Hi everybody! (Or, hi Mom, as I imagine you’re probably my only faithful reader…) Sorry for the break in my posts- I’ve just moved apartments and finally got my WiFi set up. But I’m back in action! Today’s post will have practical tips on how to save money in France. I’ll admit that I took a serious pay cut to live in France, and my wallet is feeling it. Teaching in NYC, which was my previous job, wasn’t by any means a gold mine, but the higher salary there combined with lower travel accessibility ensured I saved a lot more. Thus, I’ve had to learn to cut some corners in my adoptive country. However, no matter what our income looks like, everybody likes a good deal so voila! Unless otherwise noted, these tips will serve visitors and residents alike.
- Groceries. Cooking for yourself will always be the cheapest option. For groceries, you’ll find low-cost products at large stores such as Auchan, Leclerc, etc. If you are in Strasbourg, the grocery stores are much cheaper across the German border in a city called Kehl. You can take the tram right in, and due to open borders, you don’t have to worry about a visa check. If you are into fresh, local products (you should be! This is great for the planet and your body), almost every city has at least one outdoor market each week. A lovely way to save money and pass the time with friends is to pick up a few items and enjoy a picnic in the park, or a potluck at somebody’s 10 square-meter Parisian apartment. TIP: Always bring a bag while grocery shopping in France, or you’ll have to buy one when you reach the register.
- Make your own coffee. If you are a coffee addict, you will break the bank buying your daily cuppa joe. Of course it can be nice to treat yourself to a flat white every now and again (guilty as charged), but to save money, make coffee yourself. You can buy a “French press” (often called a “Bodum” here due to the popularity of the brand) for about EUR 20, and a 1 kg bag of coffee will keep you sufficiently buzzing for about 125 cups and 10 EUR. Let’s do some math! If you live here for 7 months and have one espresso (your cheapest option) per day, you’ll enjoy around 210 espressos. If you were to buy one each day at EUR 2, you’ll spend EUR 420. Now if you make 7 cups of coffees per week, you’ll spend EUR 40 for your term as an Assistant (including the cost of equipment and the cost of the beans). You will save a grand total of EUR 380. The Bodum and first bag of coffee will pay for themselves after 15 espressos. Now go use your savings and buy yourself a vacation.
- Water: If you’re out at a restaurant, you will pay exorbitant amounts of money for bottled water. Tap water in France is FREE! (Americans, I know this seems obvious, but it is not the case in several other European countries). Just ask the server for “une carafe d’eau.”
- Happy Hour: If you like to imbibe in alcoholic beverages (that’s my fancy way of saying get your drink on), go during happy hour. It is very common in France, and often takes place from 5-7 pm. You can save up to half-off on your drinks. If you are sober, restaurants/bars that offer reductions on alcoholic drinks during HH are legally obligated to have non-alcoholic reductions as well.
- Feeling Fancy? Go out during lunchtime. France is arguably the gastronomic capital of the world, so visitors and residents should certainly take advantage. If you enjoy going to restaurants, tasting menus and the “menu du jour” will be significantly cheaper at lunch. I’m still dreaming about a meal I had in Strasbourg over a year ago. My brother gave me the most incredible gift card to a Michelin Starred restaurant called 1741. The amount was quite generous, but if I were to order a la carte, I would have been able to afford a glass of wine, one meal without an app, and a coffee. Instead, I went during lunch and was able to treat myself to a 5 course menu. There was enough left that I could take my boyfriend (Florent) with me, and treat him to the same, with a few euros left over. If you want to drool, the lunch menu at 1741 changes each week and you can check it out here.
- App: Too Good To Go. This app is a game-changer, and should exist in every major city in the world. In an attempt to fight food waste, TGTG was launched for restaurants and bakeries to sell “paniers” (baskets) of the day’s unsold food at extremely low prices. Sometimes you end up with a few duds, but I’ve generally had fantastic experiences. You don’t often choose what you get (except last night when I ordered a burger and was able to sub chicken and choose my cheese), but if you don’t like the offerings, give them to a friend or someone dealing with homelessness. Paniers generally range from EUR 2-6.
