Spendthrifts and skinflints (The language of how we spend)

close up photograph of a small coin purse full of Euro notes and coins
Kinga Krzeminska/Moment/GettyImages

by Kate Woodford

Would you describe yourself as careful with money or are you a big spender? Today’s post considers the language we use to talk about our money habits.

Let’s start with words for not spending a lot of money. Someone who is thrifty spends their money carefully and doesn’t waste it. The adjective frugal is similar but more extreme, describing a person who only buys what is strictly necessary. It suggests that the person has a very simple way of living.

My grandparents were thrifty and saved every penny.

He was frugal in his habits, growing most of his food and mending his clothes until they fell to pieces.

There are several negative adjectives for people who don’t spend enough money. For example, in UK English, someone who is unwilling to spend money, especially on others, is said to be mean and in US English, they are cheap. We also use the informal adjectives stingy and tight and the formal adjective parsimonious with the same meaning:

He was too mean to buy her a proper bed.

I’m too cheap to pay the full price.

He’s so stingy – he never buys anyone a drink.

Come on, don’t be so tight – get yourself a taxi!

She had a reputation for being rather parsimonious.

The adjective miserly means ‘extremely mean’. (It comes from the noun miser for a person who keeps all their money and hates spending it.):

Her uncle, a miserly old man, refused to help her out.

That old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge.

Two compounds that mean ‘unwilling to spend money’ are penny-pinching and (informal, disapproving) tight-fisted:

The basic food ranges appeal to penny-pinching shoppers.

He’s fabulously wealthy, but notoriously tight-fisted.

Moving on to nouns, a person who doesn’t like to spend money may be called, informally, a skinflint, a tightwad or a cheapskate:

Despite her wealth, she was a notorious skinflint.

Buy her a present and don’t be such a tightwad!

They’ll think I’m a terrible cheapskate if I turn up empty-handed.

Now let’s look at the opposite – words for spending a lot of money. Someone who is generous is willing to spend a lot on other people. Meanwhile, the adjectives extravagant and lavish mean spending or costing a lot of money (sometimes too much money):

Sophie’s always so generous with her gifts.

The money was used to fund his extravagant lifestyle.

She loved to buy her nieces and nephews lavish presents.

The formal adjective profligate means ‘using and wasting a lot of money or resources’:

They were highly critical of the monarch’s profligate spending.

Finally, a spendthrift is someone who spends a lot of money in a way that is not wise:

He was frequently portrayed as a reckless spendthrift.

I hope you learnt a few new words from this post. My next post will look at a related theme – the language of spending money.

17 thoughts on “Spendthrifts and skinflints (The language of how we spend)

  1. Yeri Ekomunajat

    I was a spendthrift buyer until my wife asked me to be more careful to buy things. On the other hand, my wife is a thrifty shopper. She likes looking for discounted items.on sale.

    1. yihuru

      English is so funny. ‘Thrifty’ the adjective refers to one who spends carefully, but “spendthrift” the noun is someone who spends carelessly. Love that

  2. I did wonder if you were going to talk about Giving and Sharing in a putative part 3.

    We talked about Saving this week; and Spending next week.

    Lots of people have Save; Spend; Give jars and even a Smile jar full of little things that add to their lives or make them happy – to remind them of the reasons they spend and save.

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