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!

Can we live in France on just 1000€ a month?

Can we live in France on just 1000€ a month?
We’ve been considering our priorities lately

Yes, I know. It’s a really small amount when you take into account the high cost of living in France.

But, we all know that I like a challenge, and I like not working even more.


Why would anyone do this?

Before we get to the how of doing this, let me first take you back a few weeks to when Graham and I were chatting over our usual Sunday morning coffee in bed, and offering each other words of encouragement to keep us upbeat in our respective jobs. It’s a routine that we have circled time and time again during the last (almost) 3 years in which we have been living in France, but this time something was different. Graham has been working full-time for a French company since the end of summer, and to be honest I have hardly seen him. Despite the fact that we both live and work in the same little French house in Limousin, often the only indicator that we have of the other’s presence throughout the working day is the reliable deterioration of broadband speed if we should dare to use bandwidth at the same time (merci Orange!).

Those of you who follow me on Instagram or Facebook will no doubt know that I had a significant surgery in August which I had been preparing for through the year and that my recovery was longer than expected. Unfortunately, this propelled us into an unanticipated period of very limited financial means, since we depended entirely on my income at the time. But perhaps serendipitously it did give us a taste of what it might be like to live on even less, after all the whole point of my blog has been to share how we live in a frugal yet fulfilling way in France.


Having our own chickens saves us some money on the cost of food, having Margot… does not!

So, being the ambitious character that I am (this could also be read as ridiculous, you’d have to ask Graham…) I proposed over that lie-in coffee morning that perhaps we could attempt to cut our monthly budget further, going from 1500€ a month to a 1000€ spending limit for the whole household. My motivation for suggesting this voluntary diminishment of our available funds comes from a number of places.

Primarily, I had started to miss him – which sounds a bit mad considering we see each other every day, but over the course of the last few years we have adjusted to being together for much of the time, and frankly, I had started to resent his employer getting so much of his attention – and not just for me, but for the things that I know that he both wants to and enjoys doing. We are still very much in the throes of our renovation – in no small part due to the fact that we have so little time in which to do it. We seem to accumulate all of the materials when our good intentions peak, and then they sit in storage (or worse, in the room for which they are intended!) for weeks. It can be a little deflating to have a kitchen work surface in your hallway for the entirety of autumn, especially when the one we have been using since we moved in is in such dire condition. So, I proposed to him that if he wanted to leave his job and return to his hobbies, his interests and the work which we are doing on the house, then that I was okay with being the one who worked.


Serious questions

And I am okay with that, in principle, but another layer of this proposal comes from the many deep reflections that I had before and particularly during my medical recovery. Whilst I love my work as a psychotherapist and counsellor, and I have no intention of giving it up, I do want to make more space for the other things that give me great happiness and fulfilment too. Having such a powerful experience and noticing the changes that have been happening to my body as a result of surgery has really brought my focus back from others to myself, and for me, that is a very positive thing indeed.

I am a natural helper and I get a great deal of satisfaction from supporting and listening to others. I also get an enormous amount of fulfilment from my counselling work, but I have to acknowledge that I currently spend a lot of my time longing to do more writing.

I want to spend more time in my garden and be able to easily see friends again (even if this new budget means travel has to be well planned and budgeted for). Thrillingly, I want to make time to be with my parents who – in a very exciting recent development – have found a house in the same village that we live in, and are planning their permanent move from the UK to France over the next few months.


It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing for Living France and French Property News for almost three years

So with those things in mind, we have both agreed that I should cut back the amount of work that I do so as to allow me more time to do the things that I love. You may have recently read in my column for French Property News that December 2021’s issue will be my last, and for me, that’s all part of this very positive grander plan to do less and live more.

So, now I’ve explained the why, I shall have a think about the how – and I’ll be blogging about this challenge over the coming weeks, I do hope that you’ll join me for the ride. À bientôt!


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My journey to living a slow and purposeful life in France

Living a slow and purposeful life in France was always the goal. The idea of sitting in the garden, drinking coffee and reading the masses of books which I have accumulated over the years (and not yet got round to reading) is something which I aspired to long before we started our journey to becoming permanent residents in France.