- App: The Fork (“La Fourchette”). This is another great option for people who like eating at restos. Like any dining app, you will put in your dates, the number of people for the reservation, and the type of food you want. You’ll then be able to select from numerous restaurants near you offering varying discounts. I often go to an Alsatian restaurant near me and pay half price on food (the app excludes drinks). For perspective, my bf, his parents and I once went there and ordered 1 appetizer, 4 substantial meals, and 3 desserts. The grand total: EUR 48.
- Free Museum Days. In most cities, museums will offer free entry on one day per month (typically the first Sunday). However, some places only do this for certain months of the year. That being said, there are several museums in France (notably in Paris) that are free all the time. One lovely example is the Carnavalet, a museum devoted to the history of Paris.
- Pass Education. **For Teaching Assistants. Sadly, visitors will not be able to benefit from this.** This AMAZING pass offers school teachers free admission to ALL national monuments and museums. The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe, The Orangerie- all national. There is some debate over whether or not Assistants de langue are entitled to the PE, but I am team YES! Some academies will hand this out during orientation, but when I taught in Paris, I just asked the school secretary for one and she handed it over with no issues. Fight for this, because it will save you a tremendous amount of money. You can check out all of the included attractions here, and start daydreaming about your visits.
- Be Under 26 Years Old. Whether or not you have a Pass Education, if you’re under 26 and a resident or visa-holder in an EU country, you’ll get free access to national museums and monuments. This does entail bringing your passport around with you, but some places will accept a copy of your visa (which you should make anyway). Even if you’re just visiting, if you’re under 26 or a student, you will be entitled to reduced admission prices no matter where you’re from.
- “Free” Walking Tours. Most cities in France and around the continent offer free walking tours (next level: one tour company in Scotland offers a free, day-long Highlands bus tour). Note that these tours aren’t actually free, and you will be expected to pay a tip. That being said, the premise is that you pay not just what you think it’s worth, but that you pay what you can. If you’re strapped for cash, a fiver will do the job. Another great thing about these tours is that the guides have to impress you to make their money, so they’re generally very good.
- Parks/Churches. You can count on both of these options being free year-round, and you can find them all over the country. Of course parks are free (I highly recommend the Jardin du Luxembourg if you’re in Paris), and churches which are still actively used are free as well. You will have to pay for some churches that are no longer in service.
- Train Subscriptions (“Abonnements”). These will probably be more cost effective for people who live in France, if even for a short period. If you’d like to travel within France, I highly recommend looking through the different train abonnement options (click here to peruse). My 2 favorites are TGV Max and the Carte Jeune. Both are available to people up to the age of 28, and will save you a TON of money. TGV Max is a monthly subscription where you will pay EUR 79 each month for unlimited TGV travel. For perspective, a “cheap” round trip ticket from Strasbourg to Paris is already EUR 90. With TGV Max, you can reserve up to 6 trains at a time, and up to 1 month in advance. Sometimes you’ll have to travel at some weird times, but I’ve found it to be totally worth it. I dread my 28th b day in December, when I’m no longer able to take advantage of (“profiter de”) TGV Max. The Carte Jeune costs EUR 50 (one time fee) and gives reductions on all train travel in France (excluding city-wide public transit). Personally, I have both.
- BlaBlaCar. This is a ride-share service where people planning to drive to a certain place can post their starting and ending points as well as stops along the way, and others can pay to join them. This is great for drivers and passengers, as drivers can make a few euros and passengers can pay low prices for travel.
- Flixbus. Flixbus is not the only bus service of its kind, but it is probably the most popular. The cheapest way to travel around France/Europe is by bus, but I find it abhorrent. You won’t catch me on a Flixbus trip that lasts more than 2 hours. The buses are supposedly equipped with WiFi and a toilet, but one or both are always out of service. No thank you. (Though if you’re less prissy than I am, this is a fantastic option. I’ve seen 7 hour trips for as low as EUR 1).
