What Does “Why Buy the Cow When the Milk is Free” Mean?

You may have heard the phrase “why buy the cow when the milk is free” from time to time, but do you know what it means? This phrase has been used for centuries and has multiple meanings depending on who’s saying it and when. Let’s take a look at some of these interpretations and explore why this phrase remains so popular today.

The most common interpretation of this phrase is that it refers to relationships or marriage. The “milk” in this case can be taken as a metaphor for sex or physical intimacy, while the “cow” is meant to represent commitment or marriage. Thus, if someone can get what they want (i.e., sex) without any strings attached, then why bother with a more serious commitment such as marriage?

Another interpretation of this phrase comes from economics. In this context, the “cow” can be seen as an investment—such as buying a house—while the “milk” represents something that can provide immediate benefits without any long-term commitment—like renting an apartment. Thus, if someone wants all of the benefits without having to make a large investment, then why bother with buying the cow?

A third interpretation involves work ethic and ambition. In this sense, someone may be using “why buy the cow when the milk is free” to refer to working for something versus taking short cuts or looking for easy ways out. For example, if you are able to get good grades by cheating or taking someone else’s work instead of putting in your own hard work, then why bother doing it yourself? The idea here is that people should strive towards their goals by taking full responsibility and making no excuses.


No matter how you interpret it, “why buy the cow when the milk is free” has been around for centuries and continues to remain popular today due its multiple meanings and potential applications in different contexts. Whether used in relationships, economics or life lessons – this phrase still carries weight! Ultimately it serves as a reminder not to take shortcuts and that true success comes from hard work and dedication.