Our first month living on less than 1000€ in France

I’ve been keeping an eye on the “pub” for good shopping deals

Winter – is it really the time to try to spend less?

November will be remembered in this house as the great cut back of 2021, where we put into practice the challenge of living on 1000€ for our day-to-day living. Though in my opinion, wintertime in rural France is not a great period in which to decide to spend less.

It starts to get dark here pretty early – towards the end of October and certainly November is a dark month. Nowadays by 17h30, we can be sure to need our lights and likely a form of heating on. And as you may have guessed our old house – in the final throes of the interior renovation such as it is – is not especially economical to heat.

We only have one wood burner which is located in the now-dining room, and whilst fiercely powerful it does not lend any heat to the upstairs. Plus at a height of 3 metres, our far away ceilings rob us of a layer of warm air no matter how efficiently it burns. We currently have oil fuelled central heating and hot water from a boiler the same age as me (!!) which isn’t efficient, nor easy to regulate as many of the features on the complex German console no longer work.

We do have our new Dimplex electric fire in the lounge, and a small collection of electric powered oil filled mobile radiators from Mill scattered around the newly renovated upstairs where we have no permanent radiators yet.

All in all, we are in a better place than we were last year in terms of heating and insulation, but still a long way off my plans for an energy-efficient home.


The Intention

So, I’ve digressed a little here about winter costs, but hopefully, you will still follow my reasoning that these cold months are not the easiest in which to pinch your purse. I am, as many of you will by now know, very stubborn and nonetheless am sticking to this intention to live on 1000€ day-to-day. I thought a breakdown of how I hoped the costs might go would be helpful:

ExpensesGoal
Petrol100,00€
Shopping (food and home)400,00€
Pets145,00€
DIY50,00€
Entertainment50,00€
Total745,00€

Monthly BillsGoal
Mobile contract 114,99€
Mobile contract 214,99€
Broadband36,99€
Electricity37,50€
Gas9,00€
Amazon Prime4,08€
Total117,55€

Before any reconciliation has been done, I found this divvying up of my expectations for our spending to be really useful. It highlighted to me that we are paying too much for our mobile phone contracts, and motivated me to find a cheaper option. It also showed me how much our beloved animals cost each month in terms of their keep and so motivates me to find frugal ways to meet their needs without compromising on their care. Unfortunately for us, pet costs are high due to long term illness in Ralphy with high diabetes medication costs, and neither he nor Margot are young enough to be insured.


The Reality

If you’re interested in watching your budget and seeing how little you too could live on – either as an experiment or through necessity – I highly recommend building a budget spreadsheet that you can use to work out your monthly and annual costs. I can create a copy of mine for you all to download and try out yourselves if you are up for the challenge?

Let me know in the comments or on social media if you’d like one, and if there is demand I’ll upload one for use.

Here, edging towards the end of the month I don’t plan to shop or spend anything else beyond picking up some milk this evening ahead of a likely snowy weekend here in Limousin, so I think it’s safe to report our actual spending for the month. It looks like this:

Monthly BillsGoalActual
Mobile contract 1 14,99€15,13€
Mobile contract 214,99€18,35€
Broadband36,99€36,99€
Electricity37,50€37,50€ (saved)
Gas9,00€9,00€ (saved)
Amazon Prime4,08€4,08€ (saved)
Total117,55€121,05€
ExpensesGoalActual
Petrol100,00€121,92€
Shopping (food and home) 400,00€278,54€
Pets145,00€157,39€
DIY50,00€43,20€
Entertainment50,00€58,29€
Total745,00€659,34€

What isn’t included

In this monthly running sheet, I’m tracking the items that we have some control over and the power to change how much we spend.

We own our home outright, so there is no mortgage or rent to pay. I also haven’t included items which are immovable bills which we save for separately each month and do not come out of our 1000€. This includes our tax d’habitation, tax foncière, the annual water bill, car insurance, home insurance and our heating oil top-up.

It also does not include our car maintenance, however, we are lucky that our old banger of a car that I bought for £1000 on Gumtree before we moved, and imported from the UK when we got here – whilst extremely uneconomical – is very reliable.

Fuel prices are rising here in France

My reasoning for this delineation between bills is that they occur either annually or bi-annually, and so realistically I’m going to be putting a lump of money aside for them to be paid in one go (I don’t like to pay things monthly when I can afford to pay outright). This money may come from savings that I set aside from what’s left of my take-home income that’s above the 1000€, or – on a very good month – it might be made up of any delta from the 1000€ target for our regular bills. I’ll see as time goes on.


What is included

I am including electricity, gas and Amazon prime within these goals because they are totals that are within our control to alter – to some degree – and we could do away with Amazon Prime completely if we wanted to. We do see this as a worthwhile expense, however, as since we live so rurally, if we were to try to source many of the things which we might need for the renovation or home via shops (or even other online shops) then the cost of shipping or driving to collect these items would be much higher. In this way, a Prime subscription saves us money.

The electricity bill comes out every other month, and I’m expecting my current spending goal to be too low for the winter months. I have been looking at our actual usage thanks to our Linky box installation from the summer, and this is likely to double for the winter months sadly, but I’ll leave it how it is for now to monitor the progression.

In terms of gas usage, we do not have mains gas and so run our hob from a small Cube gas bottle under the sink. They cost around 26€ each and a bottle will last us around 3 months, so I’m putting aside this 9€ goal each month so that we have something to pay it out of when we come to need a refill.


