Learning to Budget

I have been in France for nearly a month now, and the Englishman has gone back to work, so I am on my own for the first time, and the vacation is over.

I have vastly overblown my resources in the past few weeks, flitting around Nice and Corsica and Italy as if I am not a woman who has recently left her job and with it a steady income.

So now as reality sets in, it has become painfully clear that I am in serious need of a budget.  I will be the first to admit I am not good at budgeting.  It’s not so much that I want a lot of things, or have particularly expensive taste, but somehow when I leave the apartment, I seem to hemorrhage money.  (The exchange rate doesn’t work in my favor either.)

My main expense here is food, which can definitely empty out the wallet tout de suite.  Especially when my picture of heaven: Monoprix (France’s answer to Whole Foods only with aisles and aisles and aisles dedicated just to cheese and chocolate mousse and wine, and with a cosmetics department that puts Sephora to shame) is just a few blocks from my front door.

Nice is an expensive place.  No doubt about it.  It is the French Riviera after all.  But if you know where to look, I am discovering, there are bargains to be had.  And I love few things more than a bargain.

In addition to the lovely little bakery below me, that sells a piping hot baguette for .80 centimes, I was delighted to find a massive farmers market, spanning about 5 blocks and seemingly undiscovered by tourists, not far from the apartment.

Beyond the many many tables full of fresh fruit and vegetables and eggs, there is a little covered market with a butcher, cheese and fish mongers, and a seriously old school French bar which seems to have a crew of regulars glued to the barstools.

As an American, it’s a novelty to go to the bakery for bread, and the cheese shop for cheese, and not just for a special fancy item, but for everyday shopping.  And best of all, the prices are about half of what I’ve been paying at the big grocery stores anyway.

But by far, the best bargain I have found is a string of outwardly ordinary Arab grocers, on Rue d’Italie, just one street down from me.  The presentation might not measure up to the beautifully curated markets the tourists flock to, but the prices are absolutely gob smacking.

A bag full of fat, juicy, fragrant, perfectly ripe nectarines set me back all of 1 euro 40 centimes!  And a cantaloupe?  .40 centimes! A fraction of what they cost anywhere else.  I don’t know how they do it, but the prices are outrageously low.  The woman in front of me in line piled up bags full of carrots and shallots, zucchini, grapes, and a big bunch of parsley on the counter, and the register rang up €3.10! Incredible.

More than seeing how far I can stretch my Euros, my budget is helping me to think about buying produce that’s in season and to be creative in the kitchen.

The difficulty will be balancing my newfound frugality with being sociable and meeting French people, which, as everyone has told me, is really the only way to learn the language.

I am looking forward to beginning my studies, and hopefully my days of saying “Je n’ai pas parler Français” will soon be over.

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