On today’s episode, let’s talk about money. Whether you love the idea of money, or hate it, money is undoubtedly one of the most important parts of our modern world! As an important part of our culture, money has obviously impacted our language. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different ways to refer to or talk about money; although I can’t introduce you to all of these, this episode will give you a few interesting alternatives to add to your vocabulary. I’ll also suggest a few money-related idioms you could try to use!

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Good (n) – things for sale, or the things that you own

There is a 25 percent discount on all electrical goods until the end of the week

To barter (v) – to exchange goods for other things rather than for money

He bartered his stamp collection for her comics. 

To negotiate (v) – to have formal discussions with someone in order to reach an agreement with them 

I’m negotiating for a new contract 

Currency (n) – the money that is used in a particular country at a particular time

19 European countries use the Euro as their currency

Slang (n) – very informal language that is usually spoken rather than written 

“Chicken” is slang for someone who isn’t brave

Colloquial (adj) – (of words and expressions) informal and more suitable for use in speech than in writing

English is full of colloquial terms and phrases

Simultaneously (adv) – in a way that is simultaneous (= happening or being done at exactly the same time)

Two children answered the teacher’s question simultaneously 

Budget (n) – the amount of money you have available to spend

The school budget is going to be cut again

Mainstream (adj) – considered normal, and having or using ideas, beliefs, etc. that are accepted by most people

This is the director’s first mainstream Hollywood film

Money. Whether you love it, or hate it, it is almost impossible to live without it in the modern world. Unless you are completely self sufficient, you need money to buy both essential goods (like food and clothing) as well as luxuries. This has not always been the case! Before the invention of money, people would barter to get the products they needed – for instance, you would swap or trade something you owned or made for something you wanted or needed. If you had cows, but wanted some fruit, you would have to first find someone who had fruit, then find out if they were interested in trading with you, before negotiating a deal! This is obviously inefficient – what if the person who sells fruit doesn’t want cows? What if the only person who wants a cow is offering something you don’t actually want? How much fruit is one cow worth? This system is incredibly confusing and time consuming. The invention of money made buying and selling things far easier!

As money is such a crucial part of our societies, it is natural for unique language surrounding money to have developed. In fact, different parts of the English speaking words have different words for money, and different idioms for using or earning money!! As an English learner, you need to know how to talk about money. The most basic part of this is numbers – and I’m sure you know these already. Next are the different currencies and types of money in different countries. The UK, for example, uses pounds and pennies (there are 100 pennies in a single pound). Other English speaking countries (including the USA, Australia, and Canada) use dollars, while Ireland, another English speaking country, uses the Euro! In each country there will be different ways of talking about money. In the UK, we shorten the word penny to the single letter ‘p’. In my local bakery, a sausage roll (a traditional British pastry) costs 60p (60 pennies). If something costs more than a pound we will often drop the letter ‘p’ – a bottle of Coca Cola in the supermarket is normally about £1.50 (1 pound and fifty pennies)! 

However, money is not always this simple. In daily life we often use slang or colloquial terms to describe different amounts of money! Let me introduce you to a few common terms!


Cash is one of the most common alternatives to the word money in the English language! Cash specifically refers to physical money (think notes/bills and coins) rather than electronic money which makes it particularly useful. In fact, businesses will often have signs that say “cash only” if they only accept coins or money, and some businesses even offer discounts for customers who pay in cash. If you’re buying something in a store, you’ll probably be asked whether you want to use “cash or card” to pay.

Grand and K

Next we have two common ways of saying 1000, especially when talking about money. Both ‘grand’ and ‘k’ mean ‘a thousand dollars/pounds’ – so £5000 becomes 5 grand or 5k. Be careful – we don’t say 5 grand pounds, just 5 grand. This way of speaking is especially useful when talking about big numbers. 50,000 is 50k, 200,000 is 200k. When people talk about salaries, houses, and cars, this way of speaking is often used. ‘K’ stands for ‘kilo’, which is the prefix meaning ‘thousand’ such as in kilogram or kilometer! There are actually other more informal words that mean the same thing – one that comes to mind is ‘large’ as in 50 large (50,000) but I wouldn’t personally use this!


The last two terms were used to talk about large amounts of money – the next two are for much more manageable amounts! Fiver refers to a five pound or dollar note/bill, while tenner similarly refers to the ten dollar or pound bill! Importantly, we don’t use it for any higher amounts than this! Your friend might ask to borrow a fiver, or someone might ask you to swap a twenty pound note for two tenners!


