August 25, 2008

The Cost of Living in France

Tuesday Morning Market

The other night a friend asked us exactly how many euros he would need each month to to be comfortable living in France.
As I started to answer the question, I realized that there was no way I could.
It is far too subjective.


A Spot to Read

First of all, what is comfortable?

Did he plan on flying off to Rome, Copenhagen, Lisbon or wherever on a whim?
Would he take frequent trips to Paris?
Would he be happy drinking local wine or did he prefer more expensive Bordeaux or Burgundy?
What kind of car would he drive?
How big of a house did he want to live in?
Would he mainly eat in restaurants or cook at home?

Everyone has a different idea of "comfort".
I could only tell him how we live and how much we currently live on to give him a point of reference.

Here is our situation;
Each month we receive a moderate pension in US dollars and whatever I earn from advertisers here on Chez Loulou and other writing jobs. That comes out to, on average, $1,650 a month. Convert to euros and today that is roughly €1,120. Better than the last few months, when it was around €980!
When we moved to France 5½ years ago we never imagined that the euro would become so strong and that we would be losing a large chunk of our income every month. Every year we've had to cut back more and more to adjust.

Obviously we aren't flying off to Rome on a whim or eating in Michelin starred restaurants. Someday we will...

Yet, we're still comfortable. In a very simple way.

We're surrounded by delicious local food, cheese and AOC wine. I have the time to cook our meals from scratch so we rarely buy pre-made meals. We eat a lot of vegetables and eat meat occasionally. We wait for my yearly trips back to the States (which have been generously paid for by friends and family the last few years) to buy clothes and shoes, as they are much cheaper there. And we have lunch out in a moderately priced restaurant about once every 2-3 months.

Here's how it breaks down each month - remember that we live in a village in the south, not in a big city, so the prices might be totally different to those living in big cities like Paris or Lyon or Marseille.
We own our house outright so we have no mortgage. Also, we have no car payments and no credit card debt.

EDF (electricity) €90
Phone and Internet €50
Heath Insurance (to cover the 30% that isn't covered by the state) €120
Car and Home Insurances €60
Taxes (habitation and foncières and TV) €40
Water €20
Fuel (to fill up the car twice) €120
Groceries (approx.) €300

Total €800

Which leaves us with around €320 a month for things we need around the house, a cheap ticket to Paris to visit friends, car maintenance, fuel and tolls on the autoroute to get to Camp Cassoulet, a bit for a day trip to Spain, etc.
As my husband often says, we're doing it with mirrors.


It turns out that our situation is not our friend's definition of comfortable!
Go figure.

May 2010 - Cost of Living Update

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42 comments:

Pumpkin Pie said...

You know my husband and I make it on a low Swiss salary...I stay home with the kids for the moment. I do make a little money off of my blog but I spend it all on my oldest daughter who lives in the States. We aren't by any means rich. We get aid for our health insurance which takes it down to around two hundred and fifty a month and we get money for each child as all Swiss with kids do. We are careful and we don't have the cost of a car. However, we still travel around by train quite a lot and have taken trips to Strasbourg and Prague with the help of my Inlaws.

Even if I would like to have more money I do not in any way feel like my life is without comfort.

We have everything that we really need and much much more. It could certainly be worse as it is for many others. We are blessed.

You are right that the idea of comfort changes from person to person and I have to admit that it has changed for me since moving to Europe as well.

dND said...

Comfort is very subjective isn't it. I currently have no income from my smallholding only outgoings but I'm prepared to cut corners/downshift where possible because of the things you can't put a price on. I love being here, my mental health is so much better than in the stresses of the UK and my physical health is blooming in the clean air and sun.

I don't think I could put a 'price' on my comfort, only on the minimum I need to cover the costs of things I can't grow or make myself.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Your right Loulou, What is comfortable.

The fact that you own your house outright is a great help...

Our mortgage alone is £800, which is 1,001.47 EUR, 1,478.54 US Dollars. Then on top of that we have Council Tax, Water rates, Gas and Electricity, TV licence, Petrol, Food, House Insurances, Phone, Internet...have I missed anything???

