Expat life on a shoestring

A sudden fall in financial temperatures has left France’s expat community out in the cold

24 February 2011

IT WASN’T so long ago that a place in the continental sunshine shimmered with affordable seduction. But a sudden fall in financial temperatures has left France’s expat community out in the cold.

The unexpected downturn in the economy, combined with a global credit crunch, has sent sterling plummeting and prices spiralling.

Yet it isn’t only the cost of living that has suffered. For many, particularly those who rely on fixed income from UK pensions, the reduction in revenue has taken its toll on the social scene.

With less disposable income, many couples find they are no longer able to enjoy the same lifestyle. It isn’t easy when every centime is accounted for and there’s little left for what was once a major attraction of living in France.

Gone are the weekly visits to restaurants or having friends round for dinner: it’s hard enough buying food for two, never mind providing additional portions for guests. In some cases, even trips to the supermarket are restricted to save diesel. This enforced isolation can rapidly lead to severe depression and loneliness.

While the local assistante sociale is the first port of call when exploring the maze of potential financial or practical aid, many expats have discovered a simple way to prevent the credit crunch from putting the squeeze on their social life.

Instead of cancelling dinner parties, it is possible merely to change their format and continue to enjoy the camaraderie and support of friends. With each couple contributing a little toward the overall cost, dinner can end up a fraction of the price.

Bringing a dish for a home-cooked “buffet” adds a new dimension of taste and variety. Sharing a car for shopping trips not only eases the outlay on fuel but turns a routine chore into a social event.

Walking with a group of friends is great exercise, but it’s also an inexpensive way to enjoy a chat as well as the fresh air. It’s amazing what a stroll in the park can do for your mood.

One expat community has devised a way to save toward a seasonal extravaganza. The group, belonging to a 40-strong walking group, contribute one euro a week to a central piggy bank. Within six months, they have sufficient funds for a blow-out.

Anticipating the event is a real morale booster. Apart from finding ways to cut the cost of maintaining an element of fun, expats are also pooling their resources and trading skills. Everything from mowing lawns to trimming the price of a hair cut is being shared out among friends.

The French economy has been hit hard. But it has also challenged priorities, cemented friendships and highlighted the inventive, indomitable and resourceful natures of the expat community.

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