What does It Mean to "Throw Good Money After Bad"?

Mary McMahon

The idiom “to throw good money after bad” refers to a situation in which someone appears to be wasting money on a losing proposition. Many languages have some version of this idiom, reflecting the fact that wasted money is a universal problem around the world. As a general rule, people use this term as a form of criticism, suggesting that someone's decision to keep spending money is ill-advised.

The term usually refers to wasting money on what has already been found to be a losing proposition.
The term usually refers to wasting money on what has already been found to be a losing proposition.

In a classic example of a case in which someone might throw good money after bad, a company might invest in a major software upgrade, and learn that the software didn't meet its needs. To resolve the situation, the company would continue spending money on the software in an attempt to upgrade it and make it functional. Critics might argue that this money is wasted, and it would be better to start all over again with a fresh software system.

In can be tempting to "throw good money after bad" if a lot of time and money has already been spent.
In can be tempting to "throw good money after bad" if a lot of time and money has already been spent.

The temptation to continue spending money on a losing proposition can be considerable, especially when someone has invested a lot of time and money in it. It can be disheartening to be told that the money has been wasted, and it would be better to simply forget about it and move on. When people have invested the bulk of their money in a useless venture, throwing good money after bad can be catastrophic, as they will lose the typically borrowed funding used to prop the scheme up as well as the initial outlay. This can mean that someone ends up worse-off than he or she started.

This term references the closely related idea of throwing money at something to fix a problem. While substantial applications of funds can indeed resolve some situations, money is not always the best solution. Attempting to use money to fix a bad outcome sometimes ends up with a situation in which people throw good money after bad, not realizing that they are taking the wrong approach.

To avoid spending money wastefully, it is a good idea to evaluate any ventures that involve an outlay of funds, from buying a house to establishing a business. The situation should be carefully considered, and people may want to think about what will happen in an economic downturn, or in the event of a major crisis. Seeking advice from financial experts can also help to clarify the situation, and help decide on whether or not something is a good investment. It also helps to have a partner to discuss issues with, and to agree on a set point at which the partners should pull out to avoid wasting money.

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Discussion Comments


I think for this expression to be applicable, it has to be universally accepted that the original project has indeed failed. I've been in budget meetings where a pet project will come under scrutiny and someone will say "We're just throwing good money after bad on this. It isn't doing this company any good." But someone else will make the point that it's too soon to tell if the project has failed or not. It might end up turning into a very profitable thing, but it just needs more time and investment to prove itself.

I made my own argument about throwing good money after bad when our church organ started having problems. The organ was over 60 years old, and was using obsolete vacuum tube technology. There was only one repairman in a three state area that still worked on those instruments, and he charged at least $75 just to show up. His average repair bill was more like $500 once he ordered parts from China or Russia.

I told the church council that a newer organ with modern electronics would be a better investment, but the trustees had a sentimental attachment to the old organ and weren't willing to let it go. We continue to throw good money after bad to this day, in my opinion.


I think part of the idea behind this idiom is that presumably there's no such thing as "bad money." We always say "I'm not going to spend good money on that," etc. So the idea of spending good money on something already exists in English. So this expression implies that wasting the money makes that "bad money." I think the word "bad" in the idiom refers to "bad money," not "bad people" or any reference to the indirect object of the spending.

I'm just waxing philosophical about grammar here. Don't mind me.


There are several causes in community outreach where people could say that we often throw good money after bad as well, such as the war against drugs, problems with immigration, and even health care. Almost anything these days that uses a lot of money might be accused of fulfilling this idiom.


In addition to the idiom to throw good money after bad, there is another I've heard people use for these situations. It's used if people are trying to fix a leak or replace something else in their house, for example, or some other problem that seemed simple but isn't. In that situation, they might say that "at this point it seems like we should just fill the hole with $20 bills and that would be faster."

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