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What is the meaning of the term beer money in the sentence:

People often ask me to describe in detail how I’ve got to be where I am today, thinking that I’ve spent years earning beer money in local clubs, but the truth is, I’m literally an overnight sensation!

I've searched on the web and found that beer money is a card game. Is this what he is referring to, or is it an idiomatic expression?

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    A mother gives her children lunch money for school, while a father keeps the beer money for himself. :) – tchrist Jul 28 '13 at 17:50
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    Beer money is slang for a small amount of disposable income- not enough to pay bills with, but enough to go out and have a little fun with- like going out and buying some beers. Urban dictionary's first definition is correct: 1. Extra money for non-essential payments, available for spending on luxuries, hobbies, or a fresh pint of your favorite draft. but I wouldn't dare answer this question for real and quote UD ;-) – Jim Jul 28 '13 at 17:57
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    @Jim Be brave. There may be no better answer. – bib Jul 28 '13 at 18:02
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    No, the implication is that people might have supposed that he started out small, by earning, say, $40 or $50 a night in small clubs- not enough so that he could quit his day job, and worked building his fame for a number of years before making it big. But, he says, that's not the case- he was literally discovered overnight. – Jim Jul 28 '13 at 18:15
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    In the UK you are legally able to drink at 18 and most people go to bars and drink from 16 so any student from that age with a weekend job would be said to be earning "beer money". Typically the money would spend socialising in pubs and bars. Even if the person was tea total pubs and bars are the social spot so "pocket money" is called "beer money" even if it was spent on clothes. Any disposable income of a UK college student, especially male, would be called beer money. – simbo1905 Jul 17 '15 at 11:33
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Beer money is the amount of cash set aside by the male head of the family, in order to spend a night or two out drinking with friends in pubs. The "beer money" in your excerpt, is talking about the amount of money earned by the entertainer, similar to tips, handed out by the regulars who attended the local.

I imagine that the entertainer is either a comedian who performed in small comedy clubs, notorious venues for heavy drinking and introducing new acts, or that he is a musician; perhaps a singer-songwriter and guitarist. They too perform in pubs in order to attract more customers.

EDIT: The entertainer however did not start his career by building up slowly over the years but rather he defines his (it could be a woman but I very much doubt it) as being an "overnight sensation" i.e instantaneous recognition and fame.

The longman dictionary defines "beer money" as:

beer money [uncountable] British English, informal a little extra money to buy a drink or have fun with: "The job was never going to make me rich, but it kept me in beer money for a while."

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    I wonder if this is really and truly limited to British English alone. I never would have thought so had I not read what you’ve written above. Just seems like a regular term. – tchrist Jul 28 '13 at 23:12
  • @tchrist: I know that I've heard the term used here in the US, although it's entirely possible it's been by people who imported it from the UK. – Ben Hocking Jul 29 '13 at 0:18
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People often ask me to describe in detail how I've got to be where I am today, thinking that I've spent years earning beer money in local clubs...

As others have said, "beer money" simply means a small amount of disposable income. It's not unlike pin money, although I believe that expression is falling out of fashion.

That said, in this quote, I wonder if "beer money" (which was "earned in local clubs") is meant to imply, "I'd make just enough money performing my act that I could buy a beer before I went home" – and that the price of the beer wasn't all that much less than the take-home pay for the work. In other words, it would have been roughly a break-even endeavor.

That's just a supposition, but, if true, the quote would be akin to when someone talks about a job with low pay but high travel expenses, so that the pay barely "covers the gas money." As one person wrote:

You have to sell a lot to get a 50% discount and I can't see how that covers the gas money to deliver all that stuff...

  • I can easily see it reading the way you’ve wondered about. – tchrist Jul 28 '13 at 23:16
  • I don't really see the difference -- people are wondering about it, thinking he spent years not making much;whether that "not much" was 2 bucks a gig or 50, isn't really relevant, particularly since they are wrong. – jmoreno Jul 29 '13 at 1:06
  • @jmoreno: I completely agree, it doesn't change the overall heart of the message. But the O.P. was inquiring about "beer money" specifically, not "the truth is, I’m .. an overnight sensation," so I thought it was worth a mention. – J.R. Jul 29 '13 at 2:40
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It's an expression used to describe small amounts of money as set out in the answers above, and can sometimes be related to part-time earnings, or sums of money earned or raised in addition to a salary. I believe the term is also related to the historical or archaic notion of small beer, which was beer of a lower alcoholic content specifically brewed for children as an alternative to the drinking water which carried dangerous diseases.

small beer noun 1 chiefly Brit. a thing that is considered unimportant : even with $10,000 to invest, you are still small beer for most stockbrokers. 2 archaic weak beer.

  • See also small potatoes. – tchrist Jul 28 '13 at 23:15

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