What's a modern alternative idiom to 'Don't spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar'?

Struggling to find an alternative to this idiom that would resonate with modern audiences.

  • 5
    I always think of "For want of a nail the kingdom was lost" in those circumstances, but I don't know how widely known it is. And I guess it doesn't sound that modern either :-)
    – JonLarby
    Jun 6, 2018 at 8:42
  • 2
    'A stitch in time saves nine' is probably not yet moribund and conveys nearly the same message. But It's a false economy is fully up-to-date (though an imperative form is probably not as idiomatic). Jun 6, 2018 at 9:33
  • 1
    "Ha'port of tar" sounds like a fictional duke in a space opera. Jun 6, 2018 at 15:00

2 Answers 2


"Penny-wise and pound-foolish".
"So concerned with saving money in any way possible that one fails to allocate money to things that will ultimately force one to spend more (due to lack of quality, proper maintenance, etc). I know you don't want to pay for this expensive course of treatment, but when ignoring your health lands you in the hospital and you have to miss work, you'll see that you were penny-wise and pound-foolish."

  • 1
    This coheres with the meaning exactly. I got the ha'porth worth of tar, but completely missed the sheep. I assumed incorrectly that tar was used for filling holes in a ship's planking. It's that kind of misprision that often leads to folk etymologies. I am so glad I checked. Here's a great explanation of why sheep came to be pronounced ship: wordhistories.net/2017/10/13/spoil-ship-haporth-tar
    – Lambie
    Jun 6, 2018 at 14:15
  • 1
    @Lambie ditto. I too assumed it stopped a ship sinking! Good link!
    – k1eran
    Jun 6, 2018 at 21:17

buy cheap, buy twice TFD

poorly made or will wear out quickly


cut corners TFD

to take shortcuts; to save money or effort by finding cheaper or easier ways to do something.

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