What is the difference between the verbs to squander and to waste? For example:

  • to squander money

  • to waste money

  • The first dictionary I checked defines squander as "waste (something, esp. money or time) in a reckless and foolish manner." Why wouldn't that suffice to answer your curiosity?
    – J.R.
    Jan 7, 2013 at 0:48
  • 1
    By refusing to waste the planet's resources in voting for the bill, Senator Z squandered an opportunity to show that he was a "true" and ecologically wasteful "conservative". Jan 7, 2013 at 2:09
  • @JR I'd love to know how to "waste (something, esp. money or time) in other than a reckless and foolish manner." ;)
    – Kris
    Jan 7, 2013 at 8:58
  • 1
    @Kris: Maybe George Best said it best. (P.S. Another possibility: the time we spend on ELU?)
    – J.R.
    Jan 7, 2013 at 9:04

3 Answers 3


They're essentially equivalent when talking about "throwing money down the drain", i.e., spending it mindlessly, thoughtlessly, and fruitlessly.

More generally, it depends upon intention.

If I made what appeared to be a sound investment that lost money, I can chastise myself for having "wasted my money" because I gained nothing, but I can't say that I "squandered my money". If I merely went out shopping and bought everything I saw without thinking about it, I can chastise myself for having "squandered my money" when it's all gone.

The difference, therefore, is one of doing something senseless (squandering) versus something not necessarily senseless but equally in vain (wasting).


The word "wasting" is a milder, more general term. "Squandering" implies that you are wasting something (usually money or time) with reckless abandon.

  • That's what it seems the dictionary says. See my comment above?
    – Kris
    Jan 7, 2013 at 8:59
  • @Kris: You can waste time lazily, by dawdling. You can waste money on a lottery ticket, but, if you only bought a single $2 ticket, I'd hardly call that "with reckless abandon". You can waste money by buying someone a gag gift as a birthday present, but I wouldn't call that squandering, either.
    – J.R.
    Jan 7, 2013 at 9:24

Bill Franke makes a good point by differentiating between investing and shopping, although a different shopper might have an entirely different perspective on his shopping spree, whether his perspective is of the rational- or rationalizing type. I also like J.R.'s allusion to the George Best quotation, "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."

Hey, I'm no moral relativist, but the use of "it's all relative" is sometimes an appropriate locution, especially in matters morally grey.

For example, if I am opposed to investing in the stock market (thanks for the example, Bill Franke), convinced that doing so would only contribute to "the amoral military industrial complex," then I'll likely consider those who choose to invest to be squandering their money. When an investor takes a beating in the stock market, I might say, "Well, she certainly squandered her money!" The investor, on the other hand, might say, "Well, I may have wasted some of my money, but the stocks will likely go up again, eventually." Perspectives: we all have 'em, and in grey areas who is to say one perspective is preferable (not to mention more accurate or truthful) than another?

Now I have a feeling not all investors will concede that investing in stocks is a "grey area," but with so many different ways of investing today (investing in only socially responsible companies, for example), who are they to consider other forms of investment black, and theirs white? They're all grey. One person's trash is another person's treasure. By the same token, a person who contemplates throwing out a piece-of-junk vase will soon change his tune as soon as he learns it's a priceless Ming vase. Perspectives. A philanthropic person who acquires the same Ming vase might consider himself selfish in keeping it to himself, and so he donates it to a museum so everyone can enjoy it. "It's awfully beautiful," he might say, "but what a waste if if it simply collects dust in my Fifth Avenue penthouse?" Perspectives.

This relativity does not preclude a person on either "side" of the waste vs. squander issue from making a cogent, if not convincing, case why her perspective is preferable. Enter: the ancient and honorable art of persuasion (rhetoric). The context then becomes debate within the universe of discourse.

In a way, then, how the waste vs. squander issue is resolved is not simply a matter of denotation, but perspective, yes? How we USE words is at times more important than what the words mean. Welcome to my world.

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