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MONEY

Eight ways to save money in France as a student

Studying in France is all about travelling, drinking wine, and making friends... and studying, of course. But life here can get pretty expensive. The good news is there are lots of ways to save money when you're a student, from eating out to visiting museums.

Eight ways to save money in France as a student
Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

Here are some simple tips you might not have considered to reduce your costs and make sure you can enjoy your experience without worrying about money.

Eat at the canteen

Unless you’re used to living in catered accommodation at your university back home, you probably haven’t set foot in a canteen since high school, and you might not have the best of memories. But student cafeterias are an opportunity not to be missed in France. For just €3.30, you get a (very) small starter, a main course and a desert – it’s difficult to find a better deal than that even when cooking for yourself!

You’ll get a hot, balanced meal, with a menu that changes every day, for a more than reasonable price, and you may even be surprised at the quality of the food – this is France, after all.

If you get tired of the canteen, there are also many fast food restaurants (outside of the big chains) and bakeries which offer student meal deals.

Drink at happy hour

On the other hand, France lacks the tradition of cheap, student union-run bars present in countries like the UK. Which can be a problem, because while you can find good wine for not much money in France, other types of alcohol can be very expensive in bars.

READ ALSO The French words international students in France need to know

There is a solution, though, because it’s very common for bars in France to offer a happy hour, which usually lasts longer than an hour, and where you can get a discount on certain drinks. These deals are particularly invaluable if you want a pint of beer or a cocktail without breaking the bank.

And don’t think you have to rush straight out after your classes to take advantage – many bars offer discounts until 8pm or even later.

If you’re not sure which bars have offers, help is at hand – the website and mobile app Schlouk Map allows you to locate a large number of bars which have happy hours. It began in Strasbourg in 2017 but now lists bars in 30 French cities.

Get help with your rent

Students in France are able to apply for help from the state for paying their rent, and this is not limited to French citizens, so even if you’ve just arrived, you could be eligible.

REVEALED: Which French cities are most expensive for students?

The grant is called an Aide personnalisée au logement (APL) – although many people call it the CAF after the organisation which processes applications – and is a monthly sum which depends on your income and the kind of housing you’re paying for. Find out how much your could receive HERE.

It can go a long way to freeing up some of your precious savings or study abroad grants to be used on more exciting things, like…

Travel around France

If this is your first time living in France, you’re going to want to travel outside of your university town and see some of the incredible cities and countryside France has to offer. The most convenient way to do this is to travel by the country’s high-speed TGV trains.

Ticket prices can run high, but if you’re between the ages of 12 and 27, you are eligible for a Carte Avantage Jeune discount card. This costs €49 for the year, and guarantees 30 percent off all TGV and intercité trains.

If you mainly want to visit nearby towns, cheaper discount cards are also available for regional TER train lines.

Or, there is always covoiturage (carpool), which is incredibly common in France. Local company Blablacar allows you to find others who are planning the same journey as you and have space in their car.

Cycle everywhere

In terms of daily life in France, one expenditure which can quickly add up is public transport. There are four cities in the country where students have to hand over more than €300 per year to get around.

A cheaper – and healthier – alternative is to cycle. Unless you’re an avid cyclist, you might want to avoid the hassle of purchasing your own bike, but many French cities offer cycle hire schemes similar to the Vélib bikes in Paris.

In Lille for example, you pay €39 for a yearly subscription, and then have 30 minutes free every time you take a V’lille bike, before having to pay €1 extra every half an hour. Strasbourg’s Vélhop service meanwhile offers 10-month subscriptions for students under 26, meaning you won’t carry on paying once you’ve left France at the end of the semester.

Read the French press

If you’re on a year abroad in France, one of your goals is probably to improve your French, and you might have considered reading the newspaper as a good way of being exposed to the language while keeping up with what’s going on in the world.

READ ALSO 13 simple hacks to make life in Paris easier

To do that, you might not need to take a subscription or buy a physical paper. Many French students don’t even know about this, but most universities pay for a subscription to Europresse, a platform which offers access to hundreds of local and national media sources, and make it available to their students.

You will find PDFs of the latest editions of newspapers like Le Monde, and magazines like Closer, and you can also search for specific articles. All you have to do is log in using your university email address.

Other cultural deals

Very many museums and monuments, including popular sites like the Louvre, are free for people under the age of 26 who live in an EU country. It’s a great way to take in French culture and history without spending a centime. A lot of museums are also free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month.

If you prefer to be sitting comfortably while you take in your culture, many cinemas in France offer discounted tickets for students.

Students can also get discounts when signing up to libraries and médiatheques (multimedia libraries).

Get discounts on shopping

If you prefer to spend your weekends doing a spot of shopping, you could also get money off. You might be familiar with the student discount website UNiDAYS, which offers reduced prices on clothes, beauty products, technology and more. The global website is available in France, so it’s worth checking what offers there are in participating stores.

