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shoe·​string ˈshü-ˌstriŋ How to pronounce shoestring (audio)
[from shoestrings being a typical item sold by itinerant vendors] : a small sum of money : capital inadequate or barely adequate to the needs of a transaction
started the business on a shoestring


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: narrow and long like a shoestring
shoestring french fries
: operating on, accomplished by, or consisting of a small amount of money or capital
a shoestring budget

Did you know?

In earlier times, wandering peddlers offered townspeople a variety of items and trinkets, such as fabrics, embroidery materials, and even patent medicines. Another popular offering from these traveling salespeople was shoelaces. The fact that such vendors neither earned much money nor charged very much for their wares led to the connection of their literal shoestrings with a metaphorical application of "shoestring" to a very small amount of money. It's still not uncommon to hear of a business being operated on a shoestring (even if these days it's less likely that actual shoelaces are involved), but it's also possible to speak of "traveling on a shoestring" and even "gardening on a shoestring."

Examples of shoestring in a Sentence

Noun trying to start a business on a shoestring
Recent Examples on the Web
In an art scene marked by two extremes — giant cultural treasuries on the National Mall and tiny nonprofits with shoestring budgets — the Rubell Museum stands out as one of a few private midsize organizations bridging that gulf. Kriston Capps, Washington Post, 26 Mar. 2024 In Moneyball, Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the beleaguered manager of the Oakland Athletics who finds clever ways to compete against wealthier teams despite his shoestring budget. Chris Snellgrove,, 20 Mar. 2024 Produced on a shoestring budget, the film barely made a ripple on its initial release. Katie Rife,, 12 Mar. 2024 Made on a shoestring budget and shot over a little more than a week, it was lapped up for giving a uniquely dark and hilarious twist to the standard gangster flick while adding splashes of U.K. kitchen-sink social realism into the mix. Alex Ritman, Variety, 27 Feb. 2024 Annunciation House had always run on a shoestring budget, and the COVID-19 pandemic made things even harder; volunteer levels dropped, even as border crossings rose, after a brief lull in 2020, to record numbers. Rachel Monroe, The New Yorker, 23 Feb. 2024 In their retirement, Aliaga and his wife began traveling the world on a shoestring budget, bringing their tent and hiking poles to places like Machu Picchu, Mount Everest Base Camp and the Grand Canyon. Amanda Lee Myers, USA TODAY, 4 Jan. 2024 Working with a shoestring budget, Rasti didn’t have the time or resources to scout locations. Christopher Vourlias, Variety, 19 Feb. 2024 For most of that period, however, his work, and the work of other would-be road removers, has been hampered by shoestring budgets and politicians ideologically opposed to road destruction. Ben Goldfarb, Smithsonian Magazine, 13 Feb. 2024
The nonpartisan Wahl-O-Mat runs on a shoestring annual budget of 100,000 euros, or $120,000, with just three staff members under the aegis of the federal agency for civic education (BPB), Pamela Brandt, project manager since 2004, said in an interview. Erik Kirschbaum, Los Angeles Times, 24 Sep. 2021 Recent polls show that public opinion of Trump is souring as former Vice President Joe Biden pulls ahead in crucial swing states, despite a shoestring campaign and self-confinement to his Delaware home. Justin Sink,, 12 May 2020 In 2016, the Trump campaign relied on stadium rallies, TV appearances and social media to compensate for its shoestring budget and thin staffing. Jennifer Epstein,, 7 May 2020 In Greater Cincinnati, a mighty, mostly volunteer needle-exchange effort on a shoestring budget started in 2014. Terry Demio, USA TODAY, 15 Dec. 2019 In the process, mom-and-pops, immigrant-run shops, and small, shoestring operations were often sidelined, not given their full due., 25 Sep. 2019 Interviews with more than a dozen former employees and business partners provide a deeper look inside an organization that ballooned from a shoestring operation in the 1990s into a behemoth rivaling Wall Street’s largest firms. Rachael Levy, WSJ, 8 Feb. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'shoestring.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use


1616, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1859, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of shoestring was in 1616


Dictionary Entries Near shoestring

Cite this Entry

“Shoestring.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a small sum of money
start a business on a shoestring
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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