This advice comes from my friend Trish at Simple Life in France, where she shares her tips on simple living and saving money.
Do you ever feel like you’re struggling against an entire consumer culture when you enact a new frugal habit? If you’re like me, you’ve gotten plenty of glazed-over stares and slightly snide remarks about your simplified and money-saving ways. In these situations, you can pat yourself on the back for standing up for your values–regardless of pressures to the contrary. You can also tell yourself that you are dabbling in French culture without ever hopping the pond. Here are some typically French (and frugal) habits to engage in shamelessly.
1. Don’t buy on credit. Could you live without a credit card? Most people in France do. They pay with a debit card, check or cash. If they want something they can’t afford right away, like a car, a new kitchen appliance or some household repairs, they head to their bank to get a consumer line of credit . . . with fixed interest rates . . . if their bank thinks they can afford it. I’m sure you can appreciate the savings involved with carrying smaller debt and less astronomical interest rates.
2. Live with your parents a little longer. The French do not consider it strange at all for young people to live with their parents into their late twenties or early thirties. Imagine if you’d lived with their parents during your first few working years. Ok, some of you out there are nor hyperventilating at this thought, but keep an open mind! It could mean the difference between starting out in debt and starting out with a sizeable nest egg.
3. Live in a small space with less storage. Have you ever wondered how it would affect your spending if you didn’t have room for any more stuff—no garage, no walk-in closet, no closet at all? And don’t forget the effect on your heating bills if suddenly your living space were cut in half.
4. Walk! Many people in France live close to shops and services they use. Even those who drive into town to work are likely to park the car in one place and then walk around to run their errands after work. Walking can save you money on gas as well as on health care since it can cut back on stress and obesity.
5. Drive a tiny car. Picture yourself in a car the size of a Ford Fiesta–the typical size of cars in France. Smaller cars are often less expensive to purchase and can save you money on insurance, car registration and gas later on. Driving one of these little guys, you may not feel like spending your life in your car, but really, who wants to spend life in a car anyhow?
6. Don’t be afraid to wear your clothes more than once in a row. That’s right, wearing clothes two or three days in a row to work or to social occasions is completely acceptable in France. Not needing to have a separate outfit for each day of the week means you can get by with fewer clothes. Not washing clothes each and every time you wear them means they will last longer as well. (Yes, it’s ok, even encouraged to change your underwear on a daily basis!)
7. When you buy something new, plan on keeping it for a long time. Craigslist exists in France, but is nowhere near as robust as in the Unites States. You simply will not find large numbers of people in France buying expensive new items only to sell them for half price or less a few years later. Imagine if you intended to keep everything you bought for a decade . . . Would you be more selective about what you purchased?
Some of you who have tried out a few of these frugal strategies in the US may have some experience with cultural pressures to the contrary. I personally enjoy reminding myself (and sometimes my critics) that very civilized and sophisticated people in France do these things all the time!
How do you cope with being an outsider in consumer country? Do you have any family or cultural traditions to draw on that remind you that you are not alone?