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Money saving tips: How to enjoy life in France without breaking the bank

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Money saving tips: How to enjoy life in France without breaking the bank
Photo: ADT 04/Flickr
15:47 CEST+02:00
France has many generous benefits and discount schemes if you're living on a budget. But with so much paperwork, half the battle is knowing what you're entitled to and how to apply for it. Mind your euros like a local with our money-saving guide.
Public transport
 
1. Buy a travel card
 
France's national rail company SNCF offers discount cards for children, young people and over 60s, which will save you between 25 percent and 30 percent on train fares.
 
Families with at least three children under 18 can apply for a familles nombreuses card to get between 30 percent and 75 percent off tickets. There are more options for frequent travellers, including the TGVmax for young people (79€ per month for unlimited off-peak travel on TGV and Intercités trains). 
 
2. Embrace no-frills travel.
 
Tickets on Ouigo, the cheaper version of the TGV, can cost just €10. 
 
3. Take a bus
 
Popular with students, Ouibus offers cheap travel around France, and as far afield as the UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland. But beware – spending 13 hours on a bus isn't for the faint-hearted. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
4. Book your tickets early
 
The cheapest tickets get snapped up quickly for high-demand periods like weekends and school holidays. TGV tickets are released three months before the travel date, so get organised. If you're not sure of the days you want to travel, you can always buy an exchangeable ticket.
 
5. Create price alerts
 
You can select a specific month or ‘anytime', as well as your budget, and receive an email when it's the best time to buy your ticket. However, take note: this service isn't available for journeys during the national rail strike. 
 
Driving
 
1. Avoid tolls
 
The dreaded péage canput a hefty price tag on your journey. But luckily, route planner Mappy shows you where the tolls are, your estimated cost and how to avoid them. It's unrealistic to avoid all tolls, but you can minimise them by taking longer, scenic routes if you fancy exploring the beautiful French countryside. 
 
2. Share your car
 
A bit like the motoring version of Airbnb, companies like OuiCar let you rent out your car by the day. You could earn a few hundred euros for a weekend hire. 
 
France's motorway tolls to rise from February 1st
Photo: AFP
 
And when it comes to repairing your car after all that chap travel...
 
3. Buy second-hand car parts
 
Since January 2017, garages must provide you with two quotes - one for new parts and another for second-hand, reconditioned parts. 
 
Shopping
 
1. Spend your restaurant tickets wisely
 
If you work in France, your employer might give you restaurant tickets or tickets restos (although they're not legally obliged to do so).
 
These handy lunch vouchers are paid for by your employer, who forks out for between 50 percent and 60 percent and the rest is paid by you. They're accepted by thousands of restaurants around the country as well as supermarkets, including Franprix and Monoprix.
 
Remember shopkeepers are banned by law from giving you change if your purchase costs less than the value of your voucher. 
 
2. Know your discount supermarkets
 
We all know Aldi and Lidl, but Leader Price and Super U are other supermarkets to head to if you're looking for a bargain. For example, a box of 25 sachets of Tetley's English Breakfast tea will you set back €1.23 at Super U, as opposed to €1.40 at Carrefour and €1.76 at Monoprix. 
 
3. Check market closing times
 
Heading to markets around closing time will increase your haggling power, as merchants will be eager to get rid of unsold produce. The details of thousands of French markets is available from L'Annuaire des marchés de France. Similarly, the app Too Good To Go helps reduce food waste by connecting you to shops looking to get rid of their unsold produce.
 
Eating out
 
1. Have a picnic
 
Ok, so you can do that anywhere but in France, where baguettes and delicious cheese is available everywhere, it doesn't feel like too much of a compromise.
 
Grab some bread, your favourite fromage and a bottle of wine and you're set for a perfect summer evening for less than €10. Just make sure you pack a cork screw. 
 
Photo: Karen Corby/Flickr
 
2. Order le menu
 
If you're having several courses (and let's face it, in France, why wouldn't you?), go for le menu, a fixed-price menu with a few choices for starter, main course and dessert, as it will most likely be better value for money than à la carte.
 
