penny pincher

[ pen-ee pin-cher ]
/ ˈpɛn i ˌpɪn tʃər /
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See synonyms for: penny pincher / penny pinching / penny-pinching / pennypinching on Thesaurus.com

a miserly or stingy person.
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Origin of penny pincher

First recorded in 1920–25; penny + pincher; see origin at pinch (in sense “to economize unduly”); cf. pinchpenny

OTHER WORDS FROM penny pincher

pen·ny-pinch·ing, noun, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does penny pincher mean?

A penny pincher is a person who’s very careful or stingy with their money—they don’t like to spend it and they don’t like to give it away.

The image is that of someone clutching tightly to even the smallest amount of money so it doesn’t leave their hands. Penny typically refers to a one-cent coin.

Penny pincher is synonymous with the word miser, but whereas miser is always used negatively (to refer to Ebenezer Scrooge types), penny pincher can be used either in a negative way or in a more neutral way to refer to someone who’s just trying to save money because they’re on a tight budget.

The same thing can be said about the related idiomatic verb pinch pennies, meaning to be very, very careful about how one spends one’s money—it can mean to be thrifty or frugal, or to be miserly.

Penny pincher is sometimes spelled with a hyphen: penny-pincher.

Example: Ellen’s rich uncle was such a penny pincher that he used to give her a pencil for her birthday.

Where does penny pincher come from?

The first records of penny pincher come from around 1900. But the synonymous (and now less common) term pinchpenny dates back much farther, to around 1400. (Although the term penurious, meaning “extremely stingy,” might sound like it’s related, it comes from the Latin pēnūria, which means “lack” and is related to the Greek penía, “poverty.”)

A penny pincher can be poor, rich, or anything in between. While terms like money grubber imply an obsession with making money, especially in an aggressive way, penny pincher simply implies that the person avoids spending their money. Sometimes it’s because they’re a miser, like Scrooge, who was also a money grubber and hoarded his wealth without spending it on anything, such as giving it to charity or even buying anything for himself. Other times, though, a person is a penny pincher because they have to be—they have a small budget and they need to be thrifty and economical to get by. Sometimes, such a person keeps their penny-pinching habits even after they’re able to spend more.

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How is penny pincher used in real life?

Penny pincher can be used negatively, but it can also be used neutrally or even somewhat positively to praise someone’s thriftiness. Frugal people might even apply the term to themselves.



Try using penny pincher!

Which of the following people would most likely be called a penny pincher?

A. Jessica saves money when she can, but she loves going out to eat with her friends and buying them nice gifts.
B. Tom always buys new stuff on payday.
C. Debra uses coupons and would always rather cook at home than spend the money to get takeout.

How to use penny pincher in a sentence

Other Idioms and Phrases with penny pincher

penny pincher

see pinch pennies.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.