It is very, very expensive here and rising..basic foods have risen so high, it is unbelievable!!

And at the moment we are comfortable..I cook from scratch as well, just round the corner is a very good Fruit and Veg shop and Butchers, not that we eat meat everyday, but when we do, we go there, it is fresh and good quality!!

My Mélange said...

Very useful information for people considering a move.

I have often learned that it is amazing what you can live without, if you have too.

Money can't buy happiness :)

Alejandra said...

You know, that's a lovely post. When I lived in Italy I remember making do with nearly nothing. And still it was one of the most lovely and comfortable times in my life. Perhaps it is something about the beauty of living in Europe that lends a value of richness to life there...

Veronica said...

well, not all of Europe is such a pleasure to live in :-)

My definition of comfort is similar to yours, Loulou. Financially, we are not nearly as well off as we were when we lived in the UK, but I don't regret downsizing one bit (though I'm glad of the comfortable salary I had then, that enabled us to buy the house here!). I love the pace of life here and the fact that we are our own bosses.

We've never been that interested in material goods, and as long as we have enough to keep a roof over our heads (mortgage now paid off), run a (10-year-old) car, eat and drink pretty much what we want by buying local, go out to a restaurant, film, or concert occasionally, buy books (very important!), and take the odd trip elsewhere, we are happy.

I think we all need to count our blessings -- we have everything we need here, and more wouldn't make us any happier.

Judith said...

See *I* consider that perfectly comfortable, but it is very subjective. I consider comfortable to be a small step up from what I'd consider for myself: being able to afford wine at *all*, possibly living in a house rather than an apartment, possibly having a car (well in the south of France that's a necessity in most places). Your situation is strange in a lot of ways though - at first glance making only a thousand or so euro a month total I thought you'd be completely sunk, but then you have *no* payments for rent or mortgage. For most people that's the biggest portion of what you spend every month. For me I probably spend a similar amount on food and housing, maybe $100 a month less for the food. Then I have internet, cell phone, and electricity bills and if you think of all those together it's (eep!) probably $130 or so. But I *don't* have a TV, I don't have a car... so when someone says "comfortable" I suppose you have to ask those questions.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

I would just like to add, that not all of England is a pleasure to live in ...but for us and others there is no other choice, well not at the moment for me anyway.

A lot of the UK is expensive, and dirty. And very stressful for a lot of people. As dnd said in his comment, his mental health is so much better than in the stresses of the UK !!

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Sorry I meant to put in post Her/His...don't know if dnd is male or female ...:-)

georgiegirl said...

Loulou, I like what you wrote. It is very informative.
Years ago, I thought about living in France for about a year just to satisfy my dream. After reading several blogs and books from expats, I have doubts that the dream will come true. It is not just the money but several things that have to be handled differently and the level of comfort that we will have to adjust. I wonder whether renting is easier. We moved away from Thailand but I don't want to move back there.

Loulou said...

pumpkin pie
I agree when you say, "I do not in any way feel like my life is without comfort."
Our needs have definitely changed since moving here. We have everything we need and very little stress, which is wonderful.

dnd
Mental health. So important!
Your situation sounds difficult but you seem very positive and it looks like you're making the best of it.
Thanks for commenting! I've bookmarked your blog.

anne
We were lucky to have bought our petite maison when prices were very reasonable.
Prices have risen here too. We eat a lot of pasta and rice!

my mélange
No, money doesn't buy happiness. (but it does pay for that occasional trip to Italy that we would like to take) :)

alejandra
That is great to hear. Why is it so easy to do without the things here that I would totally take for granted if I lived in the States?
Maybe it is the little things. And having the time to appreciate them.

veronica
We don't regret downsizing or moving here at all. I have moments when I see my friends traveling or shopping for new things and wish I had that disposable income too.
For instance I would love a new camera and when I started pricing the one I wanted, I just about had a heart attack! I had no idea they were so expensive. If I start saving now then maybe in a year or so I can buy a new one. It makes me appreciate things, that's for sure!

