German word of the day: Totsparen

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
German word of the day: Totsparen
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Fed up with politicians making silly financial decisions? Then this German word could soon be your best friend.


Why do I need to know Totsparen?

Because it's a helpful word to know both in the corporate world and the world of politics, and you'll definitely impress your German friends if you use it in a debate or a discussion about current affairs. 

What does it mean?

If you know the words Tot (dead or death) and sparen (to save money), it shouldn't be too tricky to guess what Totsparen means. Used mostly in the context of government spending, it refers to the phenomenon of cutting budgets so much that things start to fall apart - in other words, saving to death. 

It's a criticism that's often levelled at previous German governments who slashed funding for the Bundeswehr (army) to such an extent that many believe it's currently unfit for purpose.


Totsparen also cropped up frequently when countries were putting austerity policies in place after the financial crisis. One Deutschlandfunk headline in 2015 read: "Griechenland: Gesundschrumpfen oder Totsparen?" (Greece: Shrinking healthily or saving to death?), referring to the strict spending rules that the country was placed under following a bailout from the European Central Back and the International Monetary Fund. 

Less often, the word is also used to describe over-zealous budget cuts in other contexts, such as a business laying off so many staff that they can no longer operate properly. 

In true German style, the word is basically a snappy neologism based on the phrase: "etwas zu Tode sparen" (to save/economise something to death). It's not clear when the idiom first started being used as a verb, but it's a classic example of how simple it can be to create new words in the German language.

Use it like this:

Ich befürchte, dass die Bund die Digitalisierung totsparen wird.

I'm concerned that the federal government is going to economise digitalisation to death.

Der Chef hat unser Projekt noch wieder zu Tode gespart.  

The boss has economised our project into the ground yet again. 


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