Crisis - How to Save Money in France
The world is in the middle of a financial crisis. Expats are not spared. While some are fortunate enough to remain in good circumstances, others face redundancies, reduced pension income because of the exchange rate, or even poverty. Even those in favourable conditions may find a useful tip here and there.
Don't hesitate to write to me if you have other ideas.
Check out the rest of this site - and a few others
Particularly the page "Commercial Practices in France".
Bonplangratos has a large number of suggestions for saving and gaining money. It is automatically in English if your browser is set to English.
Check your invoices, sales tickets, receipts ...
It's not because a computer edits a document that it is free from errors. A computer only does what it is programmed to do, so if a human programs it badly or inputs incorrect data, the result is incorrect. In IT circles, this principle is known as "garbage in - garbage out".
The number of such incorrect invoices, supermarket sales tickets and other documents I've found over the years is more than just marginal. There are all sorts of errors: supermarket promotions not reflected on the price on the sales ticket, price reductions promised but not applied, VAT errors, services not provided billed anyway, banks charging illegal fees, ISPs billing a full month after you sign up and was only connected part of the first month, contractual reductions suddenly disappearing from the invoice, mobile companies continuing direct debit after you cancelled a contract - just about every error imaginable.
It takes time and energy to check these things. If you are able to bill €100 per hour doing something else, it would make sense to minimise the time spent verifying modest bills, but if your income is in the lower bracket, you may want to recall that recovering just €7 corresponds to one hour's net salary at the French minimum wage, and that money saved is neither taxed nor taken into consideration when calculating any social benefits. Because of this, it can be argued that €1 saved has the same value as €2 earned.
A large number of companies and authorities never reply to requests. If you don't have a simple system to remind you to follow up, you may well forget about some of your outstanding requests. If the request was about money, you lose money if you don't follow up.
French companies and authorities commit a number of errors, and they infringe a number of laws, regulations and contracts, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly. The only one interested in protecting your rights is you. If you don't act, nobody will.
If the dispute concerns a company, be sure first of all to use up its internal complaints procedures, including complaining to the managing director if necessary. You can often look up the name of the director on business information sites. Adding the director's name to the complaint letter can have a psychological effect.
If internal complaints don't help, a vast choice of complaints procedures are available for administrative and consumer complaints. It is not difficult to obtain compensation for errors, you just need to follow the correct procedures and be patient. It pays off in the end.
It is an unfortunate fact that some companies, including banks, deliberately bill illegal fees because they know that only one out of a hundred will complain and even if they have to refund that one person, they still obtain a profit.
Job change and unemployment benefit
France has a very good unemployment benefit, but that doesn't mean it's complete.
If you voluntarily quit one job to take up another and then are laid off within the first three months, then you will get no unemployment benefit. Laying off an employed person is normally difficult in France, but if your employment contract has a trial period, you can be laid off any time without motive with short notice during that period (but it must be related to your performance).
In the rare cases of some type of harassment or other severe conflict with your employer that makes you conclude that the contract is effectively breached by the employer, notifying this to the employer by recorded letter, you will only be entitled to unemployment benefit if the employment court (conseil des prud'hommes) agrees with you. Even though you will then be entitled to back payment of unemployment benefit, that doesn't help you while you are waiting. In any case, it's important to file a claim for unemployment benefit straight away.
In both cases, the only income support you may qualify for is the RSA - see later. This may be a severe financial shock if you had a well-paid job.
You will find a list of all French supermarket chains, including discount stores, on this site. However, you need to find out what is worth buying in discount stores and what isn't. Some mainstream supermarkets have introduced sub-departments with discount goods and discount prices, notably Auchan, so in fact they have a discount store within the mainstream store. Some goods may be cheaper in mainstream supermarkets than in discount supermarkets. Some supermarkets have a discount style appearance but may be more expensive than mainstream supermarkets. Particularly Ed and Dia, owned by Carrefour, are using the concrete bunker discount image to make customers believe they are cheaper, regardless of the fact that they are often more expensive than ordinary supermarkets. The trick is to make the customer believe that since they are presented as discount, then everything is cheaper. It isn't. Only by comparing prices can you find out where it's cheapest to shop. The likely answer is that no single supermarket is generally cheapest but that some items are cheapest in some supermarkets and other items are cheapest in other supermarkets. As prices fluctuate, particularly if there is local competition between supermarkets, one needs to continually compare prices to optimise shopping expenses. Also take into account that mainstream supermarkets have much more promotions, sometimes up to 50%, on brand-name goods, while you never find such promotions in for example Aldi or Lidl.
