9 Common French Idioms related to money

No matter where you live, money is at the center of many discussions. These common French idioms will help you better understand French conversations about money. 

Jeter l’argent par les fenêtres

jeter l'argent par les fenêtres

In the 16th century, it was common to give money to beggars by throwing it through the window.  While we don’t do that anymore, the expression stayed.

Literal translation: to throw money through the windows

Meaning: to carelessly spend money/ to waste money/ to splurge

Arrête de jeter l’argent par les fenêtres, tu en auras peut-être besoin plus tard

Stop spending so much money for nothing, you may need it later

Pour une bouchée de pain

I don’t know if it has always been the case, but bread is one of the cheapest food you can buy in France. This expression means something doesn’t cost much.

French idioms money
Literal translation: for a mouthful of bread
Meaning: for next to nothing
Il t’a couté cher ce DVD ? Oh non, je l’ai acheté pour une bouchée de pain
Did this DVD cost you a lot? Oh no, I bought it for next to nothing

Couter les yeux de la tête/ couter un bras / couter la peau des fesses

Our eyes, arms and hum, you know.. are very dear to us. Losing them would be quite a shame. So when you read that something cost an arm, it means it costs a fortune.

Literal translation: to cost the eyes of the head/ to cost an arm /to cost the skin off one’s arse

Meaning: to cost an arm and a leg / to cost a fortune

 J’aimerais bien acheter cet ordinateur, mais il coute les yeux de la tête

I would like to buy this computer, but it costs a fortune

 Blanchir de l’argent

Americans like to whiten their teeth, the French like to whiten money. Usually, we consider that whitening something makes it cleaner, and that’s exactly why criminals like to “blanchir de l’argent”.
Literal translation: to whiten money
Meaning: to launder money
Les dealers de drogue essayent de blanchir de l’argent
Drug dealers try to launder money

S’en mettre plein les poches

Literal translation: to put a lot in one’s pockets
Meaning: to earn lots of money
Les patrons s’en mettent plein les poches, alors que les employés gagnent peu
Bosses earn lots of money, while employees earn very little
If you are American, this sentence may sound strange to you. But in France, being an entrepreneur is often seen as something negative, because lots of French people consider that bosses just exploit people for their own profit.

Rouler sur l’or

Literal translation: to roll on gold
Meaning: to be rich
Elle roule sur l’or depuis qu’elle a gagné au loto
She has been rich ever since she won the lottery

Se serrer la ceinture

Literal translation: to tighten one’s belt
Meaning: to avoid spending too much money
A cause de la crise économique, les gens doivent se serrer la ceinture
People can’t spend lots of money because of the economic crisis

Ne pas être donné

Literal translation: to not be given
Meaning: to be expensive
“C’est pas donné” means that something is not only “not given”, but most of all expensive.
Un appartement à Paris, c’est pas donné
An apartment in Paris is very expensive

 C’est cadeau

Literal translation: it’s gift
Meaning: it’s free / it’s a gift
Tiens, c’est cadeau
Here you go, it’s free

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Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn conversational French.