They say the only things that are cheap in France are houses and wine. Sadly, this isn’t far from the truth. Frugal food shopping in France is for many of us, a necessity rather than a lifestyle choice. One of the most immediate differences that I noticed when moving from the UK to France back in 2018 was the price difference between British supermarkets and French ones.
This was a bit of an unwelcome shock. I had very much been looking forward to eating my French baguette and pain-au-chocolat every day, quaffing my excellent rosé for a pittance and renewing our home slowly but surely as we had with our last home in Bristol.
Adapting to Frugal food shopping in France
Unfortunately, that bubble burst early on. On our first shops at the large E.Leclerc on the border between Haute Vienne and Creuse, we discovered that not only did things cost more but that the offers which we had previously been used to having in abundance – the omnipresent buy-one-get-one-free, price matching and strong competition between UK stores driving prices down – do not exist here in France in the same way.
To help you to avoid some of the rude awakenings that I had as a new arrival and aid your own efforts at frugal food shopping in France, I have put together the following grocery shopping information. I recommend that if you are moving to France for the long term and plan on eating here (!!) that you give it a glance.
Or – if you’ve been here a while and know much more than I do, please feel free to add your tips in the comments, I would be glad of them.
Managing your frugal French food shopping mindset
It’s very natural when you arrive in a different place to compare – we naturally compare our previous experiences to our current ones to make sense of the world.
Unfortunately, when this comes to comparing the food prices of our old or home country to our new one, the contrast is often skewed because of the currency difference.
If I said to you that a regular bottle of sirop (the closest we have to squash here in France) costs between 1,99€ and 3,69€ I’m sure many of you would spit out your Ribena. This isn’t a luxury, its a regular shopping item and is even more popular when living in a hot country. And whilst this isn’t in enough itself going to break the bank – these small, unexpected (and frankly unwelcome) increases accumulate over the course of a grocery shop to mean that you could end up spending far more than you might have intended.
My advice to those who are living frugally by choice, or managing a tight budget is to be prepared to shop around for offers and shop in more than one shop.
As in the UK, generally the physically bigger the shop you are in, the lower the prices. These are hypermarché – the giant versions of the supermarkets which are in towns and cities. They’ll usually be on the outskirts and might even offer a “Drive” option – this is the “click-and-collect” which my UK readers will definitely be familiar with. Home delivery is less available, but Drive can be a good option if you want to know the cost of your shop before you get there and not be tempted by promotions in the store itself.
Your frugal food shopping options in France
Here in France, we are truly spoilt when it comes to choosing what foods we eat. Food, mealtimes and quality are of paramount importance to the French people. It’s a matter of pride to produce the best tasting foods, and a matter of self-respect to consume things which taste good and are good for health.
Your options will seem enormous when considering how to feed yourself and your family.
A few of the outlets available for your frugal French shopping might be:
- Your local marché – often in village, town and city squares once or more per week.
- Supermarché and hypermarché shopping – in person
- Boulangeries and boucheries
- Independent retailers – épiceries etc
- Smaller metro supermarkets
- Supermarché and hypermarché Drive options
- Some (rarer) food delivery services (for example Carrefour in Paris)
- Growing your own fruit and vegetables – shopping at the garden centres for supplies
- Buying direct from local farmers and artisans, e.g. cheese, honey
- Ordering online from the UK or further afield (if you can’t get hold of something you really like or miss!)
- Buying flour direct from the mill
- Owning your own chickens for eggs -so shopping at the farm supplies outlets
- Foraging – mushroom hunting in autumn is a BIG deal!
- Shopping at heavily discounted déstockage outlets – see my MANY blog posts about this here
From Claire A:
“I buy big bags of baguettes at the end of the day, chop them in four and freeze them, wet and reheat if needed for 5 minutes. I used to cook once, eat twice but now I’m trying to cook once eat thrice! So spaghetti bolognese one day, leftovers with added chilli, paprika cumin and kidney beans for baked potatoes and chilli the next, then stir some crème fraîche and pasta in and top with cheese for a pasta bake the next day. Cuts our meat consumption! Hopefully, the garden will give us plenty of vegetables to work around this year!”
“I’d add …. eat seasonally and grow your own vegetables if you can …. so many people have vegetable gardens in France!”
“When we were out a few years ago we spread the weekly shop over a few supermarkets including Leader Price, Aldi and Lidl with Carrefour and Casino. We used the discount supermarkets for bulk buys and milk, eggs. The bigger supermarkets were for some of the main ingredients like meat etc.”
Still have questions about Frugal food shopping in France?
If there’s something which I haven’t answered here, you have more questions about frugal food shopping in France, or you need the answer to a specific question – feel free to join my Facebook group Frugal Living in France where you’ll find lots of other people looking to manage their spending and live frugally just like us.