Some goods are of inferior quality in discount stores. Others are the same or better quality than in mainstream supermarkets. The consumer magazine Que Choisir found that Aldi's washing powder and liquid are among the best on the market, and that Lidl's dishwasher tablets are among the best performing, all much cheaper than other brands. You also need to take transportation costs into account. If you need to drive further to get to a discount supermarket, any savings are quickly lost in transportation costs.
1 kg sugar: €0.85 in Aldi, €0.79 in Auchan's discount sub-department.
Take advantage of promotions
Make the most of the supermarkets' promotional catalogues. If a range of dates is indicated on the catalogue, then the law obliges them to have the promotional items available throughout the promotional period and, if necessary, order the product for you at the promotional price or sell you a similar product for the same price (or the same kg/litre price if packaging is different). You may want to print a copy of the Arrêté of 31/12/2008 and keep it with you when shopping, as many supermarkets incorrectly try to claim that the promotions are only valid until they have no more stock.
You can access all supermarket promotion catalogues online at www.bonial.fr/.
If you optimise your shopping after the promotional catalogues, and if you are lucky enough to have several competing supermarkets near you, then it is possible to shave 25% - 50% off your food budget without eating less well.
Subscribe to sites informing you of current promotions. They can be everything, such as €1 refunded on a food product, €20 refunded on an Oral-B toothbrush that only costs €30 (they know you'll have to buy their replacement toothbrushes the next many years) or €50 refunded on a Sony TV set. Sometimes, it may pay off to take advantage of such a promotion even if you don't need it straight away. If you already have a similar device that is several years old, it is probably going to break down sooner or later anyway.
Note: to benefit from such promotions, it is often necessary to post a letter with the original receipt, a bar code from the product, your bank account number (RIB in French), your full name and address etc. and to be sure to follow instructions precisely. The simplest is to stick or staple all the elements required on one A4 sheet. In such cases, it is necessary to obtain one receipt per promotional product if you are buying more than one promotional product, and in any case, you may need the receipt for the other articles in case of a problem with a product. In a supermarket, that means placing a separating bar between these products. Don't worry about being a nuisance. The supermarkets are used to it. Don't forget to follow up if the refunds are not paid to your account within the approximate deadline mentioned. It sometimes happens. Keep a scanned copy or photocopy of the sheet and the envelope just in case you need to contact the brand's consumer service to follow up. You need to stick an economy stamp on the envelope but it is nearly always refunded if you ask for it in writing on the sheet you send. In any case, this is mentioned in the instructions. If you don't want to pay for envelopes, just keep a stock of envelopes included with commercials sent to you and overwrite the printed address or use the back of the envelope and cross out the front).
Watch out for the Tourist Season
People living in tourist areas, such as the Luberon and the Riviera may notice that when the tourist season starts in July, supermarket promotion catalogues dry out, only to return when the tourist season is over. If you normally optimise your shopping after promotional catalogues, then you may see your food budget explode over the tourist season in such regions.
If you have the funds enough, though, you have the option of stocking up on promotions in June to minimise your shopping in July and August. Even if you have to pay a couple of percent effective interest to borrow the money, the interest is marginal next to thd 25% - 50% you can save by shopping by promotion: it's a good investment. Just be sure not to buy food that will go to waste because you can't store it properly.
Buy products reduced because the use-by date is close
There can be significant reductions on products just about to expire. In any case, there is supposed to be a margin built into the use-by date, so even if you buy a product on the use-by date, it should still be fresh. If it isn't, you can still ask for a refund. Just be sure that you can use the products before they go off, or that you have enough freezing capacity to freeze it immediately.
Scan your shopping yourself
A few supermarkets have introduced hand-held scanners enabling shoppers to scan each product as they put it in the trolley. Not only does it save you and them time at the checkout, it also enables you to verify the price of each item so you don't pay more than what it says. The supermarkets use a variety of methods to counter fraud, so don't fall in the trap of thinking you can just put a lot of stuff in the trolley without scanning it. I don't mean to say that I think my readers are dishonest, of course.
Purchase online instead of in supermarkets
Certain goods can be very expensive in supermarkets. Vanilla is a good example. Sometimes, you can find similar goods online at much lower prices. Expats sometimes find British food in French supermarkets, but they are sometimes more expensive than if you ordered the same items online from a British expat retailer, including postage cost (if you organise your online shopping in suitable quantities).
Buy vet products online
If you have pets, then they most likely require regular treatment against ticks, fleas and worms. These products can be very expensive if bought from a vet. There are web sites in France that sell them at a major saving. Just Google the products you need.
Prepare goods yourself instead of buying them pre-prepared
It is normally cheaper to prepare things yourself rather than having someone else preparing them for you, although it depends on how much time you have available. It may also require that you have certain equipment.