judith
Luckily a liter of local wine is less that what Americans would spend on a bottle of water. :)
I know that having no rent or mortgage is huge. If we had to afford that, well, then we probably wouldn't be here!
Being so far out in the country does mean that we need a car. We don't have cell phones. And I suppose we could live without TV, but we never go to movies or the theater so it is our only entertainment.
As you wrote too, comfort is very subjective!

anne
The timing was everything for us. We were able to buy this little place, pay off our debts, get rid of most of our possessions and take the leap to move here. It isn't for everyone! :)

Loulou said...

georgie girl
I'm glad you enjoyed the post.
Yes, moving here and living here requires some adjusting! But if you could live in Thailand, you could definitely handle living in France.

Alison said...

Yep, the no-mortgage thing is great, lucky you!

As long as you can make it work, more power to you!

Our Juicy Life said...

I love your simple life. Who needs THINGS...they are just things. We are budgeting around 1200 euros per month for us while we are there. That's for living expenses, we own our car in france and that's not our rent. We are buying the necessary things here and will take them with us.

You sound happy and that's all that matters. I come from Los Angeles, and there are many people here that have a huge house, nannys, maids, house help, many cars, and tons of stuff and they are not very happy.

Loulou said...

alison
Not having rent or a mortgage is wonderful. We're lucky that we don't.
Yes, we make it work. :)
It's either make it work or move back to the States, which we don't want to do.

our juicy life
You'll be fine on that amount each month. It is less than a month before you arrive, yes?
If we take a little trip north to the Loire in the autumn, which we are thinking of doing, we might have to stop in your area and meet you for a coffee or something.

Jane said...

LouLou,

Fabulous post! It's been a dream of mine just to pack up and leave the U.S. who knows. It's nice to know that one can live on less. I've heard from so many people that you need so much more (a lot more, and that would be going without) so those people didn't know what they were talking about.

Thank You,
Jane

Liz said...

Long time reader, but first time poster.

As 1/2 of a couple who is hoping to make the move to France in the next 5 years (and just starting to research mortgages in advance of a trip next year to go house hunting), this was probably one of the best posts we could have stumbled upon.

It's really wonderful to see a breakdown of costs like this so we know what to plan for, and how much we can expect to spend. Thank you!

Loulou said...

Jane
I'm glad you liked the post. :)
Many people think that they absolutely can't live without certain things but often find that they can.
You should follow your dream!

Liz
You are welcome!
Good luck with your research, home hunting and future move to France.
Please keep in touch and let me know how your house hunting trip goes. Do you know what region you want to move to?

Liz said...

Thank you!

Funny you should ask... we have pretty much settled on the languedoc region!

Near(ish) to one of the larger cities, but in a smaller village.

Ironically, we've been taking French classes locally to improve our language skills, and it turns out our teacher last year was from a small town near Narbonne, so she has been telling us all kinds of wonderful stories.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Loulou, the budget Walt and I live on looks very much like yours. Our taxes are higher, I think, but our electric bills are lower. And we don't fill the car up with diesel fuel more than once a month, on average. We eat well, cooking from scratch, and we shop for bargains in the produce and butcher sections of the supermarket as well as at the outdoor markets. We don't go out to restaurants very much at all -- sometimes months go by between restaurant meals -- but I for one don't miss that. Gardening along with gathering fruit from trees in our yard and neighborhood help keep expenses down. It helps that good wine is so cheap in the Loire Valley!

The US dollar has gained a little ground recently. Let's hope the trend continues. Like you, we don't have rent or a mortgage to pay, and that makes it all possible.

I can see how someone who is considering a short-term stay in France would want a larger budget, but for living here I think ours is fine.

Loulou said...

