trim one's sails

trim (one's) sails

1. To adapt oneself to new or altered circumstances. Following the attack, many politicians trimmed their sails and adopted a more aggressive stance on military action.
2. To spend less money; to decrease one's expenses. Our rent is much higher, so we've had to trim our sails a bit, but we love living in this area.
See also: sail, trim

trim one's sails

Modify one's stand, adapt to circumstances, as in His advisers told him to trim his sails before he alienated voters and bungled the election completely . This metaphoric expression alludes to adjusting a ship's sails to take full advantage of prevailing winds. [Late 1700s]
See also: sail, trim

trim one's sails, to

To modify one’s stand, adapting it to circumstances. Trimming a boat’s sails means simply to adjust them so as to take advantage of current wind conditions. The term was transferred to human affairs by 1800 or so, but may be obsolescent today. Lytton Strachey used it in Elizabeth and Essex (1928): “Burghley, trimming his sails to the changing wind, thought it advisable to take the side of Essex.”
See also: trim