What is a Bean Counter? Meaning, Example, 5 Facts

Bean counter is a slang word for a person who does accounting or maintains the finer details of budgets and expenditures in another capacity.

What is a Bean Counter?

Bean counter is often a derogatory word for an overly diligent or meticulous accountant, however other financial auditors may also suit the definition.

While an accountant may be required to do a comprehensive inventory of the firm’s assets, only a bean counter would count the amount of beans in the corporate kitchen’s pantry.

What is a Bean Counter?

This individual may also examine each department’s budget to identify any type of possible waste, no matter how minor or trivial it may look. It is common for project managers to fear this sort of accountant, as budget cuts and long audits may follow.

Origin of Bean Counter

Although it seems as though it should have a far older provenance, the term has only been in public use since the 1970s. Few publications even speculate on the selection of beans for such a tedious count.

It is believed that the term was inspired by kitchen inventory takers who counted every bean and potato in a bag. Many would see the act of counting every bean to the expense of other vital responsibilities as the pinnacle of micromanagement.

What is a Bean Counter?

It is possible that the word entered the vernacular through the commercial or military food industry, where stringent inventory controls are commonplace.

Understanding Bean Counter

Initially, bean counters were financial comptrollers and accountants who displayed an extraordinary interest in even the tiniest financial aspects of a corporation.

Originally, practically everybody worked in accounting disciplines was referred to informally with minimal derogatory connotation. Indeed, many accountants and auditors refer to themselves with this title with pride.

In recent years, however, accountant has not been a very favorable term. A growing number of individuals blame financial experts for the deconstruction or elimination of programs due to budgetary constraints.

Whenever a cost overrun is discovered or a budget limit is surpassed, a bean counter is typically the first to notice.

This power to shelve a multimillion-dollar project due to fiscal concerns might cause tension between project managers and the organization’s financial watchdogs.

What is a Bean Counter?

Sometimes, an accountant must decide whether to disclose a bean shortage or whether it is preferable to learn to live without them.

Examples of Bean Counter

A husband and wife debate potential new jobs in this sample chat.

Bobby: So, you stated that you wished to engage in a serious discussion.

Jennie: Yes. I am exhausted of being a baker. I am contemplating a job shift.

Bobby: You know I will always back you. What sort of employment were you considering?

Jennie: I was contemplating a career as an accountant.

Bobby: Gross! A professional accountant! That seems very dull. Please refrain from becoming a bean counter. Develop become something more exciting
Jennie: Like what?

Like an acrobat, Bobby! In the ring!

One buddy is discussing potential college majors with another.

Andrew: Do you already know your intended major?

Aaron: No, not yet. I just know that I want my degree to be in a sector with steady, well-paying employment.

Andrew: What about?

Aaron: I could study accounting, mused Aaron.

Andrew: Yeah, I’ve heard that is a rising industry. And I believe you would make an excellent bean counter.

What is a Bean Counter?

Aaron: Oh, Aaron, quit up!

Andrew: No, I’m not kidding. You have an excellent attention to detail and are skilled with statistics.

More Examples

This passage discusses all school staff, including accountants, receiving additional compensation.

  • The Big Ten’s new television contract begins this year, and things are only going to get worse (or much better, if you’re a Big Ten executive or a budget analyst at a Big Ten school): Each institution will get $43 million in the first year and $54 million in the final year of the agreement. – The Washington Post

What is a Bean Counter?

The second passage critiques the storyline of a television program.

  • Immediate introduction of a bean counter to threaten an artistic atmosphere that has not yet been established as such makes no narrative logic other than as a pretext for recurring lectures about the need for honesty and the iniquities of a weighted economy. –LA Times


Bean counter is a person who oversees the budget down to the smallest sums of money or is responsible for other elements of account keeping. In general, a person who works with numbers.


“Bean counting” has long been an insulting term for what finance professionals and accountants do. Often it’s been used to tar CFOs as transaction processors — a role largely relegated to the back office.
The “Bean Counter” term was used in a 1975 Forbes magazine article that referred to “a smart, tightfisted and austere ‘bean counter’ accountant from rural Kentucky,” The allusion is clearly to an accountant so dedicated to detail that he or she counts everything, down to the last small, but still important, bean.
/ˈbiːn ˌkaʊn.t̬ɚ/ an accountant (= someone who takes care of a company’s financial affairs), especially one who works for a large company and does not like to allow employees to spend money: It looked like the project was going to be approved, but the bean counters said it wasn’t cost-effective. Accounting. accountancy.
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