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:

Shopping (food and home)400,00€

Monthly BillsGoal
Mobile contract 114,99€
Mobile contract 214,99€
Amazon Prime4,08€

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€
Electricity37,50€37,50€ (saved)
Gas9,00€9,00€ (saved)
Amazon Prime4,08€4,08€ (saved)
Shopping (food and home) 400,00€278,54€

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!

Free Illy coffee capsules in November (and how to try shopping items 100% free in France)

Big brand names attract me to their products as much as the next person, and I recognise Illy coffee as a premium product due to reputation, and not least of all the high prices associated with their items.

So when browsing in the supermarket this week, I happened upon a box on the shelf with a Satisfait ou Remboursé sticker. These are a thing of joy for the frugal shopper because that sticker usually means that by following the brand’s required steps, the item will be free (depending upon whether your proof of purchase needs to be posted or not).

Illy coffee pods are usually out of my frugal budget
The Saitsfait ou Remboursé offer is nationwide

The moral of the story

Using these stickers can be a bit of a contentious issue in the frugal community because usually, the brand wants feedback on what was at fault with the item in order for you to qualify for a refund, however, sometimes they just want general feedback and so anyone can request their reimbursement with a clear conscience. Of course, if you do find a fault with the product, so much the better, and you can provide useful feedback to the company for their trouble. So, to each their own – if you are satisfied with your product, then, of course, you don’t need to claim your money back.

You make your choice for yourself.

How to claim your money

If you do decide that you’d like to reclaim your expense and want your 100% refund for your Illy capsules then look for a box with the Saitisfait ou Remboursé sticker on the shelves over the coming weeks – this offer is only valid until the end of November 2021.

Find a participating product with the Satisfait ou Remboursé sticker
Be sure to check dates of validity

You’ll need to buy your product, retain your receipt and the barcode from the box, and navigate online to the related website (details on the back of the sticker) to claim your refund.

Follow the steps online
Submit your request and await your refund

By following the steps and providing your French bank details (all perfectly safe to do) then you, like me, can expect a little deposit of the price of your product in your bank account in the next 12 weeks. Winner!

Join in and share

There are a great many of these types of offers circulating at any given time, and if you’d like to share one that you’ve spotted then please do share it with the rest of us over on my Facebook group Frugal Living in France where you can meet other frugally minded individuals, and share tips on saving money whilst enjoying life in France.

Bon appétit!

How to do extreme couponing in France

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If you read my writing in French Property News, some of you will already know a little about “offer optimisation” from my December 2020 column – a practice made famous by the US show “Extreme Couponing” – and how I and many French residents use a number of helpful tools and websites to make the most of the deals available. Mostly this is on food and household necessities, and our efforts allow us all to stretch our income a little further.

Couponing in France

I think it’s fair to say that food costs more in France than in the UK. I can’t speak for other countries as these are the only two places in which I have been a long term resident, however, I have heard anecdotally from my Instagram and Facebook communities that things here are not considered cheap by comparison. I would caveat that observation, however, with my opinion that the quality of food here in France is great. Even the basics range of items in shops are decent, for example, “Eco+” in e L’eclerc, “Prix malin” in Grand Frais. I’m yet to come across an item which I didn’t think was great value or delicious, whereas I could not necessarily say that of the equivalent UK ranges in Asda or Tesco.

So in this house, we are appreciative of the food which we buy even if it comes at a higher price. But, being who I am and my inherent avoidance of spending money where I needn’t, I have put my much improved French to the test by taking up the challenge of optimising whatever offers there are to be had.

