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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Sunday Strolling in Toulouse: the Garonne River

Le Pont Neuf, Garonne Toulousaine

Le Pont Neuf, Garonne Toulousaine

After several weeks of rain and gray weather, the sun finally came out for a while today in between sessions of hide-and-seek with the clouds. It was the perfect time to go out and get a little vitamin D before settling into another week under neon lights and computer screens.

Last week, the Garonne was at flood stage with a height of 3.78 m (right now it’s back down to around 1.2m) and the banks still bore some remnants of the flood this Sunday, making the river walk a little muddier than usual. The flood gates were closed on the right bank after the Pont Neuf (literally the “New Bridge”) and the river, while much lower, was just below the walkway. If you look closely at the photo of the Pont Neuf, you can see a set of holes above the archways. These are called dégeuloirs (a word which could be interpreted as vulgar depending on how you use it because dégeuler means to throw-up and this also means a recipient for throwing-up) and they allow flood waters to run through the bridge, relieving stress on the structure. Continue reading

There’s no place like back home after the holidays: 2013 in a nutshell

After nearly a month away from home between visiting our families for the holidays and going on a belated honeymoon, I’m glad to be back in Toulouse. It’s also been nearly a month away from this blog and in the meantime I’ve been all over the state of California with my hubby without writing a single word about it here. We’ve seen a lot of really neat sights over the last few weeks and I hope to share them with you all soon.
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Our dirty Christmas apartment

Our Christmas decorations, did you really think I’d show how dirty the rest of our apartment is?

Our Christmas decorations, did you really think I’d show how dirty the rest of our apartment is?

With the holidays growing near, the rush is on to finish all our last minute work projects, which seem to spring up like mushrooms in the shade of vacation time, and prepare for the transatlantic journey back to California.
Since we never host Christmas, the apartment starts looking more and more haggard as the holiday season continues on. Right now, all the radiators are covered with damp clothes, as I try to dry laundry in a hurry before our plane leaves Tuesday. (For those who have never had the pleasure, a cast iron radiator is the poor man’s dryer.)
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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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My Blue Wedding : Taming the expectations monster

Before my October wedding, my expectations for post-wedding life had really gotten out of control. In the stress of preparing gift bags, making hotel reservations and calling guests, my imagination had gone wild with imagining life afterwards. My mother always told me not to count on big life changes, such as starting college or getting a new job, to magically change the way things are or how I see them, but that’s exactly what I did with the wedding.
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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.