Saving money by eating weird meat

Is horse the new beef?

  Is horse the new beef?                 

A few days before the horse meat scandal broke out, my husband and I stopped by the Huit-à-Huit (French minimart) to pick up something to eat. It was late and they were fresh out of the blood sausages that I was craving, so we decided to buy a bargain basement brand steak in an opaque plastic sachet with a delicious looking broiled steak printed on the outside. When we got home and I opened it up, it looked much redder than normal. I supposed that they must have used red food dye to make it look fresher, not surprising given the price. After a few minutes in the pan, it was still nearly fuchsia in color. Then we tasted it.

“Hey, this steak is really strong for beef.”

“That’s strange it tastes just like horse meat.”

“I think it is horse meat!”
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Student Loan Update and Tips

Is that money growing on a tree? No, it's the Toulouse Violette Festival!

Is that money growing on a tree? No, it’s the Toulouse Violette Festival!

With a stipend a little over the French minimum wage, about 25 to 30% of my total monthly income goes towards my loans.
This obviously doesn’t make me particularly happy, but it’s not going away anytime soon. Learning to live within my means while trying to pay my loans off as soon as possible has proved to be the best remedy against the debt situation (sorry, no miracle remedy). I’ve also studied up a bit on student loans in order to understand the terms of my loans and the possible recourse I have with my student loan servicer. Let’s take a look at my loans:

Current total: $ 34 170 all federal
Monthly payment: $500
Interest rate: 6.55% with capitalization
Repayment period remaining: 7 years
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Christmas gifts from Toulouse

The Nutcracker, Repetto store front.

The Nutcracker, Repetto store front.

My annual holiday visit to the states is almost here and it’s time to stock up holiday gifts for the family before heading back home.
After all, what is the point of living in France if you don’t bring back souvenirs? Christmas shopping is always a stressful time. After living in France for a few years, I’m starting to run out of good ideas for Frenchy things to get for the family. Foie gras, Mariage Frères tea, opinel knives and t-shirts from assorted regions are just a few examples from previous years.
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Saving money on fashion and makeup

advertising-188993_640A few months ago, I walked into a store specializing in makeup to ask about their options for replacing my current foundation which was a little too dark and didn’t offer enough coverage. A pleasant woman in her mid-twenties, who seemed to be advertising the store’s entire makeup line on her face led me to a product that she swore was just right for me. She proceeded to apply said product and then show me just how wonderful it was under the store’s carefully engineered spotlights. A few minutes later, I was outside and happened to see myself in the reflection of a store front window. There was a lovely orange line running down my jaw line from this so-called perfect makeup.

Sound familiar? Becoming a fashion/beauty victim is a sure way to significantly lighten your wallet. Often, advertisements and salespeople play on fears that if a women doesn’t buy this or that then she doesn’t care or doesn’t want to be pretty (how about doesn’t have the money, hein?). How many of us have pimples only because we are too lazy or cheap to buy the right cream?

To save money in Toulouse, I’ve discovered a few simple ways to shop for makeup and clothing without breaking the bank. While these techniques might not work for everyone, I hope that they will remind you that other women struggle with budgeting in beauty as well and that you’re not alone if you can’t afford to buy luxury skin care products.

The techniques:

1. Buy organic/bio makeup
Since makeup is already rather expensive, the extra cost for organic ingredients often represents a small mark-up or none at all compared to drug and department store brands. For example, Lily Lolo is a really nice organic English brand that I order online for the same price or less than non-organic drug store brands.

I buy most of my products from Ecco Verde, an Italian organic makeup website, which ships around the world. This keeps me out of the stores and focused on the products I really need (need being a relative term here). Note: I am in no way paid/free-sampled by Ecco Verde.

2. Shop seasonally
Unless something that I really need rips or gets stained, I buy clothes two times a year: the after-Christmas sales and the end of summer sales. In France, this are the only two periods when stores can legally put items on sale. Sometimes they get away with special promotions, but the real sales are only twice a year.

During this time, I stock up on the things that I really need. Are my t-shirts getting funky? Are my shoes holey after a year on cobblestone streets? Can I see through my socks?

Having limits on my shopping helps me to appreciate what’s already in my closet more and leads to a delightful anticipation of the biannual sales in France.

3. Buy USA
But isn’t Paris the city of fashion? Yes, if you’re pulling down about 90,000 euros a year. A lot of more affordable French fashion is made in China or the Middle East and is of very poor quality (think cheapy strip mall stores). I’m not saying that you can’t find reasonably nice clothes here, but they cost a lot more than in the US. Most people (in my social sphere) in France consider Levis like a luxury brand.

Stores like Marshalls, Ross and TJ Maxx allow Americans to buy high quality clothing at relatively low prices. Those don’t exist here, so for the same price, you are looking at Tati, which is comparable to K’mart. Clothes and luxury items are much cheaper in the USA, so take advantage of it!

Well, there you go, a few pointers on how to save centimes on your fashion and makeup budget. Don’t hesitate to share your own advice on how to save money as well.

Until next time, au revoir.

Feeling like snails tonight


My husband, M., and I have the luck to have a couple of really great neighbors. Every summer we watch a reality show about French famers finding love (L’amour est dans le pré) and have a great time laughing about all the particularities of French agricultural life. Tonight, we’re going over to the other side of the landing (palier) to have escargot.