Couponing in France

Using voucher and offer-optimisation, the six items in the picture above cost me the grand total of 4,77€ instead of 15,82€. Want to know how I do it? Read on…

The Shopping List

Liebig velouté 5 legumes = 2,87€
Liebig velouté 5 legumes = 2,87€
Domestos gel = 2,24€
Domestos gel = 2,24€
Cif spray 5 en 1 = 2,80€
Cif spray 5 en 1 = 2,80€

This selection should have totalled 15,82€ however with a little research I have been able to stack offers as follows:

Liebig velouté 5 legumes -68% on the second purchase (in-store offer) -> -1,95€ then Shopmium 100% reimbursement of 1 product -2,87€ (check out my tips at the bottom of the page for 3€ free when you sign up using my code)
So total for 2 Liebig velouté 5 legumes = 2,87€ + 2,87€ – (2,87€ x 0.68) – 2,87€ = 0,92 -> 0,46€ each

Domestos gel -80% on the second purchase (in-store offer) -> -1,79€, then voucher on purchase of 2 products from Ma Vie en Couleurs -> -1,20€
So total for 2 Domestos gel = 2,24€ + 2,24€ – (2,24€ x 0.80) – 1,20€ = 1,49€ -> 0,75€ each

Cif spray 5 en 1 -80% on the second purchase (in-store offer) -> -2,24€, then voucher on purchase of 2 products from Ma Vie en Couleurs -> -1,00€ So total for 2 Cif spray 5 en 1 = 2,80€ + 2,80€ – (2,80 x 0.80) – 1,00€ = 2,36€ -> 1,18€ each

I realise these calculations look pretty daunting – so I’ll go through a how-to guide for one of these items from start to finish:

Step One – Do your research

It is possible to find your own offers and work out possible reductions for yourself… or you can do what I do, and allow the website Anti-crise to do the hard work for you. On Anti-crise all of the latest “pub” are collated for you to browse – which is useful in enough itself. However the next level of help available here is how they calculate optimised versions of the various in-store offers – stacking vouchers where possible.

Couponing in France - Anticrise
Anti-crise – where you can view “pub” and also optimisations

I should warn you, there are lots of products on offer, and it might be tempting to try to optimise it all from the start – I would encourage you not to do this, but to instead choose to optimise just a few things which you need so as to avoid unnecessary spending and get used to the process.

It’s easy to get carried away when things are as cheap as they sometimes work out here (in fact, sometimes the shop pays you to take the item – a so-called “bénéfice”), but if we don’t need something then it’s not really a bargain. The process can also be quite involved and complicated, so to start with, less is more. Now, back to our offer in question…

How to optimise using vouchers in France

Click on Catalogues -> Catalogues Optimisés and choose the shop which you are interested in visiting. Here I choose Casino.

The Anticrise website
Select Catalogues -> Catalogues Optimisés to view the optimised list
Optimised pub on Anticrise
Find the relevant shop that you’re visiting and be sure to check dates for validity

Here, I’m looking for the offer on Domestos gel – I can see it in the list and expand the section to allow me to click the first link which will navigate to the relevant page in the offer leaflet in question.

Selecting your promotion
This is the Casino leaflet. Here you click on the green + next to Domestos (3rd line down)
Couponing in France
Here, you click on “Gel wc” next to Domestos, to bring up the correct page in the leaflet

I highly recommend doing this, as sometimes an offer will be flavour or type-specific, and it’s imperative to select the correct item.

Couponing in France

Here I note on a post-it, the in-store offer, the number of items needed and whether the item is of a special type. This one is “100% puissant”. I also note here, that the advertised price is slightly different from the one in my local store. I’m rural and this store is expensive for us, so it’s a little bit higher – but the offer still stands. At this point, if I go into my store and buy 2 of these products, I’ll get the in-store offer of 80% off the second purchase.

Living frugally in France

Now we know what the in-store offer is, we need to know what the stacked optimisation is that we are carrying out. Going back to the item info (above) in the optimisation list, we can see that we need to click on the voucher website Ma Vie en Couleurs for our optimisation. You can sign up for free using my code D21022 or clicking this link and you will be given the chance to win one of a hundred activities centred in nature, sport, culture, outings and well-being ideas.

