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Booze, meals out and clothes: What is expensive in France and how to find a bargain

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Booze, meals out and clothes: What is expensive in France and how to find a bargain
Photo: AFP
15:55 CEST+02:00
New data on the cost of living in Europe shows that prices in France are above the EU average in every area - except phone bills. But don't panic, there are lots of ways to secure a French bargain.

The data from Eurostat compares 10 key areas of life, from housing costs to food, meals out to transport, against other European countries and an EU average.

And the bad news for people living in France is that the costs are higher for everyday essentials in nine out of the 10 categories.

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Net monthly income in France compared to Europe. Map: Wiki

Only communication (phone bills, postal services and internet connections) came out cheaper than the EU average. 

But the news isn't all bad - when looking at the average net income, France scored reasonably highly, so people living here are more likely to be able to afford those pricey G&Ts and expensive shoes.

So let's have a look at what is expensive - and how to find cheaper options

Alcohol and tobacco

In France this is 13.4 percent higher than the European average, which might be at least partially explained by the increasing taxes levied on tobacco as the French government attempts to quit the nation's smoking habit - a pack of 20 cigarettes will rise to €10 by 2020.

In terms of alcohol, France is a mixed bag, spirits and imported drinks and cocktails can be expensive, especially in Paris. In fact you should probably take it as read that to save money on any of these things the first step would be to leave Paris, the city regularly tops the 'most pricey' polls and earlier this year was declared the world's joint most expensive place to live (with Hong Kong and Singapore) by The Economist.

Wine and beer, however, are pretty cheap in most places and the wine in particular is certainly good value, as nice quality bottles from French vineyards will be sold in supermarkets for around €6. If you're in smaller towns or buying direct from the vineyard it's often possible to take along your own container and buy wine by the litre for a couple of euros. More of a basic vin du table than a grand cru, for sure, but it will be perfectly drinkable.


Many vineyards sell direct to the public. Photo: AFP

Food

The second biggest increase above the EU average in France is food, which is 16.4 percent more than the European average. And it's true that anyone wandering around a French supermarket will find the prices significantly higher than in the UK or US. But on the other hand, the fruit and veg have real flavour and the meat isn't injected with water and antibiotics, so we would contend that it's worth paying more for.

On the plus side, France's food markets are not only a cultural experience in their own right, they often offer cheaper produce than supermarkets.

Restaurants and hotels

Mention of food brings us to restaurants, one of France's greatest delights.

On average, restaurants and hotels are 17.9 percent above the European average but on the foodie scene there's huge variation. Dinner at Mirazur in south east France - officially the best restaurant in the world - will set you back a cool €260, without wine. On the other hand the generally high standard of food in France, and the terroir tradition, means that even basic restaurants will generally provide you with a delicious dinner.

Check out set menus which usually only offer two or three choices but can be amazing value at €12 - €15 for a three-course meal. In Lyon the bouchons restaurants offer great value and traditional cooking, while in Paris bouillon restaurants offer real value for money.

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Recreation and culture

Around 8 percent more expensive than the EU average, this includes everything from sports equipment to package holidays so has a wide range. But there are many great things to do which are either cheap or free - for example all Paris museums are free on the first Sunday of the month while many smaller town museums offer free days, cheap deals on night time openings or discounts to students. The country is rich in beautiful countryside so any form of outdoor activity is a treat, or you could simply go for a drive in the countryside.

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You can see some of the world's most fabulous artwork for free at the Louvre if you go on the right day. Photo: AFP

Transport

Public transport was slightly above the EU average at 4.8 percent, but still a long way cheaper than the UK, where public transport is a whopping 26.6 percent higher than average (and half the time seems to involve a replacement bus service).

In general France's trains offer a very good service, and SNCF has recently unveiled a new package of discount cards so there are savings to be made. The Paris Metro is cheap compared to London's Underground, but does have the minor disadvantage of no air con on many lines, making it feel like the second circle of hell on hot days. There are also cheaper options in many cities of bike shares or the popular electric scooters.

Housing

This is an area which sees huge regional variation. Overall, France is 13.4 percent more expensive than the European average, but the difference between Paris, where you will be paying through the nose for something roughly the size of a shoe box, and the provinces is enormous.

In fact one of things that makes France very attractive to Brits and Americans is how amazingly cheap it can be to buy a house in some areas. In fact, there is one region of France were they'll pay you to buy a house.

READ ALSO Where in France will a countryside home cost you the least?

Live the relaxed rural dream in France. Photo: AFP

Clothes

There are some Paris boutiques where a blouse will set you back well over €2,000, so that must have dragged up the prices here, which are 9.9 percent higher than the EU average. In fact of course there's a huge variation from the designer labels to cheap disposable fashion.

France has very strictly regulated sales which only happen twice a year, but when they're on there are some bargains to be had. And by good fortune, the summer ones have just started. Also don't forget about the thriving and inexpensive vintage clothes scene in the major cities if you want something that is both cheap and unique.

 
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