Quid is a very common word for pound used in the UK. The origins for the term are unknown, but it’s actually been used for hundreds of years. A quid means £1, 10 quid means £10, 50 quid means £50, and so on! This is only used in the UK. If you want a similar word to use in the USA, try ‘bucks.’ Bucks is probably the most common slang term used for dollar!

I’ve introduced you to a few alternative terms for money, but there are so many more! ‘Dough,’ ‘bread’, ‘cheddar,’ ‘racks’, ‘wonga’ can all be used to refer to money! In fact, i’ll leave a link in the transcript to an article which gives 100 slang words for money!

How about some idioms? Idioms are also used extensively when we talk about money; especially for making, using, earning, and losing money! Let’s start with idioms to use when you’re earning money 


To ‘make a living’ means to earn money or a salary. We often use it to describe a steady job that earns enough money to fund your life! Common questions using this idiom include “How do you make a living?” Even more common is the similar idiom ‘for a living’ such as in the question “what do you do for a living?” This essentially means “what is your job?” At the moment teaching is my main job, so I teach for a living! 


These two idioms are used to talk about people with lots of money. Although filthy is normally a negative term, being ‘filthy rich’ means you have a lot of money – you are wealthy and affluent! Loaded is similar. If you are loaded, you are rich! 


What do you think ‘rags to riches’ means? Have you heard of it before? If someone goes from rags to riches, they have gone from a life of poverty to extreme wealth! They started with nothing, and made a successful career of life! The founder of billion dollar company Forever21, Do Won Chang, worked simultaneously as a gas station clerk, a janitor and a coffee shop employee before founding his company. George Soros, a billionaire investor, fled the Nazis as a child. Both of these are “rags to riches” stories. George Bernard Shaw’s famous play Pygmalion (and the movie based on the play renamed My Fair LAdy) are also excellent examples!!

How about some idioms for when you don’t have any money?


Have you ever been broke? Earlier in 2020, I was certainly broke after the pandemic forced me to return to the UK! The adjective ‘broke’ is used to describe someone with almost no money! ‘I’m broke’ is one of the most common excuses used to avoid doing something – for example “i can’t go to that restaurant, i’m broke!” Be careful – you cannot use “broken”, “break” or any other variations to describe poorness – you can only use “broke.”


If you’re short on money, it means you don’t have a lot of money or you are on a tight budget. This is especially used after someone makes a large purchase, or just before someone is paid their monthly salary! You can also say that you are “short on cash”!


Although “getting by” means you are making enough money to be independent and live in the world, it is normally negative – you’re earning enough to survive but not to make positive changes or differences in your life! You can also add the words “just” (just getting by) or “barely” (barely getting by) to strengthen the meaning! At the moment, I’d describe myself as “getting by,” and I think many others would say the same due to the pandemic.


Money is such an integral and influential part of all modern societies that, of course, language reflects this. We have idioms to describe the nuances and slight variations in our financial situations, and slang terms to describe different amounts or types of money! Why do you think we have so many new terms? In the last few years, I’ve noticed a lot of new vocabulary becoming mainstream in the USA and this has spread to other parts of the English speaking world. The changing face of popular culture, and especially the rise or music with ‘money’ as a central theme, has made new terms increasingly popular! Sometimes idioms and terms for money are also connected. Bread is used as a term for money in some places, and this probably comes from the idiom “bring home the bread” or “bread winner” which refer to earning money or being the main money earner respectively!

I would like to give you a word of caution, however! Be careful when and with whom you use these terms. If you start talking about ‘dough’, ‘moolah’, or ‘cash money’ (all slang terms for money) you will probably be laughed at. These words have contexts, and it is important you understand the context before you try to use one! For example, if you say ‘bucks’ in the UK it doesn’t make sense (although some people who are familiar with American English might understand). The same is true with using ‘quid’ in the USA! Most of these terms are also informal! However, they are incredibly useful for understanding popular culture – movies, music, TV shows all use colloquial terms to describe money! Which words for money have you heard before? Are any idioms that I mentioned new to you? If you have a word or idiom that I didn’t mention, leave it in the blog comments!


Q. What currency does Ireland use?

A. Euro

Q. “I have no money” – What idiom would describe me?

A. Broke/Short on money

Q. “I am rich” – What idiom would describe me?

A. Loaded/Filthy rich


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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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