Frugal French habits You can Try at Home

Posted by Mrs Money on March 9th, 2010

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Post-Sunset Eiffel Tower
Creative Commons License photo credit: hipposrunsuperfast.com


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?

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15 Responses to “Frugal French habits You can Try at Home”


  1. When I was working a second job I worked with a lot of teenagers who were always anxious to move out of their parents house and get their own place. They knew nothing of responsibility, the only bill most of them had to pay was their cell phone.

    I told them stay at home and save your money because once you have to pay rent or a mortgage things will be very different.

    [Reply]

    Simple in France Reply:

    Saving Money–I think that it’s a great thing when families get along well enough to allow the kids a couple of years of rent-free income before they move out. I think that’s some very sound advice you gave those teenagers.

    [Reply]

  2. Angel says:

    1. haven’t done this in a few months (and then is was only putting my sick pets vet bills on my care card – no interest for 6 months in which time it will be paid off).
    2. i lived with my parents until i was 26 (my parents have 2 houses and i lived in the one that was out of state from where they worked, so i only saw them on the weekends) but doing this helped me save $ for our wedding & then a down payment for a house.
    4. we do this a lot. we live in a small city, so we walk to the grocery store, farmers markets, parks, museums, restaurants, etc. when i was working i use to walk there too (all year & even 9 months pregnant last summer).
    5. may not be tiny, but 4 cylinder
    6. i’m notorious for re-wearing clothes. if it hadn’t been stained or smelly then i will wear it again. and as far as them lasting longer, i have clothes that i still wear from elementary school (remember those really baggy sweaters? well mine still fit)
    7. i am a firm believer in this as well.

    in response to your questions, i try not to watch commercials or read magazines (mostly ads anyway). i don’t shop out of boredom or therapy. i don’t compare myself to others regarding what they have or i don’t have. i am content with my life and being a stay at home mom.

    [Reply]

  3. margo says:

    I like this post! We do a lot of these things already.
    We do not have a TV and we don’t “go shopping” for recreation. We also have a community of like-minded friends, so most of the time we don’t even feel that weird.

    [Reply]

    Simple in France Reply:

    Margo–the community of like-minded friends makes a huge difference. I suppose I could have included it on my list. For me, living in France provides that to an extent (and so does blogging). In the States, I found I had to work a little harder to find supportive communities, but there are supportive sub-cultures in the cities I’ve lived in/near (Seattle, San Fransisco, San Diego . . .).

    [Reply]

  4. Angel–sounds great–and excellent comment on not watching commercials or reading magazines. I find that there are people out there who ‘want’ things that I never knew existed, largely because of advertising in TV/printed press. By the way, in both, you also have to watch out for product placement. . .

    [Reply]

  5. Attila says:

    I must be French! (Actually, my married name is French, via the West Indies! And now I come to think of it, my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was French, too!) These are very good habits to cultivate; I went through a time in my life when I was desparately poor, so I find it bearable to go without sometimes, and the money saved goes on sensible luxuries, like a good bed or a newish, second hand car bought for cash.

    [Reply]

    Simple in France Reply:

    Attila–You’re in the UK, right? I have some ancestors from the UK with French names as well (although I’m only married into the culture).

    By the way, sometimes I think that being ‘desperately poor’ is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for living frugally. You can learn a lot from such times. (And like you, when I buy a car it is always the best used car I can afford to buy cash!).

    [Reply]

  6. Bucksome says:

    I know a lot more about French living than I did before reading this article. I can’t imagine wearing the same clothes to work two days in a row; I’d be the topic of the day!

    One family tradition that is frugal is to eat leftovers. We have all kinds of recipes for excess meat, etc.

    [Reply]

  7. Ahhhh c’est la vie!
    Thanks for helping me pretend I was in Paris, even if it was for the duration of the post! =)

    Great tips. Cycling and walking are such great money savers!

    [Reply]

    Simple in France Reply:

    Young and thrifty–anytime! I’m glad you enjoyed your stay and that you are carrying on the great French tradition of walking and cycling . . .(Did I mention my in-laws are a family of cycling fanatics???) DH and I both have bikes worth more than our former car.

    [Reply]

  8. Bucksome–isn’t it fascinating how something that is completely acceptable in one culture will get you the hairy eyeball in another? Wearing clothes more than once is one of those things, I think.

    This is why I was so excited to see that Mrs. Money had a link to an article she’d written about doing this in the US in the post above.

    By the way, if you’re curious about this topic, I wrote on the French habit of wearing clothes more than once here:
    http://www.simplelifeinfrance.com/2009/11/encore-wearing-it-again-in-france/

    [Reply]

  9. Wonderful post! I love all your frugal ideas especially the clothing one. My goal is to have a very small wardrobe of only clothing I love.
    jana

    [Reply]


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  1. Frugal French habits you can try at home . . . « Simple Life in France 09 03 10
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