This expression means that money is not a resource that is not easily acquired and should not be spent in a careless manner.
Example: A child walks into a store with her mother and an expensive toy catches her eye. So she asks: “Mom, can we get this?” Sadly, the mother is low on cash and cannot afford to spend what little she has on something as unnecessary as a toy. Thus, she tells her child: “I’m sorry, but money doesn’t grow on trees, we can’t afford that right now.”
‘Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees’ Origin
When you take a tree and plant it in the dirt, what happens? You already know; assuming the tree receives plenty of water and sunshine, it will eventually grow to be big and strong. Depending on the size of the tree, it can have thousands of leaves growing on its branches. And if it’s a fruit tree, then it can produce lots of food for people to eat. The tree produces this fruit annually, at pretty much no cost to you. It’s basically free food that grows in your yard. All you have to do is go out and grab some. The point? The things that grow on a tree are plentiful, be it the leaves on it fruit it produces; it’s all freely available.
On the other hand, money is not something that’s as easy to come by. If you run out of money, you can’t just take a trip to your backyard and collect cash from a tree. Instead, it has to be earned through hard work. And even when one has money, they have to be careful with how or where they choose to spend it because it’s a limited resource. Indeed, money is not freely available like the fruit or leaves on a tree are. This is essentially the idea behind the proverb, but who came up with it?
As is the case with many phrases, the exact person who came up with it is not known. However, the phrase doesn’t look to be that old. The earliest I’ve seen it in print is near the end of the 19th century. For example, it’s in the Statesville Landmark newspaper from 1891:
“Money doesn’t grow on trees here yet.”
- We’ve been eating at restaurants a lot lately and this has taken a toll on our wallets. Money doesn’t grow on trees, so we’re gonna have to cut back on eating out and do more home cooking instead.
Note: The origins for most common idioms cannot be said with a certainty. What’s provided are theories that may be plausible to how a phrase originated, but not necessarily so.
In addition, quotes that contain the phrase are taken from old newspapers, poems, or books. While these may have been written centuries ago, it does not necessarily mean the phrase originated from these sources. In all likelihood, if an expression is being used in something like a newspaper, then it was probably already well known at that time.