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German language For Members

7 ways to talk about money like a German

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
7 ways to talk about money like a German
Hands rummage through a box of two-euro coins at the Bavarian Central Mint in Munich, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Sven Hoppe

With many of us having to tighten our belts at the moment, here are some uniquely German ways to talk about the hot topic of money.

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1. Geld wie Heu haben

If you’re lucky enough to be extremely wealthy, you may be able to say “Ich habe Geld wie Heu”, though it won’t make you very popular.

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The English translation of this widely used phrase is “to have money like hay” -  in other words, to have so much money that it's barely countable.

As most people don’t have huge hay reserves these days, the phrase likely dates back to the Middle Ages, when the gap between rich and poor, namely between the rural population and the nobility, was particularly stark.

Example:

Seine Eltern haben Geld wie Heu!

His parents have got money to burn!

2. Wer den Pfennig nicht ehrt, ist den Talers nicht wert

This thrifty phrase translates as “he who does not honour the penny is not worth the taler” – taler being an old silver coin. It’s similar in meaning to the phrase “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” in that it reminds us to appreciate even the small things, and that many small coins add up to a large sum.

Piles of coins growing in size culminating in a jar filled with coins. Photo: pa/obs DEVK Versicherungen | Fotolia

The origin of this phrase goes all the way back to the time of Martin Luther in the 15th century, who is said to have written the older version of the phrase Wer den Pfennig nicht achtet, der wird keines Guldens Herr ("He who does not respect the penny will not be the master of a Gulden") above his kitchen stove in chalk.

3. Geld zum Fenster hinaus werfen

This expression is about wastefulness, and means “throwing money out of the window”.

The phrase is said to have originated in the Middle Ages in Regensburg, where the ruler would stand at the town hall window and throw money to his subjects.

But, since it was their tax money he was throwing, the citizens coined the phrase: "Throwing our money out the window" to describe wastefulness.

Examples:

Du hast schon immer das Geld zum Fenster hinausgeworfen.

You have always thrown the money out the window.

Statt das Geld zum Fenster hinauszuwerfen, sollte er besser mal sparen.

Instead of throwing money down the drain, he'd be better off saving it.

READ ALSO: German word of the day - Kohle 

4. Geld auf die hohe Kante legen

This phrase goes back to a time when banks were seen as untrustworthy and people preferred to save their money in a hidden place in their homes.

A girl puts a coin into a piggy bank. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Silvia Marks

The phrase meaning, “to place money on the high ledge” is still widely used today, as a way of saying “put a bit of money aside” and to save.

Example:

Die Deutschen legen immer einen Teil ihrer Einkommen auf die hohe Kante.

Germans always put some of their income on the side.

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5. Zeit ist Geld

Ok, so this one doesn’t originate from Germany, but it’s certainly widely-used in the German language.

The expression comes from Benjamin Franklin, the American scientist and politician who wrote it in his "Advice to Young Merchants" in 1748.

READ ALSO: 10 German words that English should adopt

It since found its way into the German language, which is hardly surprising. And Germans’ famous punctuality fits well with the idea that wasted time is costly.

Example:

In dieser Situation gilt: Zeit ist Geld.

In a situation like this, time is money.

6. das Geld aus der Tasche ziehen

This unpleasant phrase means “to pull something out of someone’s pocket” and is mostly used to refer to scamming, rather than theft.

A man takes another man's wallet out of his back pocket. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Arno Burgi

It usually means to induce someone, in a cunning or fraudulent way, to spend money, or to take financial advantage of someone.

Examples:

Wolltest du mir das Geld aus der Tasche ziehen?

Were you trying to con me out of my money?

Trickbetrüger zeigen sich immer kreativer, wenn es darum geht, ihren Opfern Geld aus der Tasche zu ziehen.

Con artists are becoming increasingly creative when it comes to taking money out of their victims' pockets.

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7. Blank sein

Blank sein – meaning to "be broke", is a situation most of us have probably found ourselves at one point or another.

The term blank originally meant "bright" or "shiny", but later, the word came to mean "free of" or "stripped of", eventually leading to this expression, meaning to be “free of money”.

Example:

Ich würde dir eins abkaufen, aber ich bin blank.

I would buy one from you, but I'm broke.

READ ALSO: 10 ways to express surprise in German

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