Price of Madagascar
vanilla sugar in Auchan: 37.5g for €2.21, or €58.93 per kg.
Minced meat is sometimes more expensive than non-minced cuts, and you know what's in the final product, whereas some packs of minced meat are not of very good quality. Unless you have a mincing machine, this is not realistic of course.
Purchase abroad via the Internet
You can often find goods cheaper on the Internet from foreign stores such as Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de or other stores. You will often find savings on books, CDs, DVDs, video games, video game consoles, and various replacement parts for example. The strong euro often makes this exercise worthwhile. Even if you have to pay international postage, there may be savings. Within the EEA (which includes the EU), there is no VAT or duty added in customs because of the principle of free movement of goods. However, if you order goods from outside the EEA, you may have to pay VAT and duty before your goods are delivered, if the purchase price is above a certain minimum allowance.
Also note that some foreign products may be incompatible, such as for example video tapes and recorders and TV sets (NTSC/PAL/SECAM), DVDs (region locking, video standard NTSC/PAL/SECAM), Nintendo Wii (region locking, video standard NTSC/PAL) and possibly other video games. Voltage and plugs may be different, although adapters and step-down transformers may solve the problem, but don't forget to add these to the total cost.
Pack of 4 rechargeable Energizer AA batteries, 2000 mAH, in Auchan: €14.80.
2 packs of 4 Braun Oral-B Sensitive replacement brushes (incl.
It may not always be worth saving the last euro if one doesn't know the retailer and a retailer one has good experience with is only slightly more expensive. Through the many years I've used Amazon UK, US, France and Germany, I've experienced a no-nonsense customer service in every single case of product defects, late delivery, no delivery, or missing products, whether the purchase concerned Amazon itself or a Marketplace retailer. Products ordered from Amazon UK for France are physically posted in France, presumably after an internal transfer between Amazon warehouses. This seems to improve reliability and speed and reduce postage costs.
Purchase tyres online
There are significant savings to be had buying tyres online. The tyres are either delivered to your home or to a chosen garage. The sites often help you find a garage willing to fit the tyres at competitive prices, and some of the sites even make it possible to make the appointment online. See my list of sites for tyres online in France.
Buy vehicle spare parts at the scrap yard
For older cars, spare parts from the scrap yard (la casse) may be sufficient. More under Cars General, Car Parts, Accessories and Maintenance.
Purchase glasses online
Glasses can weigh heavily on a budget. In some cases, it may be possible to obtain significant savings by ordering online. The sites also help obtaining appointments on site for fitting. See my list of sites for spectacles online in France.
Be sure to read my page about post in France and how to avoid the pitfalls and optimise spending on postal services.
Participate in free Internet competitions
Learn how to haggle
I'm not a specialist in this, but the Telegraph had a good article about it: 10 Tips for Effective Haggling.
Negotiate your insurances
Be sure your insurances cover just what you need and don't include options you don't need. Insurance companies have a tendency to bundle several options in without asking you. I recently knocked about one-third off the cost of two car insurances by negotiating with my AXA agent. If your mileage is low (8000 km per year for example), if you don't drive to work, if you don't need replacement car, roadside assistance, legal assistance or accident cover of the driver, etc., you may obtain a lower premium. You may want to keep some of these options, of course. Legal assistance may be very useful in case of an accident, for example, and roadside assistance may come in handy too (if you keep that, note that many companies don't cover you within a radius of for example 50 km from your home while other companies don't impose a limit). Many new cars come with roadside assistance the first years, and in that case, you can save it on your insurance. I simply told the agent, "look, I need to save money, and I have found these lower prices elsewhere. I don't really want to leave AXA, but saving money is a must. Can you do something to moderate the cost?" Miracle, he could do something to moderate the cost. You can always find a discount insurance company, of course, but check out the cover. Such companies also have a tendency to offer low entry premiums, just to quickly increase the premiums the following years, hoping you don't notice.
Avoid traffic fines
It may sound obvious, but a traffic fine can weigh heavily on a tight budget. Be sure to fully understand the French speed and alcohol limits. A satellite navigation system can help you observe the speed limits by showing the precise speed - something a car rarely does. A speed pilot (régulateur de vitesse) can help avoiding accidental speeding. If you intend to use a mobile phone while driving, get yourself a bluetooth wireless headset so you can talk legally (the mobile phone itself needs to support bluetooth), as using a handheld phone while driving is illegal. Be aware, though, that using a phone while driving, whether hands free or not, significantly increases the accident risk due to reduced concentration. Read more traffic advice here.
Purchase second hand goods