Learning a new language goes far beyond grammar rules, because languages actually create contacts between us and different cultures, including customs and traditions. This is why you shouldn’t stop at learning the “theoretical” aspects of languages, but rather try getting closer and closer to the actual spoken language – don’t worry, we will help you get there. In this article, for instance, you can find 11 expressions that us native speakers use on a daily basis, and that are related to money. Of course, each and every one of them has its own explanation and a few examples (both in Italian and English)… you just have to learn them!
EXPRESSIONS THAT HAVE TO DO WITH MONEY
How do you say that you don’t have any money, that you don’t have enough money…or that you so much of it you’re just wasting it? If you have no clue how to say any of these things in Italian, you can find the most creative ways to do so in this list.
“ESSERE AL VERDE”: being broke
This curious expression can be literally translated as “being green” and it’s used very frequently in the Italian language yet its origin is not clear: some say that it probably comes from the fact that, in ancient times, the inner lining of wallets was green – and it only became visible once they were empty, without any banknotes in it… hence “being green”. Another version claims that it has to do with gambling: when you gamble and play card games, such as poker, and you lose all of your fiches, the only thing in front of you is the gaming table…which is traditionally green!
Mi metto lo smalto! Mi piacerebbe molto fare una manicure, ma in questo periodo sono proprio al verde! Devo arrangiarmi con quello che ho!
Translation: I’m painting my fingernails….I wish I could get a manicure but at the moment I’m really broke! I have to do it on my own…
“ESSERE IN BOLLETTA”: not having money
“ESSERE IN BOLLETTA” is a synonym of “essere al verde” and it’s especially common in Southern Italy. The term “bolletta” (lit. bill) isn’t random: in the past, it indicated a list of debtors -i.e., people who had went bankrupt- that was publicly displayed in the square. So, this expression means being part of these lists and not being able to hide your economic status.
Ma che bel vestito! Mi piacerebbe molto comprarlo ma sono in bolletta! Me lo regali?
Translation: What a cute dress! I wish I could buy it but I’m broke! Could you pay it for me, as a gift?
“NON AVERE IL BECCO DI UN QUATTRINO”: not having a penny
This is a typical Florentine expression and it indicates a precarious economical situation. As a matter of fact, the “quattrino” was an ancient coin used in Italy that was of little value – the name comes from the number quattro (four), because it amounted to four denari (Frenc denier, or penny), a quarter of a fiorino (florin).
Let’s take a look at the first part of the expression: what does “becco” mean? It literally means “beak” (or “protrusion”) and it stands for the shape of the edge and of the coin itself. So, “non avere il becco di un quattrino” means that you don’t even have a tiny part of the coin, not even an halfpenny!
La tua maglia è davvero bellissima! La comprerei anche io ma non ho neanche il becco di un quattrino! Me la presti?
Translation: Your t-shirt is really beautiful! I would buy it too but I’m pennyless! Could you lend it to me?
“AVERE LE MANI BUCATE”: spending a lot of money
This expression refers to spendthrifts, all those people who spend lots of money, mostly to buy unnecessary things. It would be literally translated as “having holes in your hands”, which is a very self-explanatory expression: having holes in your hands would make money slip away very easily!
+Sono tornata! (I’m back!)
-Ma quante cose hai comprato? Hai proprio le mani bucate! (How may things have you bought? You’re really a spendthrift, as if your hands had holes in them!)
+No no, sono sanissime, vedi?! (No, they don’t! Look, they’re fine!)
COSTARE UNA FORTUNA: a very high price
If you know what a “fortuna” is in Italian, you might have already understood what this expression means: “fortuna” is the Italian word for fortune, meaning “a lot of money”. Therefore, this expression means that something that you’re buying has an excessively high price.
Questi trucchi mi sono costati una fortuna! Eppure, ancora non assomiglio a Miranda Kerr… Forse sto sprecando i soldi? Posso prendere in prestito 50€ da te?
Translation: This makeup costed me a fortune, but I look nothing like Miranda Kerr yet…Am I wasting my money? Can I borrow 50€ from you?
