It’s 8:30 am (2:30 am EST) and you land at Charles de Gaulle airport from an overnight flight. You wait to retrieve your luggage only to learn that one of your suitcases never made it. Add another interminable hour to make your claim and a grand total of four hours later you finally step outside – only to realize that a €50 cab for just one person is not exactly within your newfound “Paris on a budget” lifestyle.
You take a deep breath, balance your choices, and decide that unfortunately a €1.90 metro ride with not one, but THREE changes might be the only viable option. Suddenly you find yourself fantasizing about your comfortable family vacations, dreaming of a time when taking the metro from the airport was never part of the discussion.
Bienvenue à Paris!
Living the “ultimate” Parisian lifestyle while restricted by a small budget, can be frustrating, confusing, and all-around annoying. As a millennial in Paris, the experience of residing in this infinitely beautiful and forever inspiring city has taught me how to live a Francophile life to its fullest, whether you have monetary restrictions or not.
From museums to bars, beauty products to an affordable glass of wine, here are my insider’s tricks and tips on how to survive and thrive in such a temptation-filled environment:
Museums for Free
It’s unthinkable to visit Paris and not visit at least one, two or three of its fabulous museums. For students, free entry into many museums is a special privilege and for all those who don’t have a French student ID card, keep in mind that the Louvre Museum is free for 26-year-olds and younger every Friday night and, more generally, the majority of Paris’s museums are free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month. There is hope for all!
Still, I can’t emphasize enough how being a student in Paris has its perks. Besides the prestige that a Sciences Po student ID holds, my student card has provided me with free admission into a handful of museums, galleries and monuments, which otherwise would have cost me a fortune. A running list of free entrances includes the Louvre, the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Musée d’Orsay, the Paris Museum of Modern Art, and the main collection at the Centre Pompidou.
Beauty Regime on a Budget
Living “life on a budget” is a term that must be flexible, able to bend every now and then, because living a life on a budget does not mean living a dull one.
Every woman has a beauty routine, whether it involves an intricate and multi-step process or consists of a single product. This routine is sacred and must not be neglected simply due to finances.
Somewhere in Paris right now, there exists a not-so-secret-secret-location that is guaranteed to fulfill the ultimate expat’s dreams of French beauty products at affordable prices. This beauty mecca is called City-Pharma. Look it up. City-Pharma offers a plethora of desired French products and brands such as Bioderma, La Roche Posay, and Avène. These coveted items cost twice as much outside of France, let alone outside of this store.
City-Pharma is a pharmacy that is dedicated to all things beauty and medicinal at incredibly low prices. Its main location is at 26 rue du Four in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. A simple Internet search will lead you to the Yelp and Google review pages of City-Pharma telling you similar things, but here are a few insider tips to keep in mind: get there early and on a weekday, come with a list of products you intend to purchase, wear one bag maximum as the rows are quite narrow, and for those visiting Paris – bring your passport. If you manage to spend over €175, you can claim a tax refund at the airport and save about 12%.
Living life in Paris with budget limitations is not equivalent to living a beauty-routine-free life!
Make a drink go a looong way
Although it really doesn’t take much to entertain a 20-year-old woman in a city like Paris, why not discuss some of the smart ways to enjoy a cheap thrill?
After a thorough five or six months of research, my findings suggest that the cheapest price for a good (or bad) glass of wine in Paris is about €4 (a sad realization after returning from Portugal where a glass of wine ranged from 1 to 2 euros).
With this standard in mind, it quickly became obvious that my friends and I could each spend €4 to €12 on one to three glasses of wine, or we could opt for the way more attractive option to go to the nearest supermarket such as Franprix, A2pas, or Carrefour to buy a bottle of rosé or white for less than 3 euros. In fact, a €3 bottle of wine is a treat because really, if you’re on an extreme budget, I know for a fact there exists a €1,30 bottle of rosé on the shelf in a Franprix on rue Lecourbe in the 15th (not saying it’s good!)
But there are many times when it’s just more convenient to meet up with a girlfriend and grab a drink at a local bar. My go-to Parisian drink is a Martini Rouge. Ranging from €5 to €7, a Martini Rouge is neither the price of a beer (€3-€4) nor a cocktail (€9-€15). It’s simple, delicious, and strong while remaining in an acceptable price-range.
Paris by Night
If you’re in search of the hippest crowd with the dankest music in all of Paris, Kitsuné Productions is the first place to look.
With a internationally renowned music label, numerous cafés worldwide (NYC, Paris, Tokyo), clothing stores, and an online magazine, La Maison Kitsuné has undoubtedly carved itself into the trendiest name around. Once a month, Kitsuné puts on an Afterwork Party at Les Bains – one of the most chichi boutique hotels in all of Paris. As long as you RSVP, you are guaranteed FREE entrance, a hip wristband, and an awesome night. Titled “Afterwork” for a reason, these events are designed for those who have full-time jobs (AKA for those who need to go to bed at a reasonable hour), so the majority of the Afterwork events begin around 7:30pm and end around 11/11:30pm – the perfect solution for all.
