Bills and bureaucracy are synonymous with life in France. French bureaucracy is a burden we simply have to grin and bear – but the good news is that there is always something we can do about the bills!
Electricity & Gas
There are several companies in France providing the 3 basic utilities – electricity, water and gas. Since it’s a free market, you can shop around and get the best deal available. The government-owned EDF/GRDF is a good place to start, as they own the infrastructure and rent it out to the other providers. There is a monthly charge depending on the amount of power you can draw (beware UK style electric showers), so if you’re going fully eco and looking into solar power, you may be able to reduce your monthly cost. If you have ‘town gas’, there are advantages to having both amenities under one roof. If you are renovating a house and intend to fit solar or geothermal equipment, it’s worth looking at what subsidies may be available.
Water providers are fairly fixed in any given area, and the price varies inversely to the size of the town. Some small villages pay four times as much as city-dwellers. If you’re lucky enough to have a ‘forage’ (private well) on your property, you can use that free water for plants and the swimming pool.
You can compare French banks to a certain extent, but you must have a verifiable address near one of their agencies to open an account . As an anglophone, your choice of bank may depend on having an English-speaking phone line. Credit Agricole are probably the best known (Britline) but they are by no means the only one – HSBC has a few branches in France with online banking in English and a helpline. If you have a mortgage or insurance with an institution that offers banking, they may be able to offer a good deal. There are also online banks and La Poste offering low fees.
Phone & Internet
For most people, Orange is the obvious choice, but there are half a dozen companies worth looking at. SFR are probably the second largest, and La Banque Postale have very good deals available, using the SFR infrastructure. Negotiating is a lot easier if you have a year or two with the same company, so if you can be patient, you’ll certainly be able to get some leverage by changing providers. Showing your current provider a written deal from a competitor can make a big difference in what they offer.
With the climate in the South, the best way to save money on the weekly food bill is to grow your own and eat seasonal produce! The price of groceries from store to store vary hugely, particularly on fresh goods. (Example from this week cauliflowers from 2.49 each to over 4€). Lidl may not have the best image in other countries, but in France they have won the best Supermarket in France for several years. Most of the stores are relatively new, bake fresh bread all day, and the newer stores will even have a good quality coffee machine at a decent price. As we speak (early 2019) there are several more established supermarkets in this area having major refits, playing catch-up. Loyalty cards are worth having if they accrue you substantial discounts over time.
For household goods, display models will be available for purchase at a good discount. With electronics, if a newer version is soon-to-be released, you should be able to negotiate a good deal on the existing model and it will probably be more than adequate for several years.
Last but not least we must mention the national sales. The dates for these are fixed by the government and there are some incredible bargains to be had. Sales take place both online and in stores, so if you are furnishing a house or looking for a new wardrobe, make a note of the dates and you can save up to 50% on normal retail prices!
Have you found ways to cut the costs of living in France? We’d like to hear about them if so- please share your success stories in the comments!
Dennelle is the President of Renestance and a bilingual American who’s lived in France since 2000. She loves so many things about France, its language, culture, geography, quality of life... that she started a business to help others realize their dreams of living in this incredible place.
All articles by: Dennelle Taylor Nizoux