Thursday, June 5, 2008

What's it to you?

Three years ago, when I told friends and family members that I was moving to France, I heard one response more often than any other: "France? Wow, that's going to be really expensive for you!" So, is living on the Cote d'Azur really all that much more expensive than in South Florida? After three years of living here, my response to that is, "Yeah, it kind of is, but it all depends."

I arrived in France on March 30, 2005, 1.00€ bought US$1.2921, a long way from when the euro hit bottom against the dollar in May 2000, when 1.00€ bought US$0.8902 (or US$1.00 bought 1.1233€). I remember coming to France in late June 2000 and finding things cheap! Still, my friend Cecile, who has been here just over a year, says that it's not as painful if you don't do any conversion. "A euro is a dollar," she says, which would annoy most economists, but sits just right with me.

For example, gasoline. The headlines of US papers shout about the horrors of paying $4/gallon, which is inarguably high. In late 2004/early 2005, when I lived 23 miles (38km) from work and was filling my tank once a week, we all complained about paying $2.50/gallon.

I bought a diesel car when I moved here because it's cheaper fuel than gasoline and a full tank lasts longer. Still, the last time I filled the tank, I paid 1.399€/litre (US$8.21/gallon), and that was before the price went up. Unleaded gas costs 1.439€/litre (US$8.44/gallon). So, I had to shell out 50€/US$77.50 to fill a small car. However, due to the fuel efficiency, and the fact I rent a place only 3 miles (5km) from the office, a full tank can last about 4 weeks!

If I decide to use my car for more than just commuting, how much does it cost to be entertained? A movie ticket costs 8.00€/US$12.40 (not bad, you New Yorkers say), and a prix fixe menu (not "prefix" as I saw many years ago at a New York pseudo-posh restaurant) can cost an average 20€/US$31, without drinks. If you're thirsty, you can shell out 3.00€/US$4.65 for a Coke (with no refills) or 2.50€/US$3.88 for a glass of red wine (again, with no refills).

OK, then, let's stay in and save some money. Buy ingredients at the local supermarket (Carrefour) and cook dinner at home. Here is a list of some of the staples I recently bought. (Unless a brand is specified, I try to buy the store-brand):

  • Milk 0.97€/litre (US$5.69/gallon)
  • Margarine 3.44€/500g tub ($5.33/17.6oz tub)
  • Strawberries 7.38€/kg (US$5.20/lb)
  • Plums 2.90€/kg (US$2.04/lb)
  • Nectarines 2.30€/kg (US$1.62/lb)
  • Bag o' lettuce 1.70€/bag (8.50€/kg) US$2.64/bag (US$5.99/lb)
  • Chicken breast 10.45€/kg (US$7.36/lb)
  • Dozen eggs 2.15€ (US$3.33)
  • Caffeine-free Diet Coke 1.49€/1.5 litre bottle (US$3.08/2 litre bottle)
  • V8 Vegetable Juice 2.00€/1 litre bottle ($3.10/33.8oz bottle)
  • Coffee 2.12€/250g ($5.97/lb)
  • Kellogg's Corn Flakes 2.19€/375g box ($3.39/13.2oz box)
  • Kellogg's Special K 3.14€/375g box ($4.87/13.2oz box)
  • Box of pasta 0.79€/500g box ($1.22/17.6oz box)

A first-run DVD will cost 20.00€/US$31.20, so maybe we can just sit around and talk instead. Or, we can go online and watch funny clips on YouTube. After all, I only pay 29.99€/US$46.48 per month for my Internet, and that includes television and free telephone calls to France, Europe, and many other countries in the world (including US, Canada, Israel, Singapore and Australia)! My Internet is not through the phone company, so I still have a subscription with France Telecom (for 16.00€/US$24.80 per month) just in case anything goes wrong with the line.

After everyone leaves and I'm home alone, I buy the local newspaper (Nice Matin) to read for a mere 1.30€/US$2.01 or Time Magazine, with the cover price of 4.20€/US$6.51.

So, if anyone is up for a cheap place to visit in Europe, I have a guest room with a rather comfortable bed and a full fridge.

Note: I chose the exchange rate of 1.00€ = US$1.55 to do the conversions in this article, even though the exchange rate has fluctuated between US$1.53-1.57 in recent weeks. And apologies to readers outside the US who would have liked conversions to their currency. And PLEASE no comments about the conversions to the Imperial system!