Liz
Ah, Narbonne is a wonderful city! How cool that you're thinking of the Languedoc. It is an amazing region!

ken
Thanks for commenting.
You two are the only other Americans I've seen (via blog reading) who are in a similar situation, so it was interesting to hear that you are also able to make it work. By similar I mean not working and living off of $$.

We have such a rich life, even if we're not rich. :)

wcs said...

Loulou, I'll drink to that!

Loulou said...

wcs
salut!

annechung said...

How brave. It's good to have an idea on how much is needed to live abroad. I know not every place is the same cost wise. One day when I can cut my addiction to a high paying job.... maybe soon, all those cheeses, on my last trip to France I discovered fromage blanc and couldn't get enough of it. I'd move just for fromage blanc!

Loulou said...

annechung
I love fromage blanc too! And faiselle. Have you ever tried faiselle?
We thought we knew what we would need to live when we moved here. But the Euro kept getting stronger and stronger, making it more and more difficult. We have survived, but barely. We hope the recent change in the $/€ is a good sign for us!

Anonymous said...

I'm a French citizen living in Oregon thinking off returning to live in southern France in the Pyreness. I'm retired
and have US social security plus another small pension. Does anyone
have knowledge of any French goverment assistence programs to help repatriate French citizens?
Thanks in advance for your help !

Loulou said...

anon
I'm sorry to say that I have no idea!
You should check the website of the French Embassy or contact someone there for an answer.
Good luck!

Andy said...

I am planning to buy a barge or river cruiser in the next 2 years and live aboard in either Burgundy or the Midi, obviously being able to weigh anchor and move to wherever I choose at almost a moments notice. I plan to buy the craft outright and have a pension amounting to £1300 per month index linked - does anyone have any experience of the 'hidden' costs of what seems an idyllic lifestyle ?

Loulou said...

Andy
The only thing about being on a barge that I could envision as being quite expensive would be the cost of the fuel.
Other than that, you should be just fine.
Good luck to you!

see360 said...

Chez Loulou! Thank you so much for the budget information, we have been searching for these numbers since we started researching living in France. If we follow your estimates we can certainly make it happen. May I ask a few questions? If you buy property in France are you eligible for French Residency? Do you find it necessary to have a car? Did you buy a "ruin" and remodel it or do you know people who have done it? -See360

Loulou said...

see360
Glad I was able to help with the information you needed!
I'm in the middle of writing a short tutorial about moving to France and part two answers your question about residency.
http://chezlouloufrance.blogspot.com/2010/03/moving-to-france-tutorial-part-two.html
(Basically, no, you do not get resident status just by owning property)
Having a car depends upon where you live. Where we are is very rural and there really isn't much public transport so we have one. if you are in a city then you can easily get by without one.
We did not buy a ruin. Our house just needed some cosmetic work on the interior. We know many people who have renovated ruins. Count on it taking twice as long and being twice as expensive as estimated. That seems to be the general experience they have had.

Good luck in your travels and in your future move to France!

Anonymous said...

I am just curious... if you are single, do you really need a car in Europe with all of those trains, buses, and metros? It is huge savings if you forgo the vehicle in France. In terms of real estate I think both the US and France are on par. Incidentally, home maintenance is way less expensive in most of Europe because they actually build homes out of stone vs paper/wood/asphalt. Also, property tax is insane in the US. If you add up what we pay for Federal income tax, State income tax, SS, Medicare, and municipal tax and couple that with our property tax you will find that both countries take about 30-50% of our income (France has an extremely low property tax and Italy and Malta no longer have one at all!)

The day to day items and all things associated with vehicle ownership are less in the US. Utilities are a wash depending on where you live. In truth the only things that are out of control in the US are healthcare, property tax, and education.

I think if you want the best of both worlds you should live and work in the US when you are young and healthy. Then when you have enough to retire, move to a socialist country because remaining in the US will sap your life savings when you have to pay egregious sums of money for healthcare and property tax just to live and breathe the air in your own house. Little food for thought for those interested in learning about what is on the other side of the Atlantic... in short America is kind when you are young and harsh when you are no longer productive.... the reverse is true for the whole of Europe.