Three bar favorites based on prices, aesthetic or location:
Le Hibou, a Parisian classic, chosen for both its look and location, is found in the 6th arrondissement right down the street from the Théatre de L’Odéon. With a heated terrace, fairy lights, and a display of beautiful greenery weaving in and out of the bar’s outdoor area, Le Hibou though pricey hardly ever disappoints.
Le Nouvel Institut, a lesser-known name, is a student bar located in the 5th arrondissement at 1 Boulevard Saint-Germain. On Wednesday evenings, Le Nouvel Institut transforms into a jungle of thirsty-for-cheap-beer students from universities scattered in and around the Paris area. Whether you attend HEC, Dauphine, Essec, la Sorbonne, Sciences Po, or Polytechnic, school prejudices are discarded at the door. A vote for aesthetic, another for cheap beer, and a third for location!
Yellow Mad Monkey is a bar found in the branché quartier of Bastille. With a massive tree in the middle of the venue, a beer pong table (for US expats), and an exceptional Mojito, Yellow Mad Monkey is for sure the number one go-to on a Thursday or Friday night.
Plus another two very special bars:
Rosa Bonheur sur Seine. This bar will forever remain engraved in my mind. In addition to its amazing spot (on a boat on the Seine next to the Eiffel Tower), Rosa Bonheur sur Seine has great pizza, affordable and delicious wine and beer, and the coolest layout. There isn’t much more to say, other than this is by far my number one recommendation. For the ultimate treat, get to Rosa Bonheur sur Seine in time for sunset to watch the dreamy Parisian cotton candy skies unfold before your eyes.
Le Perchoir, located in Le Marais on the roof of the BHV (one of its two locations), is an IT rooftop bar. In addition to its outstanding view of all of Paris, Le Perchoir is eloquently decorated, has awesome drinks at a relatively decent price given its location, and always has the hippest DJs in Paris. This spot opens at about 8/8:15pm on most nights, but almost always has a line out the door starting at 7:45pm so I would suggest going early!
Other very cool and pretty reasonably-priced spots include La Maison Sauvage and La Palette (both owned by the same proprietor, in addition to the restaurant Margherita – all located in the 6th arrondissement).
Chic cheap thrills
People-watching is by far the cheapest thrill you can find in Paris. It captures the essence of surviving on a budget in just one (or two) words. You experience the high of floating through Paris in haute-couture and extravagance beyond imagination, while spending approximately zero euros and probably (definitely) burning calories from the adrenaline pumping through your fashionista veins. So, in addition to costing you virtually nothing in the monetary sense of the term, people-watching single-handedly transforms into a sort of “Parisian athletics”, a wholeheartedly competitive sport.
On sunny days, an excellent spot to sit back, relax, and enjoy a nice round of people-watching would be the lawn or sitting chairs in Le Parc du Luxembourg located at the heart of one of Paris’s most “bougie” arrondissements, le 6ème. The second most desired spot for people-watching is any and every café that has a €2 espresso and a comfortable terrasse – a terrasse chauffé, that is, for the unpredictable weather that characterizes Paris so well. (Parisian cafes provide an extra bonus – many have free WIFI!)
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had something my family has coined a “staring problem”. Whether it was six-year-old me ogling the chocolate lava cake on someone’s plate next to me, or the 20-year-old me eyeing the female one block ahead wearing the €400 Acne jeans and the €700 Gucci fur-lined slides that I had just bookmarked on my computer in the “Unrealistic Dreams” tab. In Paris, I have never felt more normal in my ability to stare.
In short, “people-watching” is the acceptable Parisian term for “staring problem”. Either way, in an environment where it’s normalized, why not take advantage of your time in Paris by staring at the best and glaring at the worst?!
Picnics, picnics, picnics!
As we all know far too well, the best, cutest, and most Instagram-able Parisian food spots are not kind to the wallet. Whether your #goals consist of snapping the perfect Café de Flore picture – complete with a croissant, orange pressée, and un express or if you prefer the cute café vibe that Kitsuné Café or Boot Café has to offer, let’s be real: the ideal Parisian snapshot is not affordable on a daily basis.
The easiest fix to this problem is a picnic. Whether running solo or with a group of friends, picnics are the ideal lunch or dinner solution. Not only because you can tweak your meal to your liking – buying only those products on special or sticking to the cheapest essentials (baguette, cheese, wine) – but more so because you can indulge in the Parisian experience.
Whether you decide to sit by the Seine, on a bench at Giverny, or in front of the Tour Eiffel, picnics offer us yet another opportunity to place ourselves into the timeless creations of Monet, Cézanne, or Dégas. Choosing to picnic is not only a frugal and convenient way to spend less on meals, but it affords you with the romantically simple experience of time traveling back into a world that most only dream about.
Au Revoir et à Bientôt
Paris, time and time again, offers me every temptation known to woman-kind. Whether it be the shopping, the eating, or the pampering, one must always remember that it only takes a few small tricks to bypass the massive deficit that is a very real possibility in your future here in Paris. Living the ideal Parisian experience as a student on a budget has been a rewarding challenge that I will hold dear to my heart forever.
That being said, I am undoubtedly looking forward to the time I return and do this town on a working woman’s salary (I can only imagine…)!