Ready-to-eat escargot can be found in the frozen foods section of just about any supermarket. For the more adventurous, cans of escargot and their shells can be bought and prepared separately. For the Marthas among us, starving and salting your own snails is possible, but very oozy. Yum…

With enough butter and garlic, I find that these little mollusks are pretty tasty. They’re one of those foods that taste descent frozen and then baked, so I wouldn’t bother going to much more trouble than that if you’re curious about having these little invertebrates as a snack.  Cassoulet is another French food that’s good from a can for those looking to have lunch on the cheap, but I’ll get to that in another post.

Here’s my recipe for having an escargot night chez vous:

1. Go to Casino/Carrefour/Auchan/other supermarket (these are all French stores) and buy some frozen escargots garnished with butter, garlic and parsley. Buy some beer or hard cider plus Tyrell’s chips (the British make the best chips) while you’re at it. Maybe pick up a salad if you’re worried about being healthy. I’m lazy, so I buy the discount jug of grated carrots in salad dressing at Casino.

2. Put escargots in the oven. Open beer. Pour chips into serving dish (optional).

3. Call neighbors and put on Danse avec les stars. You’re ready to have a great night.

Having a good time in France doesn’t have to mean going to an art exposition or visiting a Michelin rated restaurant every night. You can have a good time at home with a bucket full of snails and some beers. Gastronomic restaurants and cultural events are a part of life here, but a lot of French people are much more down to earth than the stereotypes let on.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll go see the movie that won a palme d’or at Cannes this year (La Vie d’Adèle or Blue is the Warmest Color in English). Le bleu est une couleur chaude is the BD that inspired the film and the English title. A few of my co-workers said that the film was pretty good, but thought the sex scenes were a little over the top. Apparently, there were also some questions about the director pushing the actresses way too far.

I’ll let you know if I go to see it. Right now my motivation to go out tomorrow is moyenne (meaning not so much) as they say here.

Bonne soirée et à bientôt.

How I became broke (and in France)


The inheritance from my great grandmother let me get out of undergrad debt-free. At the time, I didn’t know how lucky I was. After a couple years of working at a job that was going nowhere fast, I decided to go back to my alma mater and get my master’s in Environmental Engineering.   

In the meantime, my parents had invested the money from my great grandmother’s estate into a fixer-upper in the country for their retirement (after the bubble popped, thank the lord). Thinking that student loans where the way to go and imagining my exorbitant post-graduation salary, I went back to school without thinking twice.

I took out loans, they disappeared into tuition and living expenses and I didn’t look at them anymore. It was like they didn’t exist. Everyone told me that government loans came with great interest rates and terms, so I believed them. I remember being proud of the fact that I no longer depended on my parents.

A moment of foreshadowing came when I went to the doctor one day and the secretary asked me about my ability to pay. In the income section, I asked if I was supposed to put how much I had received in loans. No sweetie, replied the secretary, you write down zero.

With some money I earned from a summer internship, I arrived in France thinking I was going to live it up. I bought clothes and ate out like the upper middle class person I thought I was supposed to be. When the money ran out and I had to live off a 500 euro a month intern stipend, things started getting hard.   

Eventually, I ran out of food one month when my stipend didn’t come through on time. On the metro, I can remember glaring at a girl eating a vegetable tart and thinking about how I could go about stealing it. Another time, I sold books to buy my tram ticket to go to work. Things always perked up again, but I won’t forget how much I didn’t like being hungry or walking 45 minutes to work because I couldn’t afford a tram ticket. That really stunk.

On the metro, I can remember glaring at a girl eating a vegetable tart and thinking about how I could go about stealing it.

Doing a PhD at a French school without a recognized partnership with an American institution means that my loans are now in repayment and represent about a third of my PhD stipend of 1300 euro per month. Luckily I have a loving and understanding husband who helps me get through the tough times. I’ll be graduating in a year which will hopefully lead to a raise and broader perspectives. Things are looking up even though I’m down on myself quite a lot for having been so foolish with my loans.

If you have student loans or know someone who does, remember to be supportive and forgiving of yourself and others. While you may have been foolish, paying them back can be really rough and it’s important not to measure yourself against impossible goals. For example, certain ‘Debt Free’ bloggers make more than my yearly stipend in one month. That sure helps with debt!  

I hope to use this blog as a way to share my life in France with others, while helping them to understand that they are not alone. Okay, repeat, “I am not my debts. I am a human being.”      

Over 25 and living in France

When I first arrived in France,
I could never figure out why people would ask me for my age every time I went to a movie theatre or a museum. Geez, French people sure are weird about their census information, I thought.  

A few months later I realized that people under 25 have all kinds of discounts here. A lot of museums are free, movie tickets are about 4.50 euros each, and the metro in Toulouse is a quarter of the price of the regular metro pass. Talk about benefits. You can even sign up for a special discount card from the rail company (the SNCF).      

Unfortunately, this situation has a rather unpleasant downside: when you are over 25, you pay full price for almost everything which can be quite a shock. When I started my PhD a couple years ago, I had just turned 26. I went down to the Tisseo (the name of the metro company here in Toulouse) office and, surprise, I couldn’t get the student price anymore because I was over 25. My stipend is the lowest salary legally acceptable for a PhD student in France, so this was a tough break. The yearly metro pass suddenly ballooned from around 100 euros to over 400 euros. Ouch.  

Public transport here is still a great deal even paying a lot more and I’m awful glad to have it. I just wish I’d gone down and bought my pass a few weeks earlier when I was still 25.
The moral of this story is if you are less than 25 and living in France, live it up. There’s a lot of really great activities available at reduced prices for people of your age group.  

For those over 25 (like me, just turned 28 a couple months ago), most museums in France are still really reasonably priced. There’s even some that are free, like in Cassis near Marseille on the Côte d’Azur. Plus, on the first Sunday of each month, all museums in France have free entry fees.