Penny wise and pound foolish

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Penny wise and pound foolish is an idiom that may be older than you think. We will look at the meaning of the phrase penny wise and pound foolish, who coined the term, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Penny wise and pound foolish describes the act of concentrating so hard on economizing in small matters that one misses the opportunity to save or gain a large amount of money in larger matters. This alludes to the pennies that make up a British pound. An example of someone being penny wise and pound foolish is a person who travels to many grocery stores to buy items on sale at each one, but ends up spending more in gas money driving between the stores than he saves in buying the grocery sale items. Another example of being penny wise and pound foolish is someone who uses an inferior shingle to roof his house and ends up with expensive water damage because the roof leaked. The term penny wise and pound foolish was coined by Robert Burton in his work The Anatomy of Melancholy published in 1621. Burton was a scholar at Oxford University, primarily in the field of mathematics. He wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy as therapy for his own chronic depression.


“I just think that’s penny wise and pound foolish if we don’t invest in having a detailed analysis done.” (The River Falls Journal)

Nicholas Bala, an authority on family and children’s law at Queen’s University, describes the ministry as being “penny wise and pound foolish.” (The Toronto Star)

Because while conquering student debt rapidly may provide a psychological win, it is often penny wise, pound foolish; coming at the expense of long-term financial security. (Forbes Magazine)