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
Bonnieon 2019-04-30 at 23:46
My experience of living in Provence as far as electricity is concerned is to make the most of your off peak hours. Since we have pleine and creuse, I think the latter is the lower rate and the hours are 2 to 5pm and midnight to 7am, then we set our mobile phone alarms to remind us to switch on the hot water tank as well during those times. If you have a programmable timer on your circuit, make the most of it. Usually in the winter months, about 3 hours is enough to keep us going daily and in the hot summer months, we usually get about 3 days out of the tank. This of course depends on your tank capacity. The best use of timers on dishwashers and washing machines also helps with cost during off peak. EDF have an English speaking line, so dont struggle with the french number if you need help understanding your bill.
Many organisations, such as banks, require a french mobile phone number and one of the cheapest I use is FREE with a direct debit monthly on a sim only contract. A spare phone is useful for this at 2 euros a month, not a lot of calling time (2 hrs) but unlimited sms. We use our 3 UK network sim only contract for most of our calls and it is worth it with the FEEL AT HOME part of their contract, which allows you to call back home on mobile and landlines as well as landlines in a lot of other countries. We have SFR for wifi, tv and landline phone and the original introductory contract at 39.95 suddenly goes up (69.95 was ours)at the end of 12 months. It’s all those little included extras that your now have to pay for and now’s the time to phone them and weed out the things you dont really need. I managed to get ours back onto 39.95. SFR also then offered the same sim free contract, slightly difference with no charge for 12 months and then 4 euros a month for next 12 months. This equals much the same deal I already had with a slightly better company.
Obviously, not many speak English but a useful app SCAN AND TRANSLATE + is valuable. Use one device to type up what you want to say, example WORD, use another device with the app and photograph it, translate it and then read it out in french over the phone to explain. Ask for someone to call you back who speaks English.
BONNIEon 2019-05-01 at 11:22
A food shopping worth mentioning is making a lettuce stay at its best. The produce here in Provence is wonderful and the variety of lettuces is one of those things. If your lettuce goes wilted quickly in the fridge or slime, here’s how to keep it at its best.
I wash all vegetables as soon as I bring them home and most fruits. Getting rid of soil pests and soil itself as well as pesticides is a start, but cut a thin sliver off the root base of your lettuce, immerse it in at least half a bucket or sink of water and leave it for one hour. The water revives the lettuce,, now let it drain upside down in a colander or kitchen towel for about another hour.
After drying as best you can, place 2 sheets of kitchen paper towel on the bottom of it and carefully place it in a large plastic bag, bottom side down. The lettuce is now in a humid environment and the paper towel stops it getting too wet and slimey. Change the paper towel after about 5 days and refresh it as needed. You will have crisp lettuce much longer and can give up on buying ready prepared cut up salad greens that spoil rapidly. This works reasonably well for carrots, celery sticks and spring onions as well when placed in a snap lid plastic box, similar to a bacon box. Limp frisbee springs back to life so well, you will need a larger fridge.
The principle of this was the way in which the Tupperware lettuce keeper worked years ago, but I couldn’t get the big lettuces in it today.
BONNIEon 2019-05-01 at 11:26
So meant to say “limp frisée “. It probably cures a frisbee too 🙂