised investors to not hesitate to CUT THEIR LOSSES by selling unprofitable stocks and reinvesting in more promising ventures. 

You’ve been sitting at that slot machine for over an hour already.   So just CUT YOUR LOSSES and walk away.  We didn’t come on this cruise only to gamble all our money away.

But CUT ONE’S LOSSES isn’t just used to talk about money.  You can also invest your time or feelings in something or someone, not just your money.  So to CUT ONE’S LOSSES can also mean to pull out of a bad or unpleasant situation before you waste any more of your precious time on it or before your feelings are hurt badly by it.

The research team has spent so much time on this project that it would be a shame to scrap it.  But as they haven’t seen any positive results, I recommend that they CUT THEIR LOSSES and move on.

Andrew:        Francois is only here on a six-month contract and goes back to France soon.  If you ask me, you’re wasting your time in this relationship.

Colleen:         You’re right.  I should CUT MY LOSSES before I get too attached to him.




To GO DUTCH is a very useful expression you can use when you go out with a group of friends.  It means that each person in the group pays for whatever he or she eats, drinks, or does himself/herself.  The phrase is often used to talk about a couple out on a dinner date.  They split or divide the dinner bill equally, rather than having one person pay for everything.

Andrea:          Can you believe it?  Pete asked if we could GO DUTCH—on our first date!  I don’t mind paying, but it just doesn’t seem right.

Babs:              Maybe he just thought it would be sexist if he insisted on paying.

Wanda:          So it’s agreed: we GO DUTCH tonight.

Lance:             But there are twelve of us.  The server will hit the roof when we ask him or her for separate checks.

Wanda:          Then I’ll put the bill on my credit card, and you can all pay me in cash.

While we’re on the subject of paying at restaurants or pubs, the expressions “It’s (Dinner’s, Drinks are, etc.) on me” and “My treat” are used when one person agrees to pay for the other person or persons, as in:

Michelle:       Put away your wallet, Tom.  Dinner’s ON ME. 

Tom:              Thanks, Michelle.  I’ll pay next time, I promise.

Let’s all go out for sushi tonight.  It’s MY TREAT.  I just got my royalty payment on my first book, and I feel like celebrating.




To PINCH PENNIES means to spend as little money as possible because you don’t have enough or because you are saving money up for something else.  To cut back, economize, budget, be thrifty, be frugal, scrimp, and tighten one’s belt are close equivalents.  PENNY-PINCHING is the adjective form.

I just spent nearly $200 on textbooks, so I have to PINCH PENNIES until I get my student loan.

Tom:  Why don’t you come out for drinks with us, Sue? It’s Friday night, thank goodness!

Sue:     I’d love to, Tom, but I’m PINCHING PENNIES right now to save up for a new car.

How much can you really save by PINCHING PENNIES and cutting out coupons, and is it really worth the time and effort?

Your PENNY-PINCHING has really paid off, Mrs. Green.  With all your vouchers and 2-for-1 specials, you’ve saved more than £50 on your grocery bill today.

A PENNY-PINCHER, by the way, is someone who PINCHES PENNIES, not to be frugal or to save money but because he or she is cheap and stingy.  Miser, tightwad, cheapskate, and Scrooge are close equivalents.

Vicky is such a PENNY-PINCHER.  She never offers to pay for anything!  Not even a cup of tea!

Gunnar:         You’re not going to borrow money from Dad, are you?  You know what a PENNY-PINCHER he is.   He’ll probably charge you a credit-card interest rate.

Olga:               Well, I don’t really have a choice, and besides, I’m sure Dad will be more lenient about repayment than a credit-card company.  




To be FLAT BROKE is an informal way of saying that you have absolutely no money.  Synonyms include poor, destitute, and unable to make ends meet.  Some informal equivalents include hard up, short of cash, skint (British), strapped for cash, and stone broke.

We’ve been FLAT BROKE ever since my hours were cut at the hospital.

Mel:    I wish we could go on a nice holiday to some nice tropical beach this year.

Pat:     Me, too, but unfortunately, we’re FLAT BROKE right now, and will have to settle for a camping trip here at home instead.

According to a local paper, the city government is FLAT BROKE and can no longer afford to pay its employees or carry out its functions.  How can that be?





To BREAK THE BANK means to spend all of your money, especially money that you have saved up.   Imagine that you have a piggy bank full of coins you have been saving for a long time.  You decide one day that you would like to go on a trip, so you “BREAK THE (piggy) BANK” to get to the money.  The expression is used to talk about things that are normally quite expensive, as in these examples:

You don’t have to BREAK THE BANK to spend quality time with your family.  There are plenty of fun and interesting things to do in London that cost little or no money.

Jessica and Nick would have loved to stay in the Honeymoon Suite, but they knew it would BREAK THE BANK, so they settled for the Deluxe Ocean View Room.

At only $199, this new tablet has all the features of an iPad, but will not BREAK anyone’s BANK.




Now that you have a good understanding of the twelve key phrases we have examined today, you can check out your score on the “pre-test” exercise (we’ve provided answer sheets).

PDF DOWNLOAD KA WORDCAST Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 8 PRETEST

We’ll be back again next week with lots more useful phrasal verbs for you to study and get to know.

KA Wordcast Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 8 PRETEST ANSWERS