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Prodigal vs. Spendthrift: What's the Difference?

By Harlon Moss & Aimie Carlson || Updated on May 22, 2024
Prodigal refers to someone who spends money or resources recklessly and wastefully, while Spendthrift is someone who spends money extravagantly and irresponsibly, often beyond their means.

Key Differences

Prodigal describes a person who is excessively and recklessly wasteful, particularly with money or resources. This term often carries a connotation of moral or ethical judgment, suggesting a lack of prudence or self-control. Spendthrift, on the other hand, specifically refers to someone who spends money extravagantly and irresponsibly, often without regard to future financial stability. The term emphasizes the act of spending money in a wasteful manner, typically beyond one's means, leading to potential financial troubles.
While both terms denote wasteful spending, prodigal encompasses a broader scope of recklessness, including but not limited to financial matters. Spendthrift is more narrowly focused on the irresponsible handling of money. Prodigal can imply a possibility of redemption or change, whereas spendthrift primarily describes a persistent behavior pattern.
Prodigal often suggests a moral failing or a cautionary tale, whereas spendthrift is a straightforward descriptor of financial irresponsibility. Prodigal is sometimes used in literary or religious contexts to emphasize the severity of wastefulness, while spendthrift is commonly used in everyday language to describe someone who is financially imprudent.

Comparison Chart


Recklessly wasteful, especially with resources
Extravagantly and irresponsibly spends money


Broader, includes various types of wastefulness
Narrower, focuses on financial spending


Moral or ethical judgment
Practical financial imprudence

Common Usage

Literary, religious, general
Everyday language


Potential for redemption
Persistent behavior pattern

Example Context

The prodigal son who squandered his inheritance
The spendthrift who maxed out credit cards

Prodigal and Spendthrift Definitions


Spending money or resources freely and extravagantly.
Her prodigal spending habits left her with nothing for emergencies.


Often implies financial imprudence and lack of foresight.
The spendthrift squandered his fortune on frivolous purchases.


Rashly or wastefully extravagant
Prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry.
A prodigal nephew who squandered his inheritance.


A person who is recklessly wasteful with money.
Being a spendthrift, she never saved any portion of her salary.


Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse
"the infinite number of organic beings with which the sea of the tropics, so prodigal of life, teems" (Charles Darwin).


Characterized by excessive and imprudent spending.
His spendthrift ways eventually caught up with him, leaving him broke.


One who is given to wasteful luxury or extravagance.


Someone who spends money extravagantly and irresponsibly.
His spendthrift lifestyle led him into serious debt.


Wastefully extravagant.
He found himself guilty of prodigal spending during the holidays.
The prodigal son spent his share of his inheritance until he was destitute.


One who spends money recklessly or wastefully.


Yielding profusely, lavish.
She was a merry person, glad and prodigal of smiles.
How can he be so prodigal with money on such a tight budget?


Wasteful or extravagant
Spendthrift bureaucrats.


Profuse, lavishly abundant.


Improvident, profligate, or wasteful.


(by allusion to the New Testament story commonly called "The Parable of the Prodigal Son", [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+15:11–32 Luke 15:11–32]) Behaving as a prodigal son:


Extravagant or lavish.


Having (selfishly) abandoned a person, group, or ideal.


Someone who spends money improvidently or wastefully.


Returning or having returned, especially repentantly, after such an abandonment.


(figuratively) Anything that distributes its attributes profusely, without restraint.


A prodigal person; a spendthrift; a wastrel.


One who spends money profusely or improvidently; a prodigal; one who lavishes or wastes his estate. Also used figuratively.
A woman who was a generous spendthrift of life.


Given to extravagant expenditure; expending money or other things without necessity; recklessly or viciously profuse; lavish; wasteful; not frugal or economical; as, a prodigal man; the prodigal son; prodigal giving; prodigal expenses.
In fighting fields [patriots] were prodigal of blood.


Prodigal; extravagant; wasteful.


One who expends money extravagantly, viciously, or without necessity; one that is profuse or lavish in any expenditure; a waster; a spendthrift.


Someone who spends money prodigally


A recklessly extravagant consumer


Recklessly wasteful;
Prodigal in their expenditures


Very generous;
Distributed gifts with a lavish hand
The critics were lavish in their praise
A munificent gift
His father gave him a half-dollar and his mother a quarter and he thought them munificent
Prodigal praise
Unsparing generosity
His unstinted devotion
Called for unstinting aid to Britain


One who spends money thoughtlessly and lavishly.
The spendthrift habits of the celebrity were well-known.


Recklessly wasteful;
Prodigal in their expenditures


Marked by rash extravagance;
Led a prodigal life


Recklessly wasteful, especially with resources.
The prodigal heir quickly depleted his inheritance on luxuries.


Marked by wasteful extravagance.
The prodigal nature of the event shocked the modest townsfolk.


Lavish and abundant to the point of wastefulness.
The prodigal feast featured more food than the guests could consume.


Often used in a moral or cautionary context.
The prodigal son's return was met with forgiveness and celebration.


What does prodigal mean?

Prodigal means recklessly wasteful, particularly with money or resources.

What does spendthrift mean?

Spendthrift refers to someone who spends money extravagantly and irresponsibly.

Can prodigal imply redemption?

Yes, prodigal can suggest a possibility of redemption or change, as in the biblical story of the prodigal son.

Are prodigal and spendthrift synonyms?

They are similar but not exact synonyms; prodigal has a broader scope and moral undertone, while spendthrift focuses on financial wastefulness.

Is spendthrift used in moral contexts?

Spendthrift is less about morality and more about practical financial irresponsibility.

Can prodigal describe non-financial waste?

Yes, prodigal can describe wastefulness in non-financial contexts, such as time or resources.

Is prodigal used only for money?

No, prodigal can refer to wastefulness with various resources, not just money.

Is spendthrift always negative?

Yes, spendthrift has a negative connotation, implying financial imprudence.

Does spendthrift suggest a temporary behavior?

Spendthrift usually implies a consistent pattern of behavior.

Is spendthrift commonly used today?

Yes, spendthrift is commonly used to describe financially irresponsible individuals.

What is the origin of spendthrift?

Spendthrift combines "spend" and "thrift," originally meaning someone who spends their savings.

Is spendthrift used in specific phrases?

No specific phrases, but it is a common descriptor of behavior.

Can prodigal refer to generosity?

Yes, in some contexts, prodigal can imply generous or lavish giving, though usually with a negative sense of overdoing it.

Can spendthrift be a temporary phase?

It can be, but it generally describes a habitual pattern.

Is prodigal commonly used today?

Prodigal is less common in everyday language but still used in literary and religious contexts.

Can spendthrift have a positive connotation?

No, spendthrift is always negative, implying reckless financial behavior.

How do you use prodigal in a sentence?

The prodigal prince squandered the kingdom's wealth on lavish parties.

Is prodigal used in specific phrases?

Yes, such as "prodigal son" to describe someone who returns after reckless behavior.

What is the origin of prodigal?

Prodigal comes from the Latin word "prodigus," meaning lavish.

Can prodigal have a positive connotation?

Rarely; prodigal typically has a negative connotation due to its association with wastefulness.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Co-written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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