Financial Wisdom From Southern Sayings

by Shawanda Greene

Fried chicken and biscuitsToday, I pay homage to my southern roots by going over some of the common sayings I heard growing up. I gathered a few of my faves, translated them, and loosely related them to personal finance. I did my best to keep this post relevant to money, but I won’t make any promises.

Saying: Ain’t got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.

Translation: You’re basically homeless. To elaborate, you’d sleep on the streets if others refused to financially support you.

No one repeats this saying with more disgust than my mother. No, my mama doesn’t harbor a natural disdain for the poor. Like most hardworking Americans, she’s annoyed with uppity broke people.

For instance, my cousin doesn’t buy her children non-brand name clothes. She won’t even accept them as gifts. For a high school dropout living on government assistance, she’s awfully particular. My mother and I can’t figure out how a person who depends on the forced generosity of taxpayers develops such a discriminating taste.

Saying: You can’t get blood out of a turnip.

Translation: You can only take from someone what they’re able to give.

I’m somewhat of an anomaly in my family. You see, I have great credit.

I don’t know the specifics of everyone’s finances, but I’d bet you two pieces of Popeye’s chicken and a biscuit that most of them either have no credit or bad credit. Amazingly, they’re unfazed by this.

I’ve never sensed that anyone in my extended family feared a creditor. They truly do not give a crap about their credit history. They frequently contend that they can’t repay their debts because they don’t have the money. That’s it. There’s nothing left to talk about. Lesser people allow harassing debt collectors to stress them out. Not my family. The only thing a collection agency gets from them is cussed out.

Saying: Running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

Translation: You’re aimless and unproductive.

Fact: After a chicken is decapitated, it may still run around for a few minutes. It’s pretty much dead, so what’s the point?

Some people kick up clumps of dirt, flap their wings, and make a lot of fuss to give the appearance they’re swamped. But really, they engage in trivial foolishness to avoid meaningful work.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed the headless chicken metaphor in action. A fellow coffee shop patron would not stay seated. From the looks of things, she was there to hangout with her friends. But she kept jumping up to serve them, darting back and forth to the counter. An untrained eavesdropper would think she was super busy. I saw through all the fanfare. I wouldn’t be shocked if the only thing she did all day was distract other people.

Saying: Sweep off your own back porch.

Translation: Mind yo’ business.

For some reason, people with messed up finances (and *clears throat* relationships) love to dole out unsolicited advice.

Think about it. If your porch is cluttered and crawling with cockroaches, you’re not in a position to help me clear off my porch? Worry about what you got going on. Get your stuff together first. Then–and only then–can you tell me what I need to do.

Saying: Your eyes are bigger than your belly.

Translation: You’re greedy.

You thought you were hungry enough to eat a ginormous plate of food. Unfortunately, you grossly overestimated how much you could consume.

As a child, if I was lucky, I could enjoy the fullness of my belly, step away from the half eaten plate of food, and carry on about my day. If not, an angry adult family member might force me to gorge myself on ALL the food I fixed. Oh, what a miserable feeling it is to be so stuffed you have to breathe out of your mouth.

Can you imagine how much money you’d save if you had to read old books before you bought new ones? Or wear shoes a set number of times before racing back to the mall? The horror!

Saying: A hard head make a soft behind.

Translation: Obey the rules, or get your butt whipped.

I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but when I was coming up, I got beatings. Sometimes I refer to them as spankings in an effort to sound more mainstream. But I heard “Go git me a switch” too many times to convince myself that I was “spanked.”

My dad, who rarely hit us, loved this phrase. He reminded us that disobedience leads to punishment by the Universe, or worse, my mother.

Of course you shouldn’t blindly do what others tell you. However, there are times we ignore good counsel, follow our own misguided advice, and screw everything up. For instance, years I ignored almost every personal finance experts’ advice to create a written budget. Once Dave Ramsey convinced me budgets were where it’s at, I increased my net worth by over $30,000 in one year.

To think, I wandered around with a tender behind all those years because I refused to listen.

What were some of the common sayings you heard when you were growing up?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Daisy @ Add Vodka June 22, 2012 at 9:28 AM

This is AMAZING! I have only heard a couple of these sayings but it’s so interesting hearing them and seeing your translation and how they were used. My dad never used serious sayings – he was a huge goof so all of my childhood sayings are really lame, haha.
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Shawanda Greene June 25, 2012 at 1:40 PM

Feel free to use some of the United State’s southern sayings. I’m sure people will look at you strangely, but what the heck, you only live once. Every now and then I’ll use the word “reckon” just to throw people off. My goal this week is to use “britches” in a sentence while talking to a complete stranger. :)
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Virginia June 22, 2012 at 9:45 AM

Another excellent post. I’ve heard some variation of all of the sayings except “a hard head makes a soft behind.”

