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.