Getting together with neighbours or friends to make grouped purchases can therefore be one way to reduce costs on essentials.
Making the most of such opportunities depends on finding out what is on offer in your area - or taking inspiration from what is done elsewhere to set up your own scheme.
A grouped purchase (achat groupé) could be ad hoc - such as friends bulk buying some stationery from an online supplier offering free delivery above a set amount.
Alternatively schemes may be organised through school parents’ associations or other local community groups. For example, an association of gardeners in the Var village of Néoules organises grouped purchases of manure, fertiliser, vegetable or flower seedlings and swimming pool products (www.tinyurl.com/Neoules EnFleurs), whereas in Ambonnay in the Champagne-Ardenne the association Familles Rurales bulk buys nappies for its members (www.tinyurl.com/CheapNappies). In the Lyon area 3 P’tits Pois delivers affordable local food to groups of neighbours - you must get together with a few others from your district to benefit (www.3ptitspois.fr).
Another scheme distributing affordable fresh local produce, La Ruche Qui Dit Oui (“the hive that says yes”) operates nationwide (www.laruchequiditoui.fr). It has 400 schemes, or “hives”, but is still looking for new organisers where none yet exist.
Local organisers identify suppliers in their areas, from whom members - known as “bees” - can order via the hive’s website.
A commission of 15.8% is shared between the national office and local organiser. “This is a minimal amount and we will hold ourselves to it, that’s our promise,” a spokesman said. “Typically on fresh produce in normal shops the markup is 100-300%.”
The organiser for Paris’s 13th arrondissement, Delphine Thuilier, said a restaurant specialising in “terroir” produce allowed them to use a room to distribute the food.
“It also runs cultural events and sees itself as part of the community in the quartier and, as I see the ruche in the same way, it works very well. They give us a nice room where we welcome the producers and members every two weeks to distribute the food. The products depend on the season - strawberries and tomatoes in summer, etc. The quality is better than in ordinary shops and you really know where the foods come from because the producer is there in front of you.”
Grouped purchase of school equipment is also popular. La Commyn’auté, a parents’ association in the Indre-et-Loire, say they make savings of 15-20% compared to buying in a supermarket by negotiating deals on kits of essentials for different ages from local stationery firms. Members then place orders with the association for the kits they want.
Another association has run a heating oil group purchase scheme for around 30 years - the Association des Familles de Limas, a club affiliated to national network Familles de France.
Organiser Raphaël Petozzi said he set up a partnership with an oil supplier who agreed that, in return for regular orders from their members, each person supplied can benefit from a “large business rate.”
Members can order when they like, but must take 1,000 litres or more a time. He said: “Because they know we will buy a lot over the year, even if we are only buying a small amount at a time, they bill us as though we had bought 10,000l.”
Mr Petozzi also keeps in contact with the supplier, which warns of price trends, so he can advise members when is the best time to buy. He said: “For example, over the last week prices have gone from €855 per 1,000l to €900, so I sent out an email saying there was a problem - prices are on the up.
“There are lots of factors - if production gets going again in China, they will have more fuel demand, which puts up prices, the euro-dollar exchange rate plays a part, if a lot of people go on holiday and use a lot of petrol and air conditioning, that will put prices up…. There’s uncertainty so I’m suggesting people wait until next month.”
He said the combination of information on price trends and bulk purchase discounts mean members save up to €100 on deliveries. His scheme operates in an area about 25km around Limas (Rhône).
He added: “There is no reason why associations, or just groups of neighbours, couldn’t do this in other parts of France.
“However you need some people who have enough time - perhaps retirees - to keep up with the fuel price trends and then pass the information on.”