3. Think twice before you sit on the terrace
 
Enjoying a glass of wine on a terrasse is one of the simple pleasures of living in France, but beware you could be paying more for the privilege than drinking at the bar. This is because restaurants and bars with outdoor seating in a public space have to pay a fee to local authorities.
 
Although they're perfectly allowed to charge different prices, they are supposed to display them. 
 
Know your social security rights
 
1. Healthcare
 
If you've been living in France on a ‘continuous and legal basis' for at least three months, you can apply for a health insurance card (carte vitale).
 
It's free, easy to use and means that 70 percent of your doctors' bills are covered by the French state. You'll need to fill in an S1106 form and send it to your local Caisse Primaire d'Assurance Maladie (CPAM), along with a copy of your passport, proof that you have been living in France on a ‘continuous and legal basis' for at least three months, your birth certificate accompanied by an official French translation, your French bank account details (RIB), marriage certificate if necessary, and your pay slip or employment contract.
 
If you're on a low income, you could be entitled for 100 percent state-paid health care thanks to the Couverture maladie universelle (CMU).
 
Do your homework when choosing a doctor. Doctors who are 'conventionnés secteur 1' will charge you €25 (and not a centime more) for a consultation. You can compare doctors' fee on the Ameli website and find out how much you can expect to be reimbursed on the Service Public site.
 
2. Children
 
If you're living legally in France with one or more dependent children, you're entitled to family benefits just as a French family is. "Foreigners often don't realise they have access to family benefits and it's probably the area of benefits most relevant to foreigners moving to France because they are often relocating their whole family," Tracy Leonetti, a relocation and paperwork expert in France told The Local. Read our guide on claiming family benefits here
 
The family benefits you can claim in France... but probably didn't know about
Photo: AFP
 
3. Housing
 
If you're on a low income, you could get government help with paying your rent, called Aide personnalisée au lodgement (APL). Check your eligibility on the CAF website.
 
4. Unemployment
 
Losing your job is never fun, but you'll be eligible for unemployment benefits and a redundancy fee if you lose your CDI (permanent) position, and manage to sign a a rupture conventionné with your employer.
 
See our guide on what to do if you're unemployed in France. If you're an EU citizen and come to France unemployed, the French job centre Pôle Emploi claims that the French government should take over payment of your unemployment benefits for three months, with a possibility of prolonging to six months.
 
Get online 
 
1. Switch to a cheaper bank
 
Some banks charge a regular fee just for having an account with them, but many online services offer a cash sweetener when you join. Hello bank! and Boursorama both give you €80 for opening an account. Check out the cheapest banks on the cBanque website.
 
2. Buy second hand
 
Whether its furniture, clothes or household appliances, sites like Le Bon Coin connect locals looking to buy or sell pre-loved goods. E-commerce site Cdiscount also offer a wide range of second-hand, reconditioned gadgets. 
 
Make money from your home
 
1. Rent out your house or flat
 
France is the most visited country in the world, and with summer fast approaching, tourists will be looking to snap up a French country house or Paris pied-à-terre. If you live in a desirable area, consider renting out your home or spare room on sites like Airbnb. 
 
2. Get cash to renovate your home
 
If you're planning an eco-friendly refurbishment, check your eligibility for an interest-free loan or tax reduction on the French government website (in French). Chèques énergie could also be an option to help with your energy bills if you're on a low income.
 
3. Move house
 
OK, we know this isn't the most realistic advice, but comparing house prices around the country can be interesting and a little bit addictive. MeilleursAgents has put together a ranking of property prices around the country. No prizes for guessing which French city comes top of the list. Your average apartment in the Paris area will set you back €5,985 per m2. The cheapest régions are Lorraine, at €1,407 per m2, Bourgogne at €1,461 m2 and Champagne-Ardenne at €1,462 m2.
 
Excellent news for fans of quiche Lorraine, red wine and champagne. 
 
By Charlotte Mason
 
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