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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spending Money Hand Over Fist

Транжира: spendthrift, wastrel, big spender, high roller

The thing about ремонт квартиры (apartment remodeling) is that it’s expensive. After a month of trips to the building supply markets, tile stores, kitchen stores, bathroom stores, lighting stores and big box home repair stores, you begin to feel like a human ATM. It’s gotten to the point that as soon as I see my contractor, I reach for my wallet. Деньги уходят как песок сквозь пальцы! (Money flows through my fingers like sand!)

But because every experience is grist for the learning-Russian mill, this got me thinking about Russian terms for spending money.

In Russian, расточитель is a spendthrift. In the 19th and early 20th century, it seems to have been a rather common word, but today my friends say it is slightly bookish. They would be more likely to use the adjectival form — расточительный (profligate) — in reference to, say, state spending: Генеральная прокуратура выявила факты расточительного расходования бюджетных средств (The prosecutor general uncovered evidence of wasteful spending of budgetary funds).

Today if you want to describe a spendthrift, you might use the word транжира. This noun is derived from the verb транжирить (to spend wastefully) and came to Russian from the French. It can be applied to both sexes. Транжира — идеальный ухажёр, но проблемный муж (A big spender is an ideal boyfriend, but a problematic husband). Я транжира, причём неисправимая! Люблю я туфли. (I spend money like water, and I can’t change! I just love shoes.)

You might also call this kind of person мот (lavish spender), from the verb мотать (among several meanings: to spend money extravagantly). The poet Alexander Pushkin once wrote: Я не мот; я знаю цену деньгам. (I don’t squander money; I know its worth.) Judging by his life-long debts, this wasn’t true. But who wants to admit that he spends money like it was going out of style?

If someone spends money foolishly on things that he doesn’t need or even want, you might say: Он бросает деньги на ветер (He flushes money down the drain; literally, “He throws money to the wind”). You can also use a phrase with an English analog: Она разбрасывает деньги налево и направо (She spends money right and left).

If someone maintains an extravagant lifestyle, you might say of them: Он живёт на широкую ногу (literally, “he lives on a wide foot”). Etymologists quibble about the origins of this phrase. A few insist that it comes from the expensive fashion of long-toed shoes that appeared in various European courts in various centuries. Others believe that it is a native Russian expression that is derived from the notion of a foot as a measurement. In any case, it means: “He lives high on the hog.”

What if you don’t generally blow money but are prepared to pay whatever it takes to get, say, your roof repaired? You might say: Я заплачу любые деньги! (I’ll pay whatever it costs!) Or: Я за ценой не постою (literally, I won’t stand on the price). This phrase is most often associated with the song by bard Bulat Okudzhava for the film “Белорусский вокзал” (“Belorussky Station”). In the song, it refers to winning the Great Patriotic War, and the “price” was in lives and suffering. But today it might be used to mean: I don’t care what the price tag is.

In the Russian glossy women’s magazines, you can also find the loan word шопоголик (shopaholic). Soon I’m sure there will also be self-help groups called анонимные шопоголики (Shopaholics Anonymous).

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.