Common Idioms to Boost Your IELTS Score – Topic: Money


Topic: Money

cost an arm and a leg

If something costs an arm and a leg it costs a lot of money.

It cost us an arm and a leg to get here. But It has been worth every penny and more.

NOTE: You can use verbs such as pay, charge, and spend instead of cost.

Many restaurants were charging an arm and a leg for poor quality food.

down the drain

If money, work, or time has gone down the drain It has been lost or wasted.

Over the years, the government has poured billions of dollars down the drain supporting its national airlines and other firms.

You have ruined everything – my perfect plans, my great organization. All those years of work are down the drain.

NOTE: You can sometimes use words such as plughole and toilet instead of drain.

Millions of dollars have gone down the plughole.

feel the pinch

If a person or organization feels the pinch they do not have as much money as they used to have, and so they cannot buy the things they would like to buy.

Poor households were still feeling the pinch and new taxes on fuel made matters even worse.

have deep pockets

If a person or organization has deep pockets they have a lot of money.

The company will do anything to avoid scandal – and everyone knows it has deep pockets.

NOTE: You can also talk about people or organizations with deep pockets or use deep pockets on its own with the same meaning.

They needed to find investors with deep pockets. What they lacked in military power, they made up for in deep pockets.

in the red

If a person or organization is in the red they owe money to someone or to another organization.

NOTE: This expression comes from the practice in the past of using red ink to fill in entries on the debit side of a book of accounts.

Banks are desperate for you to join them – even if you’re in the red.

NOTE: You can also say that you go into the red when you start to owe money to the bank.

If you do go into the red, you get charged 30 pence for each transaction while you are overdrawn.

NOTE: You can also say that a person or organization gets out of the red, meaning that they stop owing money to someone.

We’re slowly climbing out of the red.

NOTE: You can use in the black to talk about being in credit.

My bank account was in the black for the first time that year.

make ends meet

If you find it difficult to make ends meet you find it difficult to pay for the things you need in life, because you have very little money.

NOTE: Originally, this expression was ‘make both ends of the year meet’, which meant to spend only as much money as you received as income.

Many people are struggling to make ends meet because wages are failing to keep pace with rising prices.

on a shoestring

If you do something on a shoestring, you do it using very little money.

NOTE: In American English, shoelaces are called shoestrings. The reference here is to the very small amount of money that is needed to buy shoelaces.

This theatre was always run on a shoestring.

NOTE: You can use shoestring before a noun.

Both films were made on a shoestring budget.

out of pocket

If you are out of pocket after an event or an activity, you have less money than you should have.

The promoter claims he was left £36,000 out of pocket after the concert.

be rolling in it or be rolling in money

If someone is rolling in it or is rolling in money, they are very rich. [INFORMAL]

Don’t worry about the cost – soon you’ll be rolling in it.

Jessica’s parents are obviously rolling in money.

a small fortune

A small fortune is a very large amount of money.

For almost two years, Hawkins made a small fortune running a corner shop.

there’s no such thing as a free lunch or there is no free lunch

People say there’s no such thing as a free lunch or there is no free lunch to mean you cannot expect to get things for nothing.

NOTE: This expression dates back to at least 1840 in the United States. It recently became popular again when the American economist Milton Friedman used it in the 1970s.

There is no such thing as a free lunch of course, and many of the most attractive looking deals have quite large joining fees.

There is no free lunch. You won’t get anything you don’t sweat and struggle for.

tighten your belt

If you tighten your belt you make an effort to spend less money.

Clearly, if you are spending more than your income, you’ll need to tighten your belt.


Exercise 1

Match idioms A – F with situations 1 – 3

1          having a lot of money

2          having no money

3          very expensive

A With the rising prices of food and petrol, we all have to tighten our belts these days.

B He’s got a good job and has inherited money from his family, so he’s rolling in it.

C It’ll cost an arm and a leg to travel there by train.

D I’ve just been paid, and already I’m in the red.

E I’m sure Matthew will lend you the money – he seems to have very deep pockets.

F That trip must have cost them a small fortune.

Exercise 2

Choose the best answer to complete the sentences.

  1. I don’t earn much so it’s not always easy to make _______ meet.

a          pockets                        b          ends                             c          your belt

  1. That meal we had in the hotel restaurant was superb, but it cost_______

a          an arm and a leg          b          deep pockets               c          the pinch

  1. You should do your best not to let your account go into the_______ , or you might get fined by your bank.

a          red                               b          ends                             c          black

  1. They have just received a pay rise. The company they work for has _______

a          an arm and a leg          b          to make ends meet      c          deep pockets

  1. We’ll be travelling _______ as the exchange rate is very bad for us just now.

a          on a shoestring            b          out of pocket               c          in the red

  1. Have you seen the size of their house? They must be _______ in it.

a          making                                    b          rolling                          c          draining

Exercise 3

Match sentence halves 1-6 with A-F to make complete sentences.

