Understanding the Idiom: "cheaper by the dozen" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

The phrase “cheaper by the dozen” has been used for many years and can be traced back to early 20th century America. It was originally used in reference to large families who would often receive discounts on goods due to their size. Over time, however, it became more commonly associated with buying items in bulk.

Today, the idiom is widely used in both casual conversation and business settings. It can be applied to anything from groceries and household items to office supplies and equipment. The underlying message remains the same – purchasing larger quantities can lead to significant savings.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “cheaper by the dozen”

The idiom “cheaper by the dozen” is a commonly used expression that refers to something becoming less expensive when purchased in bulk. The origins of this phrase can be traced back to early 20th century America, where large families were common and often seen as a sign of prosperity.

During this time, many families had twelve or more children, which meant that buying goods in bulk was necessary to save money. This led to the popularization of the phrase “cheaper by the dozen”, which became widely used throughout American society.

As time went on, however, family sizes began to decrease and buying in bulk became less common. Despite this shift, the idiom has remained a part of everyday language and continues to be used today.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “cheaper by the dozen”

The idiom “cheaper by the dozen” is a well-known phrase that has been used in various contexts. It refers to something becoming more affordable when purchased in bulk or larger quantities. This idiom can be applied to different situations, such as buying groceries, household items, or even services.

One variation of this idiom is “buying in bulk.” This means purchasing a large quantity of an item at once, usually at a discounted price. Another variation is “quantity discount,” which refers to a reduced price given for buying multiple units of an item.

In addition to its literal meaning, “cheaper by the dozen” can also be used figuratively. For example, it can refer to getting more value for money spent on something. It can also imply that doing things in larger quantities can save time and effort.

This idiom has become so popular that it has been used in titles of books and movies. The book titled “Cheaper by the Dozen” was written by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and was based on their family’s experiences growing up with twelve children. The movie adaptation starred Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt as parents raising twelve children.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “cheaper by the dozen”


  • More bang for your buck
  • Bigger bang for your buck
  • Getting more for less
  • A better deal in bulk
  • The more you buy, the more you save

These phrases all suggest that purchasing a larger quantity of something results in greater value or savings. They are similar to “cheaper by the dozen” in that they emphasize getting more for your money.


  • Less is more
  • Quality over quantity
  • You get what you pay for
  • Paying a premium for excellence
  • The best things come in small packages

These phrases suggest that sometimes it’s better to prioritize quality over quantity and pay a higher price for something exceptional. They are opposite to “cheaper by the dozen” because they emphasize paying more money for fewer items.

Cultural Insights:

The phrase “cheaper by the dozen” originated from an autobiographical book written by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey about growing up with their parents who were efficiency experts and had twelve children. In modern times, this phrase has become synonymous with buying items in bulk or taking advantage of discounts offered when purchasing multiple items at once.

In some cultures, such as Japan and France, there is a focus on quality over quantity when it comes to consumer goods. This is reflected in the way products are marketed and sold, with an emphasis on craftsmanship and attention to detail rather than mass production.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “cheaper by the dozen”

In order to fully grasp the meaning of the idiom “cheaper by the dozen”, it is important to practice using it in different contexts. By doing so, you can improve your understanding of how this phrase can be used effectively in everyday conversation.

One practical exercise is to come up with your own examples of situations where something becomes cheaper when purchased in larger quantities. For instance, buying groceries in bulk at a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club could be considered “cheaper by the dozen”. Another example could be purchasing tickets for a group event such as a concert or movie theater showing.

Another exercise is to try and incorporate this idiom into your own conversations with friends and family. This will not only help you remember its meaning more easily, but also allow you to practice using it naturally in real-life situations.

Finally, reading books or watching movies that feature characters using this idiom can also be helpful. Pay attention to how it is used and try to identify any nuances or subtleties that may not have been immediately apparent before.

By practicing these exercises regularly, you will become more comfortable with using the idiom “cheaper by the dozen” and develop a deeper understanding of its meaning and usage.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “cheaper by the dozen”

When using idioms, it’s important to understand their meaning and usage in order to avoid common mistakes. The idiom “cheaper by the dozen” is often used to describe a situation where buying in bulk results in a lower cost per unit. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this idiom.

Using it inappropriately

One of the most common mistakes people make when using this idiom is applying it incorrectly. While it can be used to describe situations where buying in bulk is cheaper, it should not be used for every situation involving quantity or numbers.


Incorrect: I bought six pairs of shoes and got them at a discount. It’s cheaper by the dozen!

Correct: I bought twelve pairs of shoes and got them at a discount. It’s cheaper by the dozen!

Misunderstanding its origin

The origin of this idiom comes from a book published in 1948 titled “Cheaper By The Dozen”. The book tells the story of Frank Bunker Gilbreth Sr., an efficiency expert who raised twelve children with his wife Lillian Moller Gilbreth. The title refers to how they saved money on food, clothing, and other expenses by buying items in large quantities.


This idiom should not be confused with another phrase “a baker’s dozen” which means thirteen instead of twelve.

To summarize, understanding the proper usage and origin of an idiom can help you avoid making common mistakes when incorporating it into your speech or writing.

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