- Budget Airlines. I cannot rave enough about how cheap air travel is in France and throughout the continent. The two most popular budget airlines are Ryanair and easyJet. If you are ok with no-frills air travel, I recommend you utilize these flights as often as you please. I once got a ticket to Barcelona for EUR 25 round trip, and I’ve heard of people paying even less. If you don’t have a specific destination in mind, use Ryanair’s “Fare Finder” feature. Cost goes up depending on demand, so the cheapest tickets will be available during less desirable travel times. Important things to keep in mind: 1. The airports for these airlines (especially Ryanair) might not be the main city airports. Consider the cost of getting to each airport when booking travel. 2. They will try to get you on other costs. Make sure you check in and print your boarding pass before arriving at the airport (unless you want to pay EUR 50), and do NOT try to sneak by their luggage allowance. These airlines make their money when you don’t follow their directions, and they are very black and white when it comes to allowances. You won’t get away with it. TIP: Even the aforementioned budget airlines allow passengers to board with one duty free bag, and one bag of food from the airport. Buy something from duty free and get the largest bag possible. Put your handbag in your new lovely duty free bag. You’re welcome.
- Consider your destination. Even if you manage to snag a cheap flight, consider where you’re flying to, and the costs over there. If you pay EUR 30 for a ticket to Norway, that’ll be the cheapest thing you buy. In contrast, if you’re heading over to Portugal, you are in for a very inexpensive vacation. That being said, there are ways to make expensive cities cheaper as well. I’ll write a post later about how my dear friend Aisling and I did Copenhagen on a budget without sacrificing comfort or experiences.
- Bike. Most of Europe is very bike-friendly! You can either buy a bike or partake in one of the multiple bike-share options offered in cities throughout France.
- Couch Surfing. This is the cheapest lodging option, because it’s free. Travelers will advertise open spaces in their homes and you can request to stay there. Use this service at your own discretion, as it’s impossible to fully vet all hosts and travelers.
- Hostels. Hostels offer shared dorms and private rooms for lower prices than hotels. Make sure you do your research and read the reviews. If you like to meet fellow travelers, hostels will be a great option for you. If you like a quiet, restful place at the end of the day, you’ll despise sleeping in a dorm. Personally, my limit is a 4-bed dorm room. Especially if I’m traveling with another person, this way we are guaranteed to occupy at least half of the room.
- Airbnb. This is another option for cheaper lodging, as you’ll stay in peoples’ properties. If it’s your first time using Airbnb, save $38 with my affiliate link ;). Important: Airbnb is getting a lot of well-deserved criticism because people are buying out properties for rentals, thus raising the cost of living in certain areas and pushing out locals. Consider staying in an empty room in a person’s home, as when you stay in an individual apartment, it’s hard to guarantee whether you’re at someone’s primary residence or staying at a place bought out by a vacation rental company.
- Camp. France (and several other European countries) does not allow you to pitch a tent any place you please, but the campsites here are very well maintained, affordable, and equipped with showers and a place to prepare food. Florent and I camped in Switzerland to save money on a hotel. Decathlon has very reasonably priced camping supplies.
- Les Soldes (The Sales). Every winter and summer, for about one month, just about all the clothing/bags/shoes in this country go majorly on sale. This is in an effort for stores to clear their stock before bringing in the next season’s clothes. You’ll find sales at less expensive stores like H&M, but also at more luxury places like the Galleries Lafayettes. Last summer, during my trip back to the USA, I bought a large Longchamp tote bag for EUR 34 (The same bag in the USA runs for $145). I was able to “profiter” (remember that word?) from les soldes AND from duty free at the airport. TIP: the later in the sale season that you shop, the cheaper the options become. However, if you wear a popular size, there will be pretty slim-pickings by the end of the sale season.
- European Brands. From H&M and Zara to Louis Vuitton and Louboutin, French/European brands will cost less in France. Not that I could ever afford them, but just for perspective, the same Louboutin pump (matte black, 85 mm heel, basically my dream when I win the lottery) costs EUR 545 in France, and $695 (EUR 615) in the United States. This same premise holds true for all brands. TIP: If you’re visiting France as a citizen from a Non-EU country, you can get a 20% reduction on your shopping over EUR 175 when you’re hopping on your plane back to Chicago. Here’s how. That makes those dreamy Louboutin pumps EUR 436 (or $202.19 cheaper than in the US- yep, I did the math for you. You can thank me by buying me a pair).
So there you have it. There are many ways to save money in France, whether you are travelling here for a short period or are relocating here on a more permanent basis. Feel free to comment with any questions or suggestions of your own!
A bientôt, mes ami.e.s!