Good morning! Over at Make Money Your Way, Troy continues the investing for beginners series and now he talks about how does currency trading work.
When I enrolled for college, I was still living at home with my father and stepmother. In France, you have to choose your major around March, and depending on where you live, you ask for three choices of nearby public universities to do your first two years, starting in the fall. Because my father didn’t earn much the previous year, I was granted a $400 a month scholarship, which was great for a student living at home, that would be more than enough to cover a train pass, books and personal expenses for the year. But one month in, my father decided to move 600 miles away, and suddenly I was on my own to find accommodation and cover my food on the same budget. It was daunting at first, because if you want student accommodation near campus, you have to book it in March as well, and all the rooms were taken. But my father went to plead my case at the student housing association, and I was able to get a cheap room at the last minute thanks to another student not taking it.
The room was really basic, 9 square meters which is about 100 sqft, it had a sink to brush your teeth, a single bed, a desk and some storage. That was it. Showers were on the floor, there were 4 showers and 4 WC for 30 students, and we shared what was pompously called a kitchen, and consisted of another sink and a couple of electric hobs to warm up ramen. No fridge, no oven, nothing.
All electric and heating bills were included, and back in 2003 there was no wifi or anything else one would need. I didn’t even have a cellphone until a few months in when my cousin gave me a walkie talkie sized phone where I would load pay as you go credit once in a while. It mostly served so my parents didn’t have to set a specific hour for me to sit by the public phone and wait for them to call.
During my years of high school, I had held a multitude of small jobs, mostly teaching the piano, tutoring kids after school and baby-sitting, so I had a bit in savings, although I don’t remember how much, and I made a point not to touch it. I didn’t work during my first year of college because I had two majors, in two different colleges 20 minutes apart, and sometimes the double class load had me run from one class to the other and finish exhausted at 8pm.
All the students who are on a scholarship get free tuition in college. I just found out my student ID and I actually paid 30 francs (around $5) for a medical exam, the rest was included. For the five years I studied, three for the economics degree (I dropped the double degree to be able to work from year 2 onward) and a further two for business school, I never paid for tuition. Only the $5 or so a year, while normal students had to pay around $700 a year for public university, and over $10,000 a year for business school. Most students graduate debt free, but the ones who go to business or engineering school, as those are really expensive. In my class, many kids had debt, some still paying it off to this day. Not paying for tuition was amazing, as I found a company to pay for it in exchange for part time work. Whether you want to study for a Master of commerce or go to med school, you should always research your options to get free or heavily discounted tuition.
Another perk of studying in France is the French healthcare. Normal students pay something like $200 a year for social security, while scholarship students are exempt. You are covered at 70% of the cost of care, for example a regular check up or consultation costs $25, you only have to pay $7.5 out of pocket. During the first year, I subscribed to a private health insurance for students, that cost around $20 a month and would cover the extra 30%, as well as dental, contraception and so on. I don’t know if I used it enough to make it worth, but I remember paying it again the second year, and dropping in the third. In business school, my company had a mandatory healthcare plan with excellent coverage, that I barely used safe to wisdom teeth removal.
My rent was around $130, which was a third part of my scholarship, but really cheap compared to private housing. Had I lived outside campus, I would have easily paid $500 or more a month for a room. That place was not perfect, for example as I arrived a month in, I was living in a floor with only men and I was the only girl (I think one was hiding his girlfriend there, but she was not officially a tenant), and the room was really small. But it did the job, and in year two when I upgraded to 130sqft I felt like I was living in a castle.
There was a subsidized restaurant on campus as well, with meals priced at $3. For this price you would get a cafeteria style meal with a salad, a hot main, cheese, desert and bread. I would stuff myself with bread, or make a pretty smile to the lunch lady to get more pasta, and then keep my cheese and banana for a later snack. Remember there was no fridge in my room so I couldn’t keep food open for long. The supermarket was a good 15 minute walk away so we would go with a few friends for company, and we would buy in bulk and share. Then one of us would invite the other 5 for dinner and we would rotate so that one pasta dish feeds 5, only one has to do dishes, and no food goes to waste. I also ate a lot of rice salad, making a batch of rice then adding tuna, peas, carrots, tomatoes… kept overnight on the balcony during winter it was ok for a few days.
During second year I worked at McD and was fed before and after my shift, I may have taken on a few pounds, but finding a student job with free food is a great idea to save on expenses.
There were tons of ways one could save money on campus, some more extreme than others. Taking back my laundry on the train when I went to visit my parents? Extreme. Washing a few clothes on the sink to delay a trip to the Laundromat? Not too bad.
I bought a couple of books during the first year, most at half price from second year students. The rest I just took from the library. You don’t need the books much if you pay attention in class and take notes.
I went to the hairdressing school for free haircuts.
I shopped at thrift stores, pound stores where you buy clothes by the pound, or not at all. You don’t grow up anymore so most of your high school clothes will do the job, if you were an average teen wearing classic clothes that is.
I roller skated a lot around town to save on bus fare. Yes, it was cool back then to roller skate. Now I would cycle around. It was a small town, most people didn’t own a car, those who did had a car loan and a job to pay for the car. I chose freedom.
There was a swimming pool on campus that was less than $2 and provided great value compared to a gym membership. I also subscribed to the sports association for $100 or so a year to get free access to tennis courts and other infrastructures. They had very cheap lessons if you wanted to learn a new sport.
On Thursdays, it was students night all over town. Drinks were super cheap, sometimes we would just go somewhere do dance and have fun and not spend anything. I would attend movie festivals, free student concerts and a lot more cultural activities. Living in Provence was also nice in that 10 minutes out of town you had tons of hiking and biking opportunities, and the Mediterranean sea was only 30 minutes away. Some of my friends on campus came from the Alps, and a couple of weekends during winter we would go visit their parents, I just had to pay for the bus and a ski pass (they had all the gear) to spend a great weekend skiing.
Researching a bit more (back then, in the school’s paper, today, online), there was always something to do that was free or super cheap, museums were free for students, or you just had to write down the day of the year they were free to all, some restaurants had student meals, even fast foods would give you a second burger for free with your meal if you showed your student ID. So two of us could share a drink and fries, and each have a burger. Talking to older students also helped a lot to keep costs low, as they know all those tips and can save you a lot of time finding out.
My budget was something like
$20 health insurance
$50 miscellaneous needed items, hygiene, phone card, train and bus tickets, swimming pool fee, $5 yearly tuition :)…
$100 fun money, mostly spent on traveling home and going out.
There was no room for savings at least not long term.
It may look like times were hard but it was quite fun living on campus, there were other students like me who didn’t go home every weekend so I made a few good friends, and for mid year I was able to afford a plane ticket to New York and Washington D.C. where I had a blast. At the end of the year though, I decided to move back to Paris and enroll at La Sorbonne, where I knew the academic level would be tough, and the cost of living higher, so I took a job during summer to get there with more savings. Turns out the second and third year were not that hard so I kept my 2-3 jobs at any given time and graduated college with $25,000 in savings. The first year of lean living definitely helped in appreciating the little luxuries of the following years (my own bathroom!! Internet at home!!) without overdoing it.
This post was featured on the Student Debt Survivor, The Amateur Financier, Carnival of Personal Finance, Mom and Dad Money, thank you!
I’m so fascinated by the French version of the college experience! Both as a lover of the french language and a participant in the uber expensive American higher education experience. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Krista, it is pretty different, mainly as we rarely take on debt to study, and degrees are in their majority under $3,000 a year.
Simon @ Modest Money says
Wow, that sounds like an experience in extreme frugality 🙂
In all honesty though, its an account laden with poignant lessons and experiences for any aspiring college student especially now that higher education especially in the US has become steeply expensive.
My key takeaway, get creative, take advantage of any breaks, allowances etc you qualify for, don’t be afraid to ask and oh yeah, work your butt off!
FI Pilgrim says
Pauline, those numbers are both intimidating and inspiring. Great job getting through school on so little, and thanks for sharing!
Matt Becker says
Haha, man I wish there was more roller skating in my college days! I think it’s cool that you had this mindset so early on, even if it was out of necessity. I didn’t go crazy during my college days but I certainly wasn’t on the lookout for the cheapest way to do things. It sounds like you were able to learn a lot of valuable lessons that have clearly helped you out down the road.
I could have taken out loans but it is just not the mentality in France. You only take loans for a very expensive degree, not to buy consumer goods.
Oh man,…..I could save so much money if I went back to those days! Just having a free place to live sounds amazing!!!
Dee @ Color Me Frugal says
I am beyond impressed that you graduated college with $25,000 in savings!!!! Kudos to you!! Thanks for the great post.
Thanks Dee, when I had little money I started considering how much effort it would have been to earn it back and curbed my spending.
DC @ Young Adult Money says
This post almost made me cry thinking how expensive things are here in the United States. Most college rentals are super expensive, including dorms. Dorm rooms are even more expensive than off-campus housing! Even if you shared a one bedroom apartment, rent and utilities would likely be above $400 a month, and that’s for rent alone. Never mind tuition, health care, food, books….. *sigh*
I guess it depends if you go to NYU or the University of Indiana, I have seen some MidWest rents under $400 but that would be rent only. Subsidized housing was a blessing.
Same! I was trying to look up cheap housing options so that I don’t have to deal with traffic and so that I could get a little independence. The cheapest I could find were around $600 a month but they weren’t located in the safest neighborhoods. The cheapest dorms are around $1000 a month. Since I drive a car, I would still have to pay $300 for a parking pass. I’m not even going to include all of the other costs! I definitely can’t afford any of that so my best option is just living with my parents and enduring that hour and half of traffic every morning and afternoon.
I remember those college days! I actually got a job and worked full time so I think I had about 800 per month to live off of. I was stupid and took out more loans than I should have. $400 a month seems so cheap.
$800 wow you were so rich haha! $400 was dirt cheap but it was not comfy.
Interesting post, Pauline! I am always interested to hear others experiences in different countries regarding college. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Debt and the Girl says
Its amazing that people can do that. It sounds like you had to be very strategic with your money but I bet you learned some great things from it.
Wow, some of the places I lived in off-campus were $400/month. Only one house I lived in was super nice but my room was like the size of a small walk-in closet. The bed took up most of the room.
That’s amazing that you graduated with $25,000 in savings. I wish I had that mindset back then. I was more focused on saving for my backpacking trip to Europe.
Budget and the Beach says
I love hearing how your experience in France is so different than here in the states. I have to say that you are one smart and savvy lady. You really know how to work the system! 🙂
FI Fighter says
Pretty neat when you realize how little you actually need to spend in college… and yet can still have a blast. I also rollerbladed around town, and that was a lot of fun since my college was really hilly. I miss those days… these days, sometimes I just pretend I’m still in grad school getting a PhD… then I can suppress any urge to spend.
My Wealth Desire says
You personal experience of working 2-3 jobs is very amazing. I worked before while I was in my college but I stop due to school load.
That’s really great accomplishment to have a saving ($25,000). I like your nice tips to get free haircuts.
KK @ Student Debt Survivor says
Graduating from college with $25,000 in savings, now that is a unique story! I love it. I did a lot of the same things you did, but my tuition and expenses were unfortunately a lot higher.
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