‘Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on June 22, 2023

Did someone say to you, ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees, ’ and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

  • 'Money doesn't grow on trees' is an idiom that means that money is a limited resource and you, therefore, shouldn't spend it thoughtlessly.

Long a warning that parents have given to children, this phrase has been around since at least the late 19th century.

What Does ‘Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees’ Mean?

‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’ means that you shouldn’t waste money because it can’t simply be replenished whenever you need it.

  • This can be said in order to warn someone else to be cautious about how much money they spend because it is a finite resource.

This is a great idiom because its meaning is very clear if you simply imagine what is being described. If money grew on trees, you wouldn’t have to worry about how much you spent– you could just pick some more.

  • The phrase implies, though, that money isn’t something that you can just get more of whenever you want it. It’s something you have to earn and use wisely.

It might not surprise you that this is a phrase that parents have used to teach their children about the value of money for at least more than one hundred years. In some instances, they might simply use the idiom when their kids are asking for something that they can't afford. In others, though, it might be used as a useful image that helps children understand that money must be earned and doesn't just spring from the ground.

Where Does This Idiom Come From?

It’s not entirely clear when this idiom was first used, but it may have originated in the late 19th century. There is an example from 1981 in the Statesville Landmark newspaper that uses the phrase “money doesn’t grow on trees here yet,” but the usage implies that it was already a common idiom.

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we can see some examples of this idiom used historically in print.

One example comes from the 1926 publication A Year in the Wonderland of Trees by Hallam Hawksworth:

“Another thing: you’ve often heard the expression “Money doesn’t grow on trees” – meaning that it isn’t easy to get; you’ve got to work for it. But in a way– and a very important way– money does grow on trees. Without trees the time would soon come when we’d have no money to buy things, and there’d be nothing to buy if we had!”

Another example shows up in a 1953 Monthly Newsletter from the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, Navy Department:

“That money doesn’t grow on trees is a truism no one will deny– that is, as long as by “money” you mean “currency.” That distinction is important because there is a man– an officer in the Navy Supply Corps– who is willing to insist that money does grow on trees– coconut trees.”

Examples of ‘Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees’ In Sentences

How would this idiom be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “Wow, you’ve really been buying a lot of clothes this month. You realize that money doesn’t grow on trees, don’t you?”
  • There’s a thin line between investing in yourself and spending money you don’t have. Remember, Sally, money doesn’t grow on trees. How are you planning on paying for all of this?”
  • “John bought a brand new car even though he just lost his job. What was he thinking? Does he think money grows on trees or something?”
  • “I’m so sick of watching you two waste time. Why don’t you go get a job or something? Money doesn’t grow on trees, after all!”

Final Thoughts About ‘Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees’

‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’ is an idiom that implies that one should be careful spending too much money because there is a limited amount of it. Though the origin of this phrase isn’t specifically known, parents have long used it as a warning to their children not to be wasteful with money.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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