Ways to cut costs and save on everyday life in France
We work hard for our cash so let’s make the most of it. The Connexion finds ideas to make it stretch a little further
Heating and energy costs
1. Check whether you are getting the best deal for your electricity and gas bills by using the independent public comparison site energie-info.fr.
You can change your existing contract at any time, free of charge. The new supplier will cancel the previous contract for you.
There is no minimum length of contract and you can switch back at any time you wish.
2. Heating uses 65% of a household’s energy supplies.
Lowering the temperature by 1C leads to a 7% reduction in consumption. The suggested temperature is 19C in living rooms and 16C in bedrooms.
Servicing your boiler every year is obligatory, and though there are no sanctions, your insurance may not pay out in cases of related incidents. A well-maintained and serviced boiler will last two to three times longer and use 10% less energy.
Leave shutters and curtains closed if you go out for the day, turn down the heating in unoccupied rooms and purge radiators regularly. Find more tips on reducing heating bills at tinyurl.com/tj9ncyp.
3. There are several grants and tax credits available to help with central heating and insulation improvements.
Some will have stricter criteria, including means-testing, from 2020 so you might want to act fast.
Public bodies across France give free advice on work and possible aid. Contact your local Agence Départementale d’Information sur le Logement (ADIL) or find the relevant public body on the government site faire.fr via contacter un conseiller FAIRE.
4. Info-energie states that reducing the number of appliances left on standby could cut a family household’s electricity bill by €174 a year.
If you watch television three hours a day and leave it plugged in, 65% of its annual consumption will be while it is in standby mode. Switch off at the wall when possible and use a multi-socket adaptor so you can switch off several appliances at a time.
Buy a watt meter or borrow one free to test standby electricity consumption, if you have an Espace Info Energie near you. These are publicly funded offices where you can go for free information on saving energy.
5. EU law gives you a two-year guarantee for any new goods bought from a professional trader based in the EU. This covers any defects presumed to have existed at the time of delivery, which is more difficult to prove after the first six months of use.
If you are considering taking out extra insurance offered by the seller, check it gives you more rights than the legal EU cover and check that you do not already have the same cover as part of your house insurance.
6. Decide whether you really need to take out an extra school insurance when the school asks for a certificat d’assurance scolaire at the beginning of the academic year.
Insurance is not obligatory for anything within the school’s normal activities but will be necessary for some school trips and for activities organised by the commune, which includes the canteen and after-school clubs.
Your house insurance may already cover the necessary third-party liability, so worth a check.
7. Consider insuring your vehicle as third party au tiers after five years, as the value will have decreased considerably.
Le Figaro carried out a simulation for a Renault Scénic involved in an accident 10 years after it was purchased, when its value was €2,300. It calculated that the owner would have saved €1,100 more than the value of the car at the time of the accident if he had changed his insurance to third party when it was five years old. You would still have to find the money for a new car, of course, but you could put savings on the insurance aside to help cover that.
8. If your car stays in the garage most of the time, you can either insure it at a low kilometre rate or, for one policy, you can pay by the minute.
The payment involves a monthly fee, depending on the size of the car and formula chosen, which covers obligatory insurance when in the garage and price per minute on the road.
This can vary between 1-5 centimes a minute. Altima, the insurance firm involved, estimates that drivers who take their cars out for just 20 minutes a day could pay 20% less on their premium. If they drive less than one hour per week, they could save 30%. Simulate how much it could cost at tinyurl.com/rpnt5zn.
9. Check how much you pay for car and house insurance. After the first year you can change at any time by sending a letter by email or post (registered is advised) saying you are cancelling – you do not have to give a reason.
There is an independent comparator for home insurance here: tinyurl.com/vu3246a. The cancellation will take effect a month after your insurance firm receives notification.
10. Don’t sign up yet for dental treatment if you need a crown or bridge, or for glasses.
From January, you will be able to get a range of these treatments for free if you have top-up health insurance.
You will be able to pay less for a hearing aid from next year and there will be a range with nothing to pay upfront in 2021. Look carefully at your top-up health insurance as you may be able to find cheaper.
11. Covoiturage – take passengers when you go on a long journey via a covoiturage website such as blablacar.fr or tictactrip.eu and the passenger’s contribution will go some way to paying petrol and motorway costs.