Chez Loulou said...

Anon
Yes, we need a car where we live, which is very rural. There aren't buses, trains etc. out here.
If we lived in a city then we would consider giving it up.

Thanks for sharing your opinion.

Craig said...

It's an interesting post. We recently moved to the UK from France because of my aging mother and although prices are about the same for food etc, we find that we spend more. I'm working on my budget now to find out why! Thanks for the detail.

Chez Loulou said...

Craig
You're welcome and thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

Loulou,

You are doing a great job by running this blog. A big service.

I am planning to move to Paris next year and quite worried about cost of living there after hearing and reading horror stories about astronomical prices, especially apartments.

Could you please guide is it possible to get a decent but cheap one-room apartment (without sharing) in Paris. I would not be bothered if it is not in the centre of the city or in some posh area. How much does it cost. I have a 1,500-euro budget. Can I survive on that?

Best

Chez Loulou said...

Anon
I've asked some friends who live in Paris and they all say that it is possible, but you have to be careful and frugal. Many students survive on a lot less.
Have a look at pap.fr and fusac.fr for apartment prices. Also, do some research on neighborhoods so you know what things cost.
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hi Loulou,

Many thanks for this advice. Really appreciate this.

Best

katie and jerry said...

Hi Loulou,

Just found your blog the other day. My husband and I are researching our move to France in the next year or two, in particular the Languedoc area. We had been wondering about costs, and are in fact, waiting until I am old enough to draw my retirement. We are currently traveling in our motorhome in the US and hope to buy a small place (no rent or mortgage payments that way) when we move to France. We will leave our motorhome with our kids to use while we are there, and then when we visit the States, we will have a "place" of our own.

Anxiously waiting for our time in France.

Katie and Jerry

Chez Loulou said...

Katie and Jerry
Good luck with your future move! I am excited for you. :)

Norm Clark said...

Hi, saw this recommended on SFN site and glad I did.
Can I offer my two cents worth, as OAP couple living on - wait for it about €550 a month. OK now we DO get French support for free medical cover, Big Point, plus we don't pay Tax Habitation as we are too old now. Plus like others we have no debts at all, house and car are all bought and paid for - MAJOR Points.
OK where does the fun come in?
Somebody mentioned Books - and I am a total book nut, and have found that the weekly trip(s) to Puces are great. Seeking and finding i wonderful, and a great side benefit to me at least, is seeing so many beautiful French books being sold for a euro, was irresistible - and I now read French very well - cause and effect?

DVD's are also cheap as chips at no more than a euro a film.

Baking your own bread (breadmaker also bought at Puce - €10) is also brilliant, and even a dumbo like me can make delicious wholemeal bread.
We are also very lucky in having a mill in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne who sells in kilo bags inexpensively!

Plus it is FUN in capital letters!
and you get to see places you would otherwise never have heard of - golden treasures some of them.

Latest discovery and I generally avoid packed products like the plague has been to find dear old Lidl (again) supplying packaged Cantal and Comte and Dutch cheeses at about two-thirds supermarket, off the block, and they are VERY Good.

Some of us are also lucky to have neighours we can do food swaps with. In our case Fruit. Plus, in the Summer months we never come home from our daily walks with fruit from the hedgerows. Health and food, how bad is that?

Like old films but can't see them? Like Old Music Jazz, or old-tyme stuff? Spend a bit of time on the web and just punch in 'Free' whatever, and you will be surprised what comes up!

Great fun, and costs very little.

Good Hunting!

Norm Clark


Loulou in France said...

Thanks for your input, Norm! I appreciate you taking the time to comment. You have a good, positive outlook about making life in France work. :)
It isn't always easy, but we love it here and wouldn't trade it for anything.

Sadly, many on SFN don't share your positive views. After joining I spent some time reading the member's complaints about seemingly everything related to life here, thus I revoked my membership shortly thereafter. I'm sure it offers some help to people, which is always a good thing. Just not for me.

Santé!