What is a Bean Counter? Bean Counter Meaning and Definition

Bean Counter Meaning

Definition: An accountant or other person who controls the budget down to the smallest amounts of money, or other aspects of account keeping. More generally, someone who deals with numbers.

Origin of Bean Counter

The first use of this expression with the current meaning was in the early 1900s. The idea behind the expression is that beans are so small, that to count them individually is a waste of time. Only someone overly concerned with minute details would do that.

This term can have either a negative or neutral connotation.

Examples of Bean Counter

what is bean counter This example dialogue involves a husband and wife who are discussing possible new careers.

Bobby: So, you said you wanted to discuss something serious.

Jennie: Yes. I’m sick of being a baker. I want to consider a career change.

Bobby: You know I’ll support you no matter what. What type of job were you thinking about?

Jennie: I was thinking of becoming an accountant.

Bobby: Ugh! An accountant! That sounds so boring. Come on, don’t become a bean counter. Become something more exciting!

Jennie: Like what?

Bobby: Like an acrobat! In the circus!

what does bean counter mean One friend is talking to another about majors to pursue at university.

Andrew: Do you know what major you want to have yet?

Aaron: No, not yet. I just know I want to make sure my major is in a field that has stable, well-paying jobs.

Andrew: Such as?

Aaron: Maybe I could study accounting.

Andrew: Yeah, I heard that’s a growing field. And I think you’d make a great bean counter.

Aaron: Oh, shut up.

Andrew: No, I’m serious. You have great attention to detail, and you’re great with numbers.

More Examples

This excerpt is about all the employees at a school, including accountants, benefiting from extra money.

  • The Big Ten’s new TV deal kicks in this year, and things are only going to get worse (or much, much better, if you’re a Big Ten executive or a bean-counter at a Big Ten school): Each school will get $43 million in the first year and could be making $54 million annually by the last year of the deal. –Washington Post

The second excerpt is criticizing the plot of a TV show.

  • Immediately introducing a bean counter to threaten an artistic milieu that hasn’t actually been established as such makes no narrative sense except as an excuse for regular monologues about the need for integrity and the injustices of an increasingly weighted economy. –LA Times


The term bean counter is a nickname for someone who does accounting or otherwise manages the fine details of budgets and expenditures.