What Does Pinching Pennies Mean?

Pinching Pennies Meaning

Definition: To try to save money by purchasing cheaper products and otherwise being economical, frugal, or miserly.

Origin of Pinching Pennies

The verb form of pinching pennies is relatively new when compared to the noun form pinchpenny. A pinchpenny has meant to be a miser since the early 1400s. The verb phrase to pinch pennies, however, has only been around since the early-1900s, possibly the late-1800s.

The expression to pinch pennies shot up in popularity during the first half of the 1900s. It is possible this idiom became popular due to the Great Depression, which also occurred during that time. Because of the poor economy, the majority of people were working hard to make their small amounts of money last as long as possible.

Pennies were, and are, the smallest American monetary denomination. Despite this, people still valued them during hard economic times. Also, pennies were worth more during the Great Depression, as inflation has eaten away their value considerably during the last 80 or so years. Nonetheless, pinching pennies meant to try to hold on to pennies, despite their relative low worth.

In many modern senses, when someone accuses someone else of pinching pennies, it is usually meant to be an insult. While pinching pennies can simply mean economical or frugal, it also has the connotation of being a miser.

Examples of Pinching Pennies

pinch a pennyIn this dialogue, a brother and sister are making a new household budget.

Maria: So, I found a grocery store with very affordable prices.

Franco: Good. I guess we can also do our clothing shopping at thrift stores.

Maria: Perfect! We can also cut down on our expenditures by not going out to bars to drinks.

Franco: I don’t know about that. I mean, I want to pinch pennies as much as you do, but I don’t want to give up doing everything fun!

pinching a pennyThe second example shows two university students who discussing the new cost-cutting measures the school is taking.

Lorenzo: Did you see that we no longer get free parking on campus? That’s awful!

Alba: Yeah, I know it seems annoying, but I guess the school is trying to avoid raising tuition.

Lorenzo: I know they want to keep tuition costs low, but I don’t think the school needs to pinch pennies like this. They already have the parking lots. It won’t cost them anything to keep them free.

More Examples

The excerpt below is about a professional golfer.

  • Kisner, 33, spent lean years pinching pennies, sleeping in second-rate hotels and playing middle-of-nowhere golf courses chasing his dream of playing on the PGA Tour. –USA Today

This excerpt is from an article that relates physical balance with making balanced decisions.

  • They might pinch your feet, but wearing high heels can also help you pinch pennies, a new study suggests. –New York Daily News


To pinch pennies means to live in a frugal, oftentimes miserly, manner.