Nickel-and-Dime – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Ever found yourself in a tough spot where you’re getting drained by small expenses that seem insignificant at first glance? You’re feeling nickeled-and-dimed, my friend! Don’t go hunting for nickels and dimes under your couch cushions; it’s not about literal coins. Let’s peel back the layers of this idiom and see what it really means so you’ll be better equipped to use it regularly.

Nickel and Dime or Nickel-and-Dime

Nickel and Dime Idiom Origin Meaning

The correct phrase here is nickel-and-dime. It’s a fascinating phrase we use to describe minor or petty costs that accumulate to become a large amount over time.

And if you’re wondering about the hyphen, you’ll probably see it written with and without the punctuation, but the correct version, according to most dictionaries, is with two hyphens. 

Explanation of the Nickel-and-Dime Meaning

The phrase nickel-and-dime typically comes with a negative connotation. It describes insignificant amounts of money that are small when taken individually, but when they keep trickling in, they add up to become a substantial sum. It’s like death by a hundred pokes in the eye but for your wallet.

You can also use the term to describe how someone keeps worrying about minor costs in a financial exchange. It’s like splitting a meal with a friend; they claim you owe ten more cents than they do because you got a refill on your drink. They’re nickel-and-diming you over splitting the bill.

Origin of the Phrase Nickel-and-Dime

Nickel and Dime Ngram
Nickel and dime usage trend.

The phrase nickel-and-dime originated in America, the land of real nickels and dimes. Even though the actual coins were made long before, the expression nickel-and-dime appears to have really taken off during the early 1900s.

Conjunctions for Nickel-and-Dime

You can use this phrase to express different tenses and uses in many ways. 

  • Infinitive: nickel-and-dime
  • Past participle: nickel-and-dimed or nickeled-and-dimed
  • Present: nickel-and-dimes or nickels-and-dimes
  • Present participle: nickel-and-diming or nickeling-and-diming

Synonyms for Nickel-and-Dime

  • Bleed dry
  • Squeeze
  • Nit-pick
  • Haggle
  • Milk
  • Drain

Nickel-and-Dime Examples in a Sentence

Nickel and Dime Idiom Origin Meaning 1
  • The vending machine at my office nickel-and-dimes me daily with its slightly overpriced snacks.
  • Mary felt nickel-and-dimed by the tiny extra fees her cell phone provider kept adding to her monthly bill.
  • We shared a burger and fries, but you’re going to nickel-and-dime me over the fact that I had a few more fries than you?
  • They run a nickel-and-dime operation, focusing on small transactions that add up over time.
  • I asked if she would take ten dollars for the chair, but she countered with $10.05, and I felt nickeled-and-dimed at the flea market.
  • I can no longer work for this nickel-and-dime operation; it’s too tedious and time-consuming.

That’s How the Phrase Was Coined

So, the next time you’re being bled dry by a swarm of minor expenses or someone haggles over a price with you for an extra five or ten cents, you can say with confidence (and a sigh), “I’m being nickeled-and-dimed.” This handy phrase gives you a light-hearted, slightly old-timey way to express your frustration at all those small expenses that, like unwelcome house guests, just keep showing up.

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered: