Interview: Frugal Living in the French Countryside

Good morning! Is moving to the French countryside something you’re dreaming about? Read on for the story of someone who did! I hope it inspires you.

After posting an old 13-bedroom hotel for sale for only €55,000 in Bujaleuf, France several weeks ago, I began browsing the geotag and discovered Laura’s account @frugalfrance. Her bio describes living in France frugally and her feed was full of lovely countryside things, like chickens and eggs and tranquil views. I was intrigued to learn more about her adventures in moving to France and she was kind enough to share her story!

Laura’s blog Frugal France is here, full of great content if you want to move to the French countryside someday!

What made you decide to leave the UK behind and pursue a life in France?

I’ve been in love with France since visiting with my school as a child, so moving here was the realisation of an almost lifelong dream for me. I understood that the UK leaving the EU meant many of the privileges of freedom of movement which British people had enjoyed would fall away and my hopes of retiring to France endangered. Additionally, I was hardly seeing friends, family, even my husband over the last few years before our move – I was self-employed and spent an awful lot of my time working pretty unsociable hours to pay a mortgage on a house that was too big for us.

When my husband Graham and I discovered how affordable housing was in France, along with my long-held ambition to move there, it coordinated our thinking in search of a simpler, less expensive, less pressurised life where we could work to live, rather than live to work.

Could you describe the house-hunting process and what led you to choose the town you live in?

Due to work commitments, the opportunity to visit houses in France was extremely limited. In the end, we made only two trips before finding our home. However our online investigation of properties was meticulous, I remember Graham and I had a Trello board and we would add houses as we came across them for the other to review  – as I say, we hardly saw each other so as unromantic as it might seem, remote coworking tools became essential!.

Our first trip to view houses led us to make an offer on a house which, looking back, we had no business even considering. It was a pretty house but extremely dilapidated and in need of someone far more skilled than us to bring it back to life. We were seduced by the price – I think we offered 30,000€ and our offer was fortunately initially rejected. Finally, the vendor did agree to our original offer, but after reflection on the needs of the property, we turned them down.

By the time we came to our second trip we were more seasoned shoppers and had chosen our viewings discerningly. We had identified the national park in which our now-home is located on the first trip as a breathtakingly beautiful place, so we concentrated on homes within the boundary. When we saw our house we fell in love with it instantly, and the lovely town came as a secondary benefit. As home-loving people, the garden and space we would live in was the priority.

What was moving to a small French village like? Could you describe some of the highlights and lowlights?

Just this morning Graham and I were talking about this, the transition period where you adjust to a new society. The best parts of living here in a small village are a sense of calm, quiet community. By day you hardly see a soul, but at an event, all of the familiar faces turn out and as newcomers to a village with a declining population we were very hospitably received. Our neighbours are friendly, polite, kind. Everyone says hello to everyone. Everyone knows everyone! There is a real and necessary affection for others – living here can be hard. The Limousin is rural and jobs are less easy to find so people’s attitudes reflect their care for and need of each other. I like that.

In terms of the lowlights, the absence of work that I mentioned is one of them. The main industries here are agriculture and hospitality, and as immigrants with basic language skills (upon arrival anyway) finding compatible work can be hard. I am self-employed and am fortunate to be able to work from home – but even for our French friends who live in the village, it can be tricky to find something nearby that pays.

What are some of the ways you approach living frugally?

Living frugally is not just a sensible thing for us to do, but it also suits our personalities. We get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from repurposing an object, completing a task ourselves or working together to renovate our home. My approach to being frugal however does not mean not ever spending money. Investing in quality items which last longer is something which I strongly believe in – and is ecologically sound. We like nice things like everyone else, but we recognise that we don’t *need* them and if we do have to have something – like a new kitchen worktop for example – we will shop around and find something that suits us and works for our budget. We are masters of scouring the internet for a good deal whether that be for houses or robot hoovers!

The kind of lifestyle which we want to achieve looks a lot like the way we are living already – we both work two days a week each, we enjoy having time to slowly renovate our home and garden, we enjoy our pets and nature, we have time to build friendships with lovely people and eat some of the best food in the world, not to mention the wine! It really does feel like living the dream.

Do you have any stories of your experiences since moving to France?

I’d say we’ve had a pretty dramatic time since we moved here at the end of 2018. We got married here in our town’s mayoral office last July (we are about to celebrate our first anniversary in a week!) with our village friends as witnesses and celebratory wine in the village tabac afterwards! That was a great experience, and we plan to visit the tabac for an anniversary rosé on the same day each year as our new tradition as fairly-recently-weds. It was a low-key, funny event – really suited to us.

We also lived through the COVID-19 crisis here, which was interesting and stressful in equal measure. We have been grateful to be here in our French home in the countryside for this experience, our garden was truly our saviour! But we have worried about and missed family and friends in the UK – so are very much looking forward to being able to welcome houseguests again. At least lockdown forced us to do some of the nagging renovation jobs which we had been avoiding, so the place looks really nice for when people do arrive!

Any advice for those with similar dreams?

Perhaps I should preface my answer to this question by saying I’m a talking therapist so I will often look to the bigger picture when looking at a problem. I tend to get all existential, and I enjoy it! But basically, I don’t want to come to the end of my life and reflect that fear stopped me from living the way that I wanted to. I want to have very few regrets.

Laura is a writer, blogger, and therapist based in France, focused on living frugally.

Follow along here:

Instagram: @FrugalFrance

Website: frugalfrance.com

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