The cost of living in France

Today is a bit of a pensive post, and that’s the sort of mood I’m in at the moment. It’s not a typical upbeat canter through a brocante so if you’re looking for that, I apologise – but today I’m going to talk about how I feel five months into living here.

Firstly, I feel very lucky to live here in France. I have realised an ambition that I held for most of my life. That’s a really great feeling – but a less great feeling is that around not having any money.

Secondly, let me be clear, I am not truly poor. I recognise that I am very privileged, I own my own home here. I have no mortgage. I have a small amount of savings in the bank. I have no debts. I work. Believe me when I say that I wasn’t always in this fortunate position.

And I would have none of those things without more than a decade of riding the ridiculous rollercoaster that was working for my old corporate employer, being sent to offices all around the UK – wherever they deemed fit – and adapting to the ever-changing landscape of the roles they put me into. And I work now, as a self-employed person, as a micro-entrepreneur. The very nature of this work is that the income is up and down.

But right now, here in France, on this grey Thursday afternoon as my partner unloads our new lawnmower from the car, I feel poor. And by poor I mean, I worry about money. I worry about it all the time, it’s probably been the most important thing in the world to me. Not because I am greedy, or need it to feel important. Quite the opposite.

Spending considerable periods of my life without enough money have created within me a sort of radar for financial struggle. It has moulded me into a person who is financially anxious. As a therapist I know how to work with anxiety, I know the tools I’ve learned as a professional and an individual to use to keep myself in a good place and to communicate honestly and openly about financial issues with my partner.

But there is still the low omnipresent hum of watching the pennies (or more accurately now, centimes). I imagine that will be there for all of my life. It’s not debilitating, it’s not sadenning, it doesn’t impact how I feel about myself (too often anyway). But it is there, and it is learned. It is a learned response to escaping poverty. Of never, ever wanting to go back there. It’s the drive for much of what I do and the way that I behave (in the wider scheme of things, i.e. it contributes to me being a driven person, solution and goal focused) and it is something that I notice doesn’t exist in other people.

If you’ve ever been poor, I mean really poor. Not just unable to book a nice holiday, but using a credit card to buy food poor, I sympathise. I’ve been there. It changes you as a person – I think it can’t help but change you. It’s the whole reason that I created Frugal France in the first place because I knew that once we moved here that money would be tight. I knew I was volunteering to be less fiscally comfortable than I had been in the UK.

So I suppose the point of this post is not to bemoan that decision but to acknowledge it. That for all of the lovely pictures that I and my peers post about our lovely lives here, the images of blossom on trees and lambs in fields, that isn’t and never could be the full story. That for many of us, money is a big thing to consider, and that living here in France is not cheap. Especially when many of us have downsized our belongings and arrive needing to buy tools, renovation materials or new cars.

So I’d love to know what your tips are for living really frugally – do let me know in the comments.

8 Comments

  1. lynnefrancophile April 25, 2019 / 2:20 pm

    Bringing up children through the 70s recession means I remember being ‘poor’ although it is all relative. I remember walking home from our local supermarket where practically everything on my list had gone up. As I walked through our front door a migraine started due to the stress I had allowed to take over. When we decided to come here we knew it would be as new pensioners which is always challenging. Those pension payments look pathetic after a decent salary! But we’ve coped. Even surviving the 2008 ‘crise’ which really hurt. And then just as the exchange rate was finally getting back to where it had been along comes brexshit.
    No credit cards even if the bank offers them. Freeze leftovers. Allow the postman to leave the ‘pub’, bargains are to be found. I note a photo of a bike. Once a year decathlon takes in old bikes and sells them on. We haven’t done it but friends with several growing children did.
    Don’t panic, we don’t need stuff to clutter up our lives and empty our pockets. Several groups I belong to go for the ‘auberge espanol’ approach to social evenings. Everyone brings something to share. A good time is had and recipes swapped. French men are a revelation on the food prep. front!
    Restez zen….