1          I’ve lost all the money I invested in that company.

2          They’ve both lost their jobs so

3          We had hardly any money but we managed to travel around

4          You should have expected the hidden charges.

5          Some of the insurance companies have deep pockets –

6          We’re all feeling the pinch

A it’s a struggle to make ends meet.

B now that the economy is in recession.

C why don’t you approach them for sponsorship?

D It was just money down the drain.

E There’s no such thing as a free lunch after all!

F on a shoestring.

Exercise 4

Read the statements and answer the questions


She had to learn to tighten her belt when she became a student.

Did she have more or less money before she was a student?


They’re feeling the pinch more now because they’ve moved to the city.

Do they find it cheaper or more expensive to live in the city?


Laura said ‘I’ll give you the money for my theatre ticket tomorrow David. I don’t want you to be out of pocket.’

Who paid for the tickets at the theatre?


They’ll give us sandwiches and coffee at the meeting but we know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Do they have to buy their sandwiches and coffee?


Stefan’s piano lessons are just money down the plughole!

Is Stefan doing well at learning to play the piano?


We are really careful about how much electricity we use in order to make ends meet.

Do they find it difficult to pay for their electricity?

Exercise 5

Re-order the phrases to make sentences. Add punctuation where necessary.

1          he should not / he was paid / in advance so / be out of pocket

2          so from now on / he has just lost his job / he will have trouble / making ends meet

3          a swimming pool / be rolling in money / in the garden must / a family who have

4          a small fortune / to take the whole group / it will cost / on a foreign tour

5          it seems to me that / to get around is / money down the drain / paying for taxis

6          has deep pockets and / the organization / to pay well / can afford

7          for tickets / to pay an arm and a leg / to the cup final / we had

8          and even / out of the red / the company / make a profit / hopes to climb

Exercise 6

Choose the most appropriate thing to say A-F in each situation 1-6.

1          We’re wasting a lot of money on this project.

2          We can’t expect to get something for nothing.

3          We all have to try and spend less money for a while.

4          We can afford to buy it – we’ve got lots of money.

5          We haven’t paid back the money the bank lent us yet.

6          We’ll have to try and complete the project as cheaply as possible.

A We’ve got deep pockets.

B We’re pouring money down the drain.

C We’re still in the red.

D We need to do it on a shoestring budget.

E We need to tighten our belts.

F There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Exercise 7

Correct the idioms in these sentences.

  1. Worsening economic problems mean that ordinary voters are beginning to feel the pinching.
  2. The senator says he will continue his on a shoestring campaign in every part of the state.
  3. The company was already in the red side, owing more than three million pounds.
  4. Freda didn’t know much about antiques but she was sure the table was worth a deep fortune.
  5. They seem to think they can charge a leg and a foot for their services because we all need them.
  6. Business organizations across the land are making up their belts and trying to cut costs.
  7. If we don’t have results soon, we’ll be accused of throwing money into the plughole.
  8. You seem to think that all doctors are lying in money!

Your turn!

Have you had to think about money recently? Use the idioms in this unit to describe your experiences. For example:

I’ve been feeling the pinch since I was a student.

It costs an arm and a leg to pay for a Master’s degree.


Exercise 1      

1 B, E              2 A, D             3 C, F

Exercise 2      

1 b       4 c

2 a       5 a

3 a       6 b

Exercise 3      

1 D      4 E

2 A      5 C

3 F       6 B

Exercise 4      

1 more                         4 no

2 more expensive     5 no

3 David                       6 yes

Exercise 5

1 Fie was paid in advance so he should not be out of pocket.

2 Fie has just lost his job so from now on he will have trouble making ends meet.

3 A family who have a swimming pool in the garden must be rolling in money.

4 It will cost a small fortune to take the whole group on a foreign tour.

5 It seems to me that paying for taxis to get around is money down the drain.

6 The organization has deep pockets and can afford to pay well.

7 We had to pay an arm and a leg for tickets to the cup final.

8 The company hopes to climb out of the red and even make a profit.

Exercise 6

1B       4 A

2 F       5 C

3 E       6 D

Exercise 7

1          feel the pinch

2          his shoestring campaign

3          in the red

4          a small fortune

5          charge an arm and a lea

6          tightening their belts

7          down the plughole

8          rolling in money

Written By

Syed Monif is a professional content marketer and IELTS Trainer by day, and a bookworm by night, and sometimes during the day too! He currently works on creating extremely user-friendly and engaging content for the online portal His work involves creating and editing content while making sure they're super interesting and easy to read! And also as a master procrastinator, right now he's probably googling something so arbitrary like 'How rich is Scrooge McDuck?' without realizing that his lunch break is almost over.

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