Some other shops will give you 10 percent off when you show them your student card.

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FOOD & DRINK

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With rising inflation and cost of living, many people in France are desperate to keep their grocery bill low. Here are a few tips for how to avoid paying too much for food, drink and other everyday items.

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With inflation ticking upward, we’ve seen prices rise, especially for things like fresh vegetables, meat, pasta and cooking oil. Even though inflation is affecting food prices less than energy prices, buying groceries is still a huge part of every household’s budget, and unfortunately things are set to keep getting more pricey. 

We’ve put together a list of a few ways you can save a few euro at the supermarket:

Figure out if you qualify for any government benefits

First things first, it is worth seeing whether you can qualify for any existing government assistance, like CAF. On top of this, the French government has promised to set up a food voucher of €50 per month for low-income households after the parliamentary elections in June. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to receive CAF payments in France

Compare store prices

Unfortunately, going to the closest supermarket is not always the most economical solution. If you prioritise grocery stores on the lower end of the price spectrum (and you’re willing to walk a bit further) you can save a lot of money. A helpful tool to find the cheapest store near you is the “Que Choisir” online interactive map (click here) that has listed 4,000 affordable stores in mainland France. 

Discount grocery stores, like Lidl and Aldi, are great options for saving a little extra at checkout. But if you must go to a pricier chain, like Monoprix for instance, try to buy Monoprix brand items – they’re typically a little less expensive than name brand foods.

Plan ahead to make the most out of discounts

If you go online ahead of heading to the grocery store, you can see which items will be discounted (“promotion”). If you cannot find this information online, you can always go to the store and ask for a catalogue of that week’s sales items.

Normally, this is something the cashier should have access to. With these discounts in mind, you can construct more affordable recipes. 

Franprix’s website, the ‘discounts’ page

Also, if you’re looking for cheaper recipes in general, you can always go to blogs and online recipe sites specialised in frugal shopping. If you want to try some French specific sites, you can test out “https://www.marmiton.org/” or “https://1repas1euro.com/recettes/

When it comes to discounts though, be careful about conditions involved (particularly when it comes to loyalty cards).

Sometimes these promotions promise a lot, but actually getting your money back might not be as simple as slashing a few cents at the checkout – you might need to send the coupon somewhere to get the discount, or wait for points to accumulate on your card.

That being said, you can optimise your discounts using several online sites that allow you to combine your loyalty cards (Fidme, Fidall, and Stocard). Other online coupon sites include Groupon, which allows you to make grouped purchases (therefore cheaper), and Coupon Network and Shopmium, which help you benefit from existing discounts. For cashback plans, you can look to websites such as Shopmium, iGraal, FidMarques and Quoty, which allow you to be reimbursed for a part of your expenses.

Make a list, set a budget… and stick to it

It might seem obvious, but when you go into the store, try to resist temptation. The best way to do this is to keep track (in real time) how much you are spending.

Some stores make this easier by allowing you to carry around a ‘self-scanner,’ this will help you to watch your bill go up as you shop. Another tip for this is to withdraw the exact amount of cash you expect to need for the essentials of your trip – obviously in order to do this, you’ll need to know the base prices of your essential items, so it will require a bit of planning ahead.

Buy (then freeze) soon-to-expire products

A consumer’s best friend and sure-fire way to decrease waste! Items coming up on their use-by-date tend to be discounted, so if you plan to purchase these foods and then immediately freeze them, you can significantly extend their shelf life.

Lots of supermarkets make this easier for you by dedicating entire shelves to “short shelf life” items that, according to Elodie Toustou, the head of the “Money” section of the magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs, opting for these foods will allow you to “pay three to four times less.”

Another great way to do this is to use applications like “Phénix” and “Too Good to Go.” These applications will allow you to set your geographic parameter and then click on food stores, restaurants, and bakeries in your area that are getting rid of “panniers” (sacks) of soon-to-be-expired foods. Lots of times these panniers cost only a couple euros.

The trick here is to plan ahead by arriving at the start of the allotted time (if the boulangerie on your corner is offering “Too Good To Go” bags from 11am to 2pm, try to get there as close to 11am as possible for the best items).

Re-consider markets and farmer’s stores

Contrary to popular belief, buying from farmers’ markets and grocers that sell predominantly local products actually can save you money, particularly if you are buying the seasonally relevant fruits and vegetables. Buying directly from a producer can also allow you to eliminate the margin taken by intermediaries. But be careful, this rule is not true all the time.

One way to benefit from cheaper prices at markets is to arrive as late as possible, when the merchants have started to pack up their products. This might allow you to benefit from lower prices or even free items, as they’ll be hoping to get rid of their remaining items.

Know what items are most impacted by inflation

Finally, as inflation continues to increase, try your best to monitor which foods are most impacted. If possible, it might be worth removing or limiting them from your diet – or looking for more affordable alternatives.

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