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What does It Mean to Bet the Farm?

Michael Pollick
Updated: May 23, 2024

The idiom bet the farm is often preceded by words of caution, as in "I wouldn't bet the farm on that new invention if I were you," or "He might offer you the position, but don't bet the farm on it." It literally means to risk virtually everything on a single investment, idea or opportunity. Under certain circumstances, such risk-taking behavior does pay off well, as in the case of investing one's life savings in a small computer company called Microsoft. At other times, however, it means to lose the farm when the seemingly risk-free opportunity goes bust.

Many times a person will use the idiom when an outcome appears to be guaranteed or inevitable. Few investors would willingly bet the farm on a risky or unproven business concept, but some opportunities are simply too potentially lucrative or risk-free to pass up. In exchange for taking a significant financial risk, there may be a very significant financial reward for the risk-taker. A stock broker or other financial analyst may suggest that a potential investor put everything on a very promising stock, or a real estate agent could advise a client to spend a lot on a valuable piece of property.

There is also a negative side to the idiom, however. Some investment opportunities or business proposals are so fraught with uncertainty or heavy risk that people are advised not to bet the farm on them. Investing all or almost all of one's personal wealth into an unproven or speculative venture can have disastrous results, so a person should always seek out professional advice or do their own research before betting the entire farm on anything. Once the farm is lost, it may be lost for good.

Certain gambling and card games provide players the opportunity to "bet the farm" on a promising hand or high-odds payoff. In the poker game Texas Hold 'Em, for instance, a player who is low on betting chips but holds a strong hand can literally go all-in, meaning he or she wagers all of his or her earnings on the outcome of a single round. Professional gamblers rarely go all-in unless the chances of winning are exceptionally high. Winning a big hand is often a matter of balancing risk versus reward, and there are indeed times when it pays to bet the farm on a promising opportunity.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On Jul 12, 2011

@Oceana - I feel your friend's pain. I, too, fell victim to a loved one's need to bet the farm on a game. His addiction cost me a year's salary. I worked an entire year for nothing, basically, and finding that out felt like getting hit by a car driven by my boyfriend.

I had enough savings to buy a new car with cash, and I had planned to do just that within a month. I accidentally left my debit card at his house, and he could not control himself. He said his reasoning was that he felt certain he could triple the money, and we could have a dream wedding and honeymoon. Instead, he lost it all, and I could no longer stomach being with him.

By Oceana — On Jul 11, 2011

My friend's ex-husband bet the farm at a casino. He lived for the thrill of gambling, and even his love for her and their children could not cure him of his mental disease.

For years, he had been clean. She got him to stop by telling him that she would not marry a gambling man, and he loved her enough to stop, at least long enough to snag her as a wife.

After six years, he could stand it no longer. They had been saving up to buy a house, and he was sure that he could double their money at poker. So, he bet it all, and the money wasn't all he lost. When she found out, she took the children and moved in with her parents.

By shell4life — On Jul 10, 2011

I bet the farm on a friend's new business venture, and I wish I could turn back time. I lost everything in my savings account because I took a chance.

She had me convinced that there was a great need for a fabric store in our town. While we did have a lot of elderly people who liked to sew, they did not have a whole lot of money, so they were trying to be frugal with what they had.

I had a couple of elderly ladies tell me that they really liked the inventory at her store, and if they had a steady income, they would have been regular shoppers, but they only had so much left to live on for the remainder of their lives. Her business closed after a few months, and I vowed to never again take such a risk.

By StarJo — On Jul 09, 2011

My dad bet the farm on his new restaurant ten years ago, and it benefited him. My mother and I were shocked to learn that he had taken out a sizable loan for his new venture, and though we were filled with anxiety for the first month of business, our fears soon subsided.

We lived in a very small town. The only places you could get food were gas stations and dollar stores. The workers at the nearby factories brought their lunches, because there was nowhere close enough for them to go during their 30-minute break.

My dad had often been told by those who tasted his dishes that he should open up a restaurant, so he took them literally. He saw the need in the community, he built it, and they came.

By MrSmirnov — On Jul 09, 2011

If you are unsure of a financial move and someone is telling you to bet the farm, remember the old adage if it sounds to good to be true it probably is. While you may think you are getting a good deal, the fact is that many moves are just too risky for most people to make.

I have looked into some real estate and sometimes amazing properties come up that look like they could be valuable, but in reality there is a big flaw that you don't find until later on. If you bet the farm in this kind of scenario the chance of losing big is just too much.

Has anyone ever been in a situation where you were personally encouraged to bet the farm?

By letshearit — On Jul 08, 2011

If you enjoy gambling betting the farm can be a big move and you really need to be certain that you are doing the right thing. I had a friend who was a great poker player but he lost his car on a hand he thought was a sure win.

For my friend, his buddies strongly encouraged him to bet the farm, too caught up in the excitement of the situation to really think things over well. They all felt that the odds were in his favor, so why not give it a shot.

Unfortunately, gambling is always a risk and I really believe you shouldn't bet more than you are willing to give away for free.

By Moldova — On Jul 07, 2011

@Subway11 - I know what you mean. Bernie Madoff was an investment advisor that people had to receive a referral in order for him to work with you. People saw this and wanted to invest with him because they felt that he had some sort of magic that no one else had.

Unfortunately, he was a swindler that took advantage of his victims and destroyed the lives of all of his investors. I think that if you bet the farm you run the risk of losing everything like these people did.

By subway11 — On Jul 07, 2011

@Latte31 - I felt so bad for those people and I am sure they helped a lot of other people not make the same mistake that they made. I think that the same could be said during the real estate crisis.

Many people bet the farm that the housing prices were going to continue to skyrocket, but instead it crashed. There were people that owned multiple properties that they bought with no money down and now they owe twice as much as the homes are worth.

Many people lost their homes and ruined their credit because they did not diversify into other types of investments. The problem also was that real estate at the time was really hot and everyone wanted to get a piece of the action. But I know that many people now realize that you never bet the farm in any type of investment because you really never know what the future holds.

By latte31 — On Jul 06, 2011

I wanted to say that sometimes people bet the farm on their employer’s stock and later live to regret it. I remember years ago many employees of the company Enron, were encouraged to buy the company stock by the executives of the company and they were also given company stock as part of their compensation plan.

Many of the employees held about 75% or more of their retirement savings in the company stock, and when it was revealed that the executives were charged with fraud and the company was virtually bankrupt, the employees lost their entire life savings.

It was so sad, but many financial advisors warn about investing so heavily in the company stock. They say that you should never bet the farm on the company stock because if the company files for bankruptcy you essentially lose all of your money. I personally would not have more than 10% of my assets in company stock, but that is just me.

I can see how it is tempting to have a lot more than this ratio because a lot of companies give significant discounts on their stock purchase plans.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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