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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.

Starry French nights and car problems in rural France

Last night I was stood in the kitchen at 1am, looking out of our long windows across the valley opposite.

I am a total night-owl with longings to be a morning person, but it’s just not happening and I’m accepting that. The upside of this predisposition towards bed-avoidance means that I get to enjoy the amazingly bright starry nights here in deepest rural France. Walking the roads around here after midnight (and I would argue before midnight on occasion!) unquestionably need a torch – but the skies are often bright with constellations that I had only once seen in the UK, on a holiday to the Isle of Wight where light pollution was minimal.

Here, we have very little by way of light pollution or any pollution whatsoever that I can discern. A friend visited this week from London and we remarked on the clean-smelling air and how refreshing it was. Considering we used to live on an A-road in Bristol, and prior to that Zone 1 in London, we know a thing or two about air pollution.

Our own contribution to the demise of the ozone layer was taken out of action this week where our village mechanic deemed our car too dangerous to be driven, and so we and our friend were confined to the house for a few days. My friend was poorly, so we kept her dosed up on cold medicine, cheese and a little wine to help her through the worst of it – and the interactions with the garagiste have not been all bad. In fact, he is a very nice and accommodating young man, but just as importantly he has given my partner the opportunity to test his French on a subject we don’t often learn much about in class (yet!). G managed to book our car in to be inspected, chase up a part and book us in for repair tomorrow morning… all in very comprehendible French! This is a bit of a pivotal moment for him, as while his grammar and vocabulary are excellent, he describes listening to be difficult so conversation is understandably anxiety-inducing.

I am different, in that I love listening to French, and talking (I’m so sorry to my classmates, I really don’t shut up) but my French teacher does hold me up as someone who seems to be able to understand spoken French well, but who struggles with the fundamentals of grammar. I have to agree, however this week we have been looking at our various tenses again, and I’m hoping that by Monday not only will I be more confident in my ability to speak in complex tenses, but also that our car won’t kill us.

Anyway, a busy, unusual few days, but it’s back the usual gardening and house renovation next week, à bientôt!

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