Success is all in the preparation

Clicking on the link in Anticrise will bring up an instruction page, as below:

Ma Vie en Couleurs - how to print a voucher

This page tells us that we need to print the voucher, the date it’s valid until and how many products the voucher works on. If you don’t have an account with Ma Vie en Couleurs you can create one freely and easily using my link. Once you’re logged in, navigate through the available vouchers until you find the relevant Domestos offer.

Printing your vouchers

Print a voucher on Ma Vie en Couleurs
Once logged in, find the Domestos offer
Ma Vie en Couleurs printing
Add this to your basket and follow the instructions to print to PDF
Ma Vie en Couleurs print
Here’s the voucher in my basket
Printed voucher from Ma Vie en Couleurs
My downloaded voucher

Now, print your voucher. I recommend printing to a pdf and saving this on your desktop for later physical printing. This is because each voucher can only be printed once, so if there’s a problem with your printer, you run out of ink or paper etc, then that’s you’re one chance gone. For safety, print to PDF and print on paper later.

Now the fun part, shopping!

I can’t stress enough how important it is to be organised before heading out – having your printed, prepared voucher, followed by whatever information you might need to ensure you get the right product is imperative.

One of the ways I keep organised with my various vouchers and receipts is to use a pocket folder below. I take it with me to the shop and it contains all the information I need for successful optimisation. It’s also a great place to store receipts for later when I need to upload them to an app or site for reimbursement, and I can keep any vouchers which I pick up along the way (or are sent to me) for later use.

Organising my printed vouchers
Organisation is key

I find that taking a post-it with information on the product I’m expecting to find attached to the voucher in question helps me to be accurate, and I can also challenge any errors at the till if something goes awry.

Being organised when Couponing in France
Notes help me to pick up the right item in-store
How to organise Couponing in France
How to do Couponing in France

Paying for your items

When paying for my items I tend to choose to do a limited number of optimisations at a time.

I do this because it is more likely that that cashier will be able to work through them without finding the process offputting, that it is less hassle for both of us, and that if I don’t push my luck, the cashier may be less likely to question the almost universal rule of not allowing customers to stack optimisations (it is usual that shops do not permit the use of vouchers when an item is on special offer).

So, I go into the process with good humour, and if the item isn’t available at the optimised price then I can decide to take it or leave it. Please don’t allow yourself to become frustrated with the cashier if they refuse your voucher – they are only doing their job.

I will generally group my items together at the till, and lay the relevant voucher on top of the item so that the cashier doesn’t miss it, but can quickly confirm that I have bought the corresponding product. This tends to make the process easier for everyone, and I would avoid just handing a bunch of printed vouchers to the cashier with your payment, they need to know that you have picked up the right item so as to process it. Also, it’s sensible to have an idea of what the total should be in your head so that you can query your shopping bill if needs be, and if anything goes wrong do go to customer services to resolve it.

You can get started on your Coupon Network and Shopmium accounts with my referral codes

My essentials for success

  • Don’t forget to choose the correct catalogue for the date of your visit, offers change frequently
  • Remember – shops are not obligated to honour the voucher if there is another offer in place – many shops have a policy that a voucher cannot be accumulated with an item that is also part of an in-store promotion – if the cashier refuses then they are just doing their job. You can choose to buy it at the original price, or leave the item there and then.
  • Make sure you select the correct flavour/scent/version.
  • Voucher optimisation generally only works in-store. Drive and online shopping rarely accept vouchers, however, you can use sites like Shopmium and Coupon Network to claim cashback on your purchases (as I did on the Liebig soups in my first picture). I’ll be creating a new blog about this process soon. In the meantime, you can use my referral links to get started with your account on both of these apps:
  • For Coupon Network get 1€ free when you create an account using my code MX1VKW or clicking here to download the app for free: https://referral.couponnetwork.fr/MX1VKW
  • For Shopmium get 3€ free when you create an account using my code W4C5KU or clicking here to download the app for free: https://www.shopmium.com/fr/referral/w4c5ku
  • Print sparingly (only the vouchers that you plan to use) to save on ink costs.
  • Have fun and save money!

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