Moving back to France to teach ESL was not only a dream come true, but one of my main goals of moving back to Europe was to travel as much as possible, especially because of how much vacation time I expected to have. Traveling means having to spend money, and the more money that I could save on everyday living expenses, the more that I could travel. So, it is known that language assistants don’t make all the money in the world, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t manageable. So, for all of my fellow language assistants out there, I wanted to share with you how I managed to save money on everyday costs so that I could travel to 11 countries (including France) and 29 cities on my humble assistant salary.
1. Walking everywhere/using your student ID:
The city in which I completed my teaching contract, Laval, was small enough to consider walking everywhere. The farthest I ever had to walk was about half an hour to one of my schools to teach.
By walking everywhere, I not only was able to get daily exercise and get to know the city well, but I was able to save money on transportation costs. Though there is a bus system in Laval, a monthly transport pass would’ve cost me about 16 euros with a student ID. Though 16 euros is not much, it is still money that I was able to save and put towards traveling.
Now, if you do live in a city that is too large to consider walking everywhere, then consider getting a monthly pass with a student ID. When I lived in Nantes while I studied abroad, I was able to get a monthly pass for only 30 euros with my student ID. This included buses and the tram for unlimited rides at all times for the entire month. Even if you are no longer a student, most of you probably were a student in the most recent past, and you should take advantage of your student card. Though I had been graduated from undergraduate for a year, I was still able to use my student card because it didn’t have an expiration date on it. You can also use your graduate student ID if you are a graduate student and if you are still 26 or younger, as 26 is the cut-off for taking advantage of young people/student prices.
2. Investing in a carte jeune train pass:
If you are 26 or younger, then I recommend that you invest in a carte jeune train pass. The unfortunate side of this is that it’s 50 euros up front, but the amazing upside to this is that it saves you so much money in the long run. The amount of money I saved was probably, at least, three times that much. It helps when purchasing train or bus tickets through SNCF for traveling or when you have to attend the required stage d’accueil, if you don’t live in the largest city in your Académie (there are at least two that assistants have to attend to.)
You can get a carte jeune at train station boutiques. Just make sure that you know your address and have a valid ID (such as your passport).
3. Hanging out with friends at home:
Making friends is going to be an important part of your time abroad, but you don’t want making and hanging out with friends to break your budget. Instead of going out to bars and nightclubs all of the time, choose instead to invite friends over for some coffee, tea, drinks, a movie, playing games, etc. etc. Many times my friends and I just hung out to watch a movie or to have some tea/coffee with some snacks. I was still able to hang out with my friends, getting to know them and enjoying their company.
My friends and I also had many parties. Having everyone bring a snack and then getting your drink of choice from the grocery store significantly cut out any extra money you’d be spending on getting drinks at a bar.
4. Choosing cheaper drinks if you do go out:
One thing that I absolutely love about France is that it’s wine country, which means that you can get decent wine for super cheap at bars. Many times I could get a glass of wine between 2€50 and 3€50, as opposed to getting a cocktail, a shot, or a beer, which can be much more expensive.
If you aren’t much of a wine-drinker, maybe you can branch out and try something new. It is a core part of the French culture after all, or if you still aren’t interested in just limit yourself to one, to save some extra euros, because a 5€ beer at a bar every few days or every weekend can really add up.
The same goes for going to a café to get a cup of coffee or some tea. Maybe you choose the less fancy coffee or the herbal tea.
You can still enjoy time out with friends without breaking your budget so that you can instead save to spend on traveling, when you would really like to splurge.
5. Cooking at home instead of eating out:
Same principle as having drinks out with friends, cooking at home saves you quite a bit of euros as opposed to eating out with friends. Though eating out with friends is definitely something you can and should do every now and then, my advice is to not make a habit of it.
You can even suggest that you have a pitch-in meal with friends, so that you can enjoy their company without having to spend anywhere between 10€ and 20€ on eating out. I did this many times with friends, and it was a lot of fun being able to cook and eat a meal together.
6. Dabbling in eating vegetarian and eating healthier:
Another beautiful thing about France is that fresh fruit and vegetables are cheaper than the likes of them in the United States. I could get a decent amount of fresh vegetables for under 10€. Buying eggs, grains, and beans was also significantly cheaper than buying meats.
I really enjoyed making homemade mac and cheese as well as cous cous. Many times I could buy a bag of pasta and a box of cous cous for less than 2€ or 3€ for each that would last me about a month and a half to two months.
You don’t necessarily have to cut meat out of your diet completely, but it could be useful for saving some money towards traveling by reducing how much you consume.
I also made an effort to cut junk food and soda out of my diet except for special occasions. Junk food is decently more expensive in France than in the United States, especially because the portions in which they sell desserts, chips, and soda is less for more money. I definitely personally believe that it shows France’s interest in having a population with healthy eating habits.
Not only will it save you money, but eating healthier means you will feel healthy and be in more shape for all of that walking and traveling that you are going to be doing.
7. Hang drying and re-wearing your clothes multiple times:
Some people might not be comfortable with re-wearing their clothes a few times before washing them. However, it’s actually better for your clothing to not wash it after every time you wear it. Additionally, it helps you to save money on washing your clothes.
Many times re-wearing your jeans for a week or even two weeks at a time if you only wear them to work or out with friends means that you don’t have to wash them as often, which in turns means spending less money on washing them if you have to pay for a laundromat or pay to use the washer in the residence that you live in. It also saves on water and heating costs if you live in your own place with its own washer. Of course, I would never suggest re-wearing work out clothes, but everyday wear can be worn multiple times before it needs to be washed. It also is the norm in Europe. Heat and water are significantly more expensive in France than they are in the United States, so it’s actually quite normal to wear clothes multiple times. Even my host family with whom I lived while studying abroad would wear the same clothes a couple days in the row. It’s considered the norm.
Hang drying your clothes can also save from having to pay to dry your clothes or reduces heating costs if you live in your own place. It actually isn’t common to have a dryer in your home or apartment in France. Many people hang dry their clothing.
All of these things seem like little things, but little things do add up. Choosing to sacrifice some luxuries in my daily living meant that I could travel more often, to more places, and to enjoy splurging on things while traveling. I was able to pay for more experiences while traveling because I chose to live more humbly in the every day.
I am sure that there are other ways that you can save money to spend more to travel. These are the ways in which I was able to do so.
Do you know of any other ways that you can save on the daily cost of living? I would love to hear about your experiences!