Conclusion on our first attempt

I think we have done pretty well with our initial month and in terms of sticking to our goals.

Grand total month spend862,55€

Some things have exceeded their goal – pet costs were high this month due to Margot unexpectedly injuring her leg and associated x-rays and vet visits which came with that pushed us into the red. We also ended up buying some items for Freddie that we never got to use as he only survived a few days after we found him, so we will hang onto the kitten milk and bottles for the next little fluffball that we come across.

Margot needs her own independent doggy budget

Entertainment for this month includes the purchase of two new SIM cards and a prepayment for December for the new mobile phone contracts that I mentioned which will bring our mobile costs down to 9,99€ each. We have found our old contracts were slowly creeping up in price year on year, and also we have been paying a high price to briefly call or message friends who are still using UK mobile phone numbers in France which this new contact will no longer penalise us for.

There are a couple of things which haven’t yet cleared the bank account, and happily one of these is our order of a Christmas tree through our village school – the proceeds of this will go towards providing days out and materials for the school children so we are very happy to spend on a local supplier providing our main Christmas decoration. You may remember that we didn’t have a tree last year due to the addition of Percy to the house and her kitten infused mischief, but also we were in the messy stages of renovation and we couldn’t face all the unpacking and packing away only to add another layer of paint and brickdust. So this year’s 24€ tree will be well appreciated and enjoyed. I’ll be sure to include any late clearing cheques (yes, cheques!) in next month’s roundup of the challenge.

Next time and thanks for reading!

If you got this far with me going into this level of detail about how many cents we have left at the end of the month, I thank you and salute your commitment to this personal spending conundrum, you’re my kind of person 🙂

Next time I plan to write about how I spend so little on our good quality food and things for the home whilst still living a French lifestyle that I think is pretty great. I’ll be sure to share tips and ideas on how you can do the same.

What do you think? Do you have any questions? Do you think we could be cutting anything else back further still?

Let me know in the comments!

14 Comments

  1. November 26, 2021 / 6:13 pm

    Very interesting, thank you for sharing. I’m am interested in a download. Also very interested in your discussion of your food budget next.

    • Laura Harley
      January 11, 2022 / 1:55 pm

      Thank you! I hope to get to this post shortly 🙂

  2. Lady Pinksy
    November 26, 2021 / 6:34 pm

    Great Post! Our electric (4 bed rural farmhouse) is ridiculous and has worked out around €1200 in the first year. We think the culprit is the water heater so your expected electric cost has prompted me to experiment with when it is on and off. Good luck with the frugality! 🙂

    • Laura Harley
      January 11, 2022 / 1:57 pm

      Thank you! Wow yes that’s a serious bill. Heating is so expensive here – I didn’t (perhaps couldn’t) appreciate how affordable it was by contrast in our previous more modern home. The numbers are motivating eh?!

  3. Frances Hall
    November 27, 2021 / 9:18 am

    Great article, Laura, really looking forward to reading your blog next time. Would love to know how you keep your grocery bill so low!

    • Laura Harley
      January 11, 2022 / 1:57 pm

      Thank you! I am shaping this post now and will hopefully be able to publish it soon 🙂

  4. Beatriz
    November 27, 2021 / 11:06 am

    I’m looking forward to know how you managed to spend so low on food!!! 🙂

    • Laura Harley
      January 11, 2022 / 1:58 pm

      Ooh I hope I can meet my own budget next month then! 🙂

  5. Kameela
    November 27, 2021 / 4:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing Laura.Great information. We challenge ourselves on a similar amount. We live in the countryside and need the car most of the time. We cycle to the village about 10 kms if necessary. Your electricity bill is very low considering you have a few electric heaters. My hubby like to leave a lot of lights on! Always turning them off. Also we have the hot water on all the time on a thermostat.. Recently had to update the tank at a hefty cost but it was very old. 😊

    • Laura Harley
      January 11, 2022 / 1:59 pm

      Thanks Kameela, yes we are lucky with those electric (oil) heaters, they’re very modern and efficient but we shall know the full story when we come out the other side of winter and the Linky tells all… glad you’ve been able to modernise your setup, sounds great.

  6. Emma Ward
    November 28, 2021 / 12:47 pm

    Laura, love this post! I having been changing career tact and, as a result, budgeting fiercely. It’s really liberating, and made me account for all those ‘little’ expenses, that actually add up to a fortune! Well done sticking to your budget this month and indeed all those going forward.

    • Laura Harley
      January 11, 2022 / 2:00 pm

      Thanks Emma! It’s interesting looking at the Christmas budget and how we did over a celebratory time of year. I feel a renewed interest in tracking the cents now that we are into January so I’ll get my next post up asap. 🙂

  7. December 9, 2021 / 4:26 am

    This is a great writeup. I haven’t done a detailed spread for our day-to-day living (it’s more than I can handle) but I did one starting about 10 years before my husband retired and me 3 years later. It is really helpful and empowering to look at your life, the costs, what you can and cannot control. It was the only thing that gave me the knowledge that we could make it upon retirement. Good for you for your willingness to give this power to others to put them in control of their day-to-day lives!

    • Laura Harley
      January 11, 2022 / 2:01 pm

      I totally agree Karen, it can be intimidating to see it all in one place but I much prefer the knowing to the not knowing, even if the news isn’t always good! I hope this example encourages others to have our mindset! 🙂

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