Whether you wish to have a life that is debt free or wish to save money for something particular, from a small gift to a house, the tactic is the same. The simple (and rather off-putting) answer is spend less than you bring in. For us, that limited us to spending € 50 a week.
It is often easier said than done, but…
We are prime examples of managing to do just this. We arrived in France with credit card debts after 2 years wine making abroad. Making wine has its perks. Wine for one. But the hopping hemispheres every 6 months for the differing harvest seasons is a financial killer.
Expensive visas, last minute very expensive flights that took us more than half way across the world 2 to 3 times a year, really hit our pockets. We then added on rent, deposits and buying or renting vehicles. Sadly, but not really surprisingly, there is little public transport to wineries, no matter the country.
Although the pay is decent and there are lots of hours, still it can often work out less than the costs of getting and being there. Fortuitously, the resulting debt is what focused us to leave the winery hopping to others. It resulted in us deciding to set ourselves in one place, with the intent to make our own wine. At least if we were going to have to live frugally, it would be to follow our own dream.
It took us 2 years to pay off our credit cards and become debt free, and this was on a next to nothing income! We then went on to buy a house. A restoration house, and garden, requiring lots of work and materials. But it was cheap. And as time, rather than money was on our side, it was the right choice for us. Especially, and we recommend, because we put time into deciding on where to live that fit into our lifestyle plans and needs.
Since it worked before, we have continued to be frugal. And slowly but surely we are making a home for ourselves. So, you see, it can be done if you really want it. Find your reason, and start saving.
Determining 50 a Week
The easiest place to start saving is food and food shopping. When we arrived here we were lucky if we made 300€ a month, between us. Fast forward and Pumpjack writing his first book (and now on to his second) and we are essentially on one regular income from our shops. But this fluctuates.
Luckily for us, as we own our house outright, our only regular expenditures are bills and food. One a given, the other flexible in cost. Hence where the savings have to come from. (Although we are also frugal when it comes to our bills. Turning off lights, car insurance based on mileage… We try to save wherever we can, as little savings add up.)
By working out our lowest monthly income*, take away the bills, we are left with what we can live on. Generally we make more money than the lowest month. Sometimes a lot more, sometimes a little, but it all goes into savings – emergency fund, materials for the house, etc.
This gives us the sizeable budget of 50 a week for food (for two, plus our menagerie of animals). And yes, I mean sizeable. With 50 a week, we eat like kings. It includes meat and even wine. Hey, it is France after all.
How can you live frugally, and still eat well, and particularly eat healthily? Whether you are a single person or a family, consider how much you wish to save and determine a budget amount as low as you dare. Go lower again, as raising is easier than lowering. And a low budget will really test you and your skills.
You will be surprised how little you can live on, and you can always review. Whatever you decide your budget will or must be, it’s actually really simple to then save money, with some planning. The key is planning.
Top 4 Frugal Rules to live by:
1. Plan your meals ahead
This is the one I struggle with the most. I love to be creative and wing my recipes, but I now curtail my creations to leftover night. Being creative with left overs sometimes takes real ingenuity.
What I found easiest, and surprisingly so, was being a bit repetitive. Because we both work full time, add in working on the house and garden, and taking care of animals, I have found that having some favourite go to regular recipes really takes the stress off planning. Meatloaf is our all time favourite and we have it every week. I could make it with my eyes closed.
Planning lots of meals that can be done in a slow cooker, or one pan dishes that can go in the oven also helps.
2. Go only once a week to one shop
No matter how close, and particularly if far away, this cuts down on use of petrol, if driving. And, very, very importantly, it saves you time. Your time should always be counted as it frees you up for other things, like cooking.
Also, by going only once a week, you need to really plan what you will need. It will focus you to not forgot that one essential item. Particularly useful if you live far from shops.
3. Go with a list
Boring, I know. But it works. Keep a list to hand during the week and as you run out or simply think of things you need, write them down. Prioritize your list. Top of the list is your staples, what you have to have. Middle is what you would like, and last are the treats.
This is the Budget Shopping List we use. It lets you prioritize, keep note of spending, and not overspend. Write on scrap paper or print out, using both sides for 2 or 4 lists respectively.
4. Go with cash only
Decide on your weekly budget and take only that. Work your way through your list (now you see why prioritizing is useful). Add up costs as you put items in your basket (we round up for easy addition), so you know where you are against your budget.
Sometimes you will find you get to the end of your list and have a little money left over. Sadly, not as often as you would like. More often you may have to re-think those last few items as you get near the end, choosing one over another or deciding actually you can do without. But not to worry, there is always next week and an item near the bottom of the list may get moved higher up.
Having an incentive to not always spend all our 50 a week helps. If you have money left you could choose to have a little splurge at the end of the month (pizza night!) or, like us, put it towards your guttering for the barn. Every little bit honestly makes a difference, so keep finding that good reason.
A little goes a long way
If you feel up to it, leave any credit or debit cards at home. That will really focus you not to be tempted to spend more than you have. French paperwork being what it is, it took us 3 months to get a bank account here. We had to live by cash alone during that time and we found it actually gave us a real sense of freedom. Because we had the limitation of only the actual money in our pockets, it meant we knew we simply did not have the luxury of over spending.
By following these steps you can save money and eat extremely well. And bonus, by buying to a budget, it is possible to even enjoy a few treats. Because you decide what is important and can prioritize to your appetite and tastes, buying this over that, you can enjoy the foods (and wines!) you like.
Oh, and by the by, France is a very expensive country to live in. However, our budget includes everything, even those necessaries like soap, toilet paper and such. It all comes out of our 50 a week.
Need some additional help or possible inspiration?
* If you are on an income that fluctuates, I found this video by Lydia Senn extremely helpful in understanding how to budget and save.
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