    • frugalenfrance
      Author
      April 25, 2019 / 3:08 pm

      Thank you! I think my feelings about this sneaked up on me while I was celebrating bread and cheese and (cheap) wine. Living on less would be less worrying if we didn’t have to contend with the minimum earning allowances for permission to stay. Without that, living on not-a-lot is something we are used to. Here’s hoping Brexit never happens and I (and many others) can go back to living frugally and enjoying it 🙂

  2. Lorraine Armstrong April 25, 2019 / 3:11 pm

    Hello, Tips for living within your means… a slow cooker is a great investment, you can make up a lovely stew or soup adding plenty of vegetables & stock, homegrown, given from generous neighbours or purchased from local intermarche! I noticed you had spent 7 euros on biscuits & almost 3 euro on a pizza, a slow cooked stew/soup will last for 3 meals with 2 persons sharing depending on the size of your cooking pot, so ditch the sugary treats ( I know it’s hard, we all need a treat from time to time, you still have the crisps & ice-creams. Buy fruit trees, soft berries & start a potager, although I think you are growing strawberries & some veg of your own. Invest in an orchard, jams & fruits from your own garden. Love reading your posts x

    • frugalenfrance
      Author
      April 25, 2019 / 3:26 pm

      Thank you! I’ve recently started eating healthier so these sweet treats have gone – and you’re absolutely right – we have been able to get 3 weeks of meals out of what previously would be two! This time we are aiming for doing a whole month with only necessary top-ups from the village market (there’s only honey cheese and veg available!) it’s reigning in the visits to the boulangerie that’s hard! :s

  3. Alyson April 25, 2019 / 3:54 pm

    So looking at your pictures they are all imports (apart from the cakes) stop it!! As an expat/economic migrant of 20 odd years, accept and embrace the difference. Stop looking for home. My first overseas home was Bahrain. No supermarkets we could afford and forget Mothercare, we needed a second mortgage to shop there! (Already had a 15% one, hence Bahrain!!). The hard truth is you need to go native. Embrace the new stuff use your land and enjoy the fact you are no longer a wage slave you lucky person.

    • frugalenfrance
      Author
      April 25, 2019 / 3:59 pm

      Thank you! Yes you are of course absolutely right. To continue to eat those things that were cheap (and unhealthy) in our old UK way of being is bounds to be prohibitively expensive. The thing I struggle with more than anything is the big bills – the fuel bills and big “one-off” items. I also struggle with not trying to provide everything when someone is visiting! I love hosting but it’s just not compatible with our bank balance 🙂

      • Alyson April 26, 2019 / 6:23 am

        Absolutely get the guest thing but they are at your house and the point of travel is to experience new things!!. We tell guests if they want “UK food” to bring their own. Tea bags seems to be an issue for some reason. We have amazing loose tea (cheaper and the pot contents are great in your compost) but apparently Tetly is better🤦‍♀️. We put aside a certain amount each month for the fuel bills so money is ready.

  4. Edward Sansom May 26, 2019 / 6:31 am

    When I retired 35 years ago I was able to accompany my wife on her course of medicinal plants in the south of France. She took the course I just enjoyed myself visiting vineyards and buying wine. Our hostess was a vegetarian. We decided to become vegetarians and have been so ever since. We feel much healthier. I was an anathema to my hostess. A senior executive from a large multinational- a devil in disguise. After présents of poetry books in Catalan and the use of charm she became very confused. Money is not something I have had to be anxious about. I was paid a large salary and my biggest problem was making the money work. I was brought up an extreme Protestant – laborare est orare. To labour is to pray. My grandfather would have been horrified at my marrying a French catholic wife. 53 years of marriage. I once mentioned in front of my wife that I told my girlfriends that my passion only lasted 4 to six weeks. You never told me that said my wife. Big mistake on my part. See what it led to. What have I been missing.

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