12. Grants are available for exchanging old cars for a limited range of electric or hybrid cars and diesel or petrol cars which have very low carbon emissions and can be new or second-hand.
The amount you get depends on your income but can be as much as €5,000 – and €6,000 if you live in one of the 131 communes in la Métropole du Grand Paris, which is offering an extra incentive in its attempt to make the capital less polluted. Test your eligibility at primealaconversion.gouv.fr.
13. Buy car parts and tyres online with savings as high as 70%.You can also ask garages to replace parts with second-hand items rather than new, which will be cheaper.
This was introduced by law in 2017 for environmental reasons and it is obligatory for garages to give second-hand options for certain categories of parts, including bodywork such as wings and bonnets, headlights, seating, and windows as well as gear boxes, motors and starters. Brakes, steering and shock absorbers are not included.
14. The cost of driving lessons can be spread by opting to pay at a rate of €1 a day, with the money taken out of your bank account once a month.
It is a scheme drawn up by the state, banks and driving schools. You take out a loan for lessons from your bank. The government pays the interest. It is for 15-25-year-olds, though some older people can also take advantage.
You have to sign up with a driving school and then make an appointment with your bank to sign up to the permis à un euro par jour scheme.
You can also save money by taking your Highway Code test as an external candidate, rather than via a driving school. The cost of the exam is the same, €30, but you save by studying yourself from the Highway Code booklet or find an online course, which is much cheaper than traditional tuition. To take the exam independently you need an NEPH number, which you get from ants.gouv.fr.
15. For train users, Oui.SNCF has introduced Carte Avantage, a simplified travel card scheme.
There are four categories: Jeune, Sénior (from 60), Week-end and Famille. They all cost €49 for a year and are available via en.oui.sncf.
They will give you 30% off TGV and Intercité trains and between 25% and 50% off some TER regional train services. They also give reductions for up to three children you travel with. Regions offer their own discount cards so research the best one for you.
16. Before paying a lawyer, anyone, regardless of income, can receive free legal advice to find out whether they have a case, what they should do next and whether they are eligible for legal aid.
The advice covers all aspects of the law. Every department has a Conseil départemental de l’accès au droit (CDAD) which, by law, has to organise places and times where people can meet a legal expert.
17. Make savings on electronic household goods by buying from Envie (envie.org), a non-profit organisation, which sells reconditioned products, from toasters to washing machines, and includes digital, video and sound equipment. These sell at between 40 and 60% below the recommended market price. Their aim is to create employment for people finding it difficult to get work but also to give old machines a new life.
18. If you make a lot of online purchases, you can get about 5% of the money back (in your bank account) by joining a cashback website such as iGraal, Poulpeo, or eBuyClub.
19. Joining a group purchasing scheme for some items gives lower prices due to bulk orders. Consumer magazine UFC-Que Choisir (quechoisir.org) has run Energie moins chère ensemble since 2014 and estimates it has saved households €155 a year. 256,000 people signed up in 2019. Some energy providers give similar offers, though UFC-Que Choisir advises checking if prices are fixed or index-linked.
For the Rentrée, parent associations often have group offers for back-to- school equipment packs. You usually need to sign up in the spring.
20. If you have something you need repairing but are not sure how, try to find a repair workshop where a team of volunteers will be on hand to help you do it yourself.
Repair Cafés’ service is free, though they are happy to accept donations towards costs of tools and premises.
You can find one at repaircafe.org.
Many other towns and communities have created their own. For example, in the Loire-Atlantique there is a website that lists the different ones, at coreparation44.fr.
21. Instead of buying ready-filled toner cartridges for your laser printer, you can refill the cartridge the printer was sold with. It is a bit of a fiddle but sellers claim it is at least 10 times cheaper.
22. Home-made cleaning products can be ecological – and cheaper.
To make liquid to wash your clothes, mix 40g of soap flakes (paillettes de savon), a tablespoon of soda crystals (soude en cristaux) and a few drops of essential oil in boiling water. A kilo of soap flakes costs about €10 (good for 25 litres), 500g of soda crystals €3 and essential oils €4. It means a litre costs less than €1.
For comparison, the cheapest eco brand from Leclerc costs €1.14 a litre, while Carrefour sells Ariel at €4.24 a litre, and its EcoPlanet range at €1.85 a litre.