How about “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”? That one probably isn’t unique to the south, huh?


Shawanda Greene June 25, 2012 at 1:35 PM

Thanks! Actually, my dad used the swear word for “behind,” but I wanted to keep this post family friendly. :D

I wanted to use “don’t count your chickens . . . ” because it fits so well with personal finance. But then, I also thought it expanded beyond the south.

I remember I told a friend not to write a check in anticipation of getting paid by a certain date. She didn’t listen. Bounced the check. Figures.
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Meghan June 22, 2012 at 10:49 AM

Haha these are so awesome!

My family didn’t really use colloquialisms like this, but I so wish they had; I’ll have to ask if my great-grandparents did.
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Shawanda Greene June 25, 2012 at 1:31 PM

Ask them! They probably have some pretty far out sayings.
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femmefrugality June 22, 2012 at 4:25 PM

“He reminded us that disobedience leads to punishment by the Universe, or worse, my mother.”

Too funny! Because it can ultimately be true. :)

I don’t think we had too many colloquialisms in our family, either. At least none that we used repeatedly enough for me to take note of.


Shawanda Greene June 25, 2012 at 1:30 PM

Aw, you missed out. :) I can’t use them as much anymore because people in my area would think I’m crazy. However, I still try to use the saying (not listed above), “She called him everything but a child of God” every chance I get. It applies when someone heaps harmful personal insults on another. It still makes me chuckle.
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From Shopping to Saving June 22, 2012 at 4:36 PM

This is awesome hahaha and now I want fried chicken…but the running around with your head chopped off chicken line kind of creeps me out. I’ve def heard that one before though, and the eyes are bigger than your stomach line was ALWAYS used on me :( Another saying my grandma would say is “If it was a snake, it would have bitten you already” because I was not being careful whenever I was looking for something…usually whatever I was looking for was right in front of me. I make sure to be extra cautious and thorough now so that this snake she talks about will never bite me lol.
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Shawanda Greene June 25, 2012 at 1:27 PM

Ha! I’ve never heard that one. I’m going to save it for when I have kids. I know my mom chastised me a lot for only half looking for things. Now, I try to remember to pick stuff up to see if whatever I’m looking for is hidden. Often my mom would come behind me and instantly find what I’d spent 15 minutes looking for by picking up a pillow or moving clothes out of the way.
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Tia June 22, 2012 at 5:25 PM

My saying comes from my dad. “Rich people go on vacation, poor people move around furniture.” Whenever I get the itch to travel but I have no cash, I move things around. Gives a new perspective.


Shawanda Greene June 25, 2012 at 1:23 PM

Nice. Since I won’t do much traveling this year, maybe I should rearrange my living room. As soon as I figure out where to put my sofa table, I’m doing it.
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eemusings June 22, 2012 at 7:57 PM

Heh, this is great, thanks for sharing!

I got a lot of “If I were you”s from Mum. Annoyed me to no end.
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Shawanda Greene June 25, 2012 at 1:21 PM

My mom would threaten us with, “I’m gonna hit you so hard you gonna think lightning struck you.” I’ve never been struck my lightning. However, it’s quite possible I’ve been hit so hard I couldn’t tell the difference between a belt and lightning. It’s funny now. Back then . . . not so much.
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Charlotte @ HIMMB June 22, 2012 at 10:09 PM

I’ve heard and used all of these. Another thing we say in the South is “I’m fixin to do this or that”. Which means I’m getting ready to do something. It’s so common to hear these sayings you don’t realize they are only heard in the south.


Shawanda Greene June 25, 2012 at 1:17 PM

“Fixin’.” Yeah, now that I’m in the mid Atlantic region, I don’t hear that one too often. We would also say “finna” instead of “fixin.’” Used in a sentence, “I’m finna go to the store.”
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Ethan June 23, 2012 at 1:59 PM

I enjoyed reading these sayings. I have to admit that there were a couple I had never heard of before. My favorites that I heard was “A possum just ran across my grave.” Translation – I just got the willies. And “that dog would hunt.” Translation – That idea won’t work.

Thank you for sharing. Fun post.


Shawanda Greene June 25, 2012 at 1:13 PM

I’ve never heard the possum one. There are too many sayings to count. Without a translation, most of them sound pretty ridiculous. I never thought of how absurd the ones I heard growing were because I was so used to hearing them.
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Holly Thrifty June 24, 2012 at 7:58 AM

I heard this statement when I got a bit older and it applies. “The juice isn’t worth the squeeze.” The effort isn’t worth the reward. I see people chasing sales, clipping coupons and doing crazy efforts to save $2. STOP. Start making consistent small changes and you’ll reach your goal faster.


Shawanda Greene June 25, 2012 at 12:35 PM

I love that one. I think I’ll use it except I’m gonna say “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.” Thanks for sharing!


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