The problem with my dream is that it was a little idealistic for several reasons:

A bottle of cava on our coffee table in front of the wood burning stove - Living a slow and purposeful life in France
A relaxing pace of life in France was always my goal

Property in France is cheap, but the cost of living is not

It’s wonderful to be able to rent cheaply, buy a home with a small mortgage, or purchase a property outright – gratefully, these are all very achievable goals for a foreigner like me. However, I think it’s important to be reminded that there is a cost to living wherever you lay your hat. Basic expenses still exist even if you do nothing ostentatious. This might include:

  • Taxes
  • Insurances
  • Subsistence (even if you grow a lot of food it’s unlikely you will be fully self-sufficient)
  • Utilities (gas, water, electricity)
  • Repairs
Owning chickens can be a great way to produce your own food

For us, this has meant working – and working legally – including paying our taxes and social charges to ensure that we are contributing to the country and earning our right to stay. Setting our French businesses up to allow us to find customers and clients, and meet the minimum income requirements to be considered self-supporting on our Carte de Sejour application has been a stressful process.

We have been fortunate to have been able to use some of our rudimentary French language skills when organising ourselves, and at one point Graham had to complete a 30+ hour course in French just to be able to register as an artisan (a requirement which has now be annulled). It was pretty much a vertical learning curve in so many respects, but again one that we, now at eighteen months in, we feel that we have a good handle on and can manage without stress.


The right to remain in France

We are in the process of each acquiring our Carte de Sejour (for the most up-to-date information on gaining legal residency post-Brexit I highly recommend checking our the Remain in France Together website). Our fingerprints have been taken at our local préfecture and we are waiting for some kind of news – any kind of news (!!) – that we have been accepted. The Carte is the culmination of years of work to understand the system that we hope to join, so to receive this would really mean a lot to me – a formal recognition of our efforts.

Two large paper folders on the dining table - Living a slow and purposeful life in France
Our finished Carte de Sejour applications

Building my version of a quiet life in France

I found it pretty (naively) surprising that when I moved to France, my life didn’t suddenly just become very calm and tranquil – full of book reading and coffee drinking! My life in the UK had been hectic. I was worn out. The process of selling our Bristol house, closing my businesses and moving our things had depleted my energy to levels I had not known it possible to function with. I think I am still recovering from that exhausting process, just over eighteen months on.

Happily, I can now report that things have become a lot easier – but I do seem to have this habit of finding that life has become calmer, and then adding some chaos to it. I’ll take it to my therapist…!

Coffee and porridge on the table of our rustic French home
A slow breakfast in France

Adopting les animaux de compagnie

Adding pets to our life has been a very rewarding, but sometimes stressful process. Margot – our seven-year-old rescue cocker spaniel – is a wonderful addition to our home, but severely traumatised by her difficult earlier life. Being solely used to breed pedigree puppies, she had no understanding of boundaries, living in a home with people, she had no lead training, was poorly socialised and is chronically anxious. She has been a testing but joyful dog and I would not be without her, but bit by bit these small changes (smaller than moving countries I suppose) have accumulated to give a feeling of life being full, and so the books and films that I long to absorb have felt a little far away.

Margot our rescue cocker spaniel living a slow and purposeful life in France
Margot is the little lion we never knew we needed

If you’ve been following my Instagram posts you will have seen that we recently added a rescue kitten to our home – Percy – and that she too has become an adorable little character – but managing our small (currently) four-room home with three pets has become a bit onerous – so if you should see me somewhere on social media talking about adopting another animal anytime soon – STOP ME! It is lovely to have so many fluffy people in our home, but it does add to a) the cost of living and b) the time it takes before I’m able to have my first coffee of the morning, because of course, everyone has needs (hello chickens…).

Percy has recently joined our frugal family

Learning to say “no”

So the point of this post (I promise, I’m getting there…) is something which comes up again and again in my chats with you all on social media – how we all have to learn to say no to things, and to put boundaries in place to keep ourselves well and allow space to replenish.

I’ve not always felt particularly able to do that given the constraints upon us as a result of Brexit – the minimum income requirement being the biggest. It propelled me into a place of putting a huge amount of energy into my work, and as a result, I wasn’t especially available to anyone for a time, physically or emotionally.

I'm learning how to start living a slow and purposeful life in France
I’m figuring out what it means to me to live slowly in France

Ironically, 2020 was the year in which I decided that I would start living a slow and purposeful life in France. I decided to travel more and visit friends, to take regular time off work and to invest more in my friendships. Of course, thanks to COVID-19 that didn’t happen, and instead 2020 became another year of work being extremely draining. Not because I was throwing myself into it, but rather because of the collective trauma of our societies, it was throwing itself at me.

Working as a talking therapist going through the same issues as my clients in real-time was a first for me – and I imagine many therapists. But with new, extremely robust boundaries I found that I was able to navigate my way back to a place of calm, and get myself much closer to where I have for so long wanted to be – in the luxurious position of being able to choose whether I read that book, or drink that coffee, or whatever.

Because I choose to, not because I *have* to.


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