COSTARE UN OCCHIO DELLA TESTA: costing too much
This is a synonym of the previous expression, “costare una fortuna”. Story goes that this expression was born when a Spanish mercenary leader was hit in the eye by an arrow during an exploration. It therefore seems that he actually said that this venture to defend the Crown’s interests costed him an eye from the head, an expression that is the equivalent of the English “cost an arm and a leg” – either way, it’s probably too much!
Ho scelto il menù per il mio compleanno: caviale, ostriche, champagne, tartufo… Tutte cose buone: sicuramente mi costerà un occhio della testa ma ne vale la pena!
Translation: I chose the menu for my birthday party: there are going to be caviar, oysters, champagne, truffles…all delicious foods. It’s probably going to cost me an arm and a leg, but it’s definitely worth it!
SPENDERE E SPANDERE: squander money, spending too much
Very similar to “avere le mani bucate”, this expression refers to a person who is regularly inclined to spend their money excessively, without thinking how much it actually costs.
+Hai visto che scarpe belle ha comprato Isabella? Le avrà pagate tantissimo! (Have taken a look at Isabella’s shoes? They’re really great…she must have paid them a lot!)
-Lo sai che per lei non fa differenza! È una che spende e spande! (You know that it doesn’t matter to her! She squanders her money!)
+Beata lei che può permetterselo… (Lucky her! She can afford everything!)
AVERE IL BRACCINO CORTO: being stingy
“AVERE IL BRACCINO CORTO” is an ironic expression that is very common. It literally means “having a short arm“, meaning that some people are stingy and don’t love spending their own money – figuratively speaking, people who have a short arm, they cannot reach their wallet and use their money! There’s a similar common saying in English: “having short arms and deep pockets”, making it impossible for them to get to the bottom of their pockets, were their wallet is.
+Antonella mi ha invitato a prendere un caffè e mi ha obbligata a pagare per entrambe. Ha proprio il braccino corto. (Antonella has invited me out for a coffee and then she has forced me to pay for the both of us. She has a really short arm!)
-Oh ma dai… È quello che fai tu ogni volta che usciamo insieme! (Oh, come on…that’s exactly what you do to me every time we hang out!)
DA QUATTRO SOLDI: worth next to nothing
We could translate this expression as “worth four coins“: its origin is related to the Italian medieval silver coin (called “soldo“), which didn’t have a lot of value. Also, the number 4 is often used in Italian to talk about a small amount of something – for instance, “chit-chatting” in Italian is “fare quattro chiacchiere” and going for a stroll/short walk is “fare quattro passi”.
+Ho comprato ieri questo frullatore e già si è rotto. (Yesterday I bought this mixer and it’s already broken!)
-Si vede che era una cosa da quattro soldi… Ahahah Dovresti spendere meglio i tuoi soldi! (I guess it was very cheap…ahahah you should spend your money better!)
NON VALERE UN SOLDO BUCATO: not having anything
Similarly to “quattro soldi”, with this common saying we talk about something (or someone) that isn’t worth much, that has no value. The literal translation is “not even being worth a punctured coin” because, obviously, pierced coins have no value…they are worth absolutely nothing!
Graziana crede che questi orecchini siano di grande valore, ma in realtà non valgono un soldo bucato! Li ho pagati solo 2 euro!
Translation: Graziana thinks that these earrings are of great value, but actually they’re not worthy a cent! I payed them only 2 euro!
NON BADARE A SPESE: spending without limits
“NON BADARE A SPESE” means that you don’t look at the cost of things, that you pay no mind to expenses, you only care about the goal: buying!
+Per il suo compleanno, Marta non ha badato a spese: ha affittato un intero resort per tutti i suoi amici e parenti! (Marta didn’t spare any expenses for her birthday party: she has rented a whole resort for all of her friends and family!)
-Almeno lei i soldi li guadagna… Non è una scroccona come te! (At least she makes her own money…unlike you, scrounger!)
+Una che? (What am I?)
–Una scroccona! Cioè una persona che riesce sempre a far pagare gli altri oppure a ottenere le cose gratis, senza spendere un euro. (A scrounger! Someone who gets people to pay for her or gets stuff for free, without having to spend a single penny.)
-Beh, è un’abilità… (Well, I think it’s a skill…)
I hope you liked this article. If you want to learn more Italian expressions, I suggest you read our article (or watch our video lesson) on Italian expressions with the preposition “A”!