The current economy is challenging and many are being forced to tighten their belts. The example of the frugal French housewife can be a source of inspiration in these difficult times. Being thrifty can be done with grace and style. Let’s examine how she does it.
This post may contain affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more here.
The Frugal French Housewife
The stereotypical French woman has a reputation for thrift and frugality. She demands the highest quality for the least amount of money. She has fewer possessions than the typical American but those items are well-cared for. When it comes to food, the French are famous for their devotion to the well-prepared meal eaten in a leisurely manner while seated at a table.
My earliest introduction to the ethos of the frugal French housewife came from my favorite childhood book series – Linda Lane. The main character is an orphan taken in by a kindly woman of minimal means. Linda and “Aunt Carol” live a sweet and simple life together in a somewhat shabby but clean and comfortable home. Linda is charmed and inspired by the idea of the French housewife’s thrift and uses her example in practical ways. More importantly, she comes to see thrift as a pleasant challenge.
There is much to be learned from other cultures and I truly appreciate the lessons of the French housewife. Here in America we are bombarded with excess. Too many clothes (often poorly made and ill-fitting), too much fast food, too many activities on our calendars, too much “stuff”.
There is way too much food waste in the U.S. According to the FDA, 30-40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted. We throw away 610 pounds of food per person. The average American family of four throws away around $1600 worth of produce alone per year. That is staggering.
By contrast, the average French person throws away 210 pounds of food per year and France is working diligently to decrease food waste across the board.
Food is hugely important to the French and the French housewife takes the feeding of her family very seriously. She most likely shops every day or two, carefully seeking out the very best she can afford, then preparing delicious meals.
Many argue that France is the gastronomic center of the universe – – either from its long history of royal excesses at the dinner table or from its legendary chefs. But I would make the same claim and argue it based on my observations of the French housewife. Jealously guarding the recipes of generations before her, she practices the art of marrying the taste of the royal classes with the thrift and resourcefulness of her peasant ancestors.
Back at home, she sets about squeezing every tasty bite, every nourishing drop, every last crumb of sustenance from the carefully considered contents of her market basket. Nothing — I repeat, nothing — will be wasted. When she puts out the family trash at the end of the week, it could fit into a coffee can.
This is a goal I am striving for but I still have much to learn and implement. The rest of the article contains recipes and tips for using up things we might otherwise throw away. I’m generally pretty good about using up stuff in soup but some items occasionally escape my notice until they are even past using in soup.
I used to have chickens who would happily eat scraps I couldn’t use and I’d love to have chickens again – maybe next spring! I do have a compost pile but must admit I’ve not been using it. Since I plan to do more gardening next year I believe I will make use of the little compost container beneath my sink again. Certainly, the French housewife would do so!
Not only are the French famous for their food but their style is legendary. The amazing thing is that they are able to look so stylish with a much smaller wardrobe than most of us here in the U.S.
The French woman will choose fewer clothing items for her wardrobe but will focus on high quality items she can wear for many years. She is aware of fashion trends, of course. How could she not be when Paris is such a hub of design? But she isn’t a slave to fashion fads.
Most of her wardrobe will consist of classic, timeless pieces that fit perfectly and suit her personal style. She might add a trendy item or two each season but the bulk of her clothing will be consistent from one year to the next.
While she might pay more for a high quality “little black dress” or classic trench coat, she will own these (and look beautiful in them) for many years. She will take exquisite care of her clothing, too, and thus save money over time.
Capsule wardrobes are all the rage these days and I think there is much merit in the concept. After all, it’s worked beautifully for French women for ages.
The Francophile’s Style Guide: The 14 Essentials
The French housewife is equally frugal when it comes to feathering her nest. The same innate sense of style she uses to choose her clothing will be put to use in creating a unique and charming home.
Here in the U.S. many older people are finding that young folks starting out are not as eager to accept family heirlooms as was once the norm. They prefer new items from Ikea and Target rather than Grandma’s solid oak bureau from the 40s or Great Grandmother’s china.
Not so for the typical French girl. She treasures her family history and is happy to set up housekeeping with hand-me-downs.
She will also search for treasures at thrift stores. Over time the French woman will create a carefully curated home that is totally suited to her tastes and those of her family…without resorting to credit card debt to do so.
Speaking of credit cards, the French are loathe to take on debt other than for their home:
Certainly there are French housewives who don’t practice thrift (or don’t need to) but the cultural emphasis on a thoughtful and intentional lifestyle means less pressure to “keep up with the Joneses”, or whatever the French equivalent.
Whether you are struggling to make ends meet or simply want to be a good steward of your resources and live lightly on Mother Earth, the frugal French housewife can serve as an excellent example.
More about the “Frugal French”…
8 Ways to Save Money Like a French Woman
You may also enjoy…
Homemaking French Style ~ How the French Live at Home
10 Things We Can Learn From French Women
Great post. I’m all for being frugal, and already am where possible. I hate throwing things away if I can avoid it, I only replace my clothes when I need to and only have a couple of each item, and I’m all for handmedowns if they’re still in good enough condition to be servicable.
Deanna Piercy says
I agree. Not only do those things save money but they are better for the environment, too.
Ridiculous. This whole article is so biased. Being that the USA is multicultural, this can come across as offensive to those Americans that follow a different cultural norm than others. There’s plenty of Americans that live a frugal lifestyle, limit waste and have a minimal wardrobe. This was quite condescending.
Deanna Piercy says
I’m sorry you feel that way. Of course there are Americans who live a frugal and more minimal lifestyle but my point was that the French culture encourages and embraces those qualities. And they do it with style. As I wrote, there is much to be learned from other cultures, whether here or abroad. This just happened to be about the French. I’m a lifelong Francophile and enjoy exploring their way of life. I have numerous posts here on the blog about French related topics.
Well, I guess Vivian is not a frequent reader, and definitely doesn’t know you, or she would know better. I reread the article because I’m always looking for encouragement on how not to waste. I’m pretty bad about cooking too much, refrigerating or freezing things, and ultimately throwing stuff away. Although I’d worked at doing some better, but the freezer going out and my not discovering it until stuff had thawed out, created a mess that was NOT MY FAULT!! ????. . I gave a bunch of chicken and ground beef and pork tenderloins away, cooked more and kept it refrigerated, with the intention of refreezing the cooked kind, but there was an issue with the “water in the door” thing, which required a plumber and rescheduled delivery, and by the time we actually got actual delivery, I ended up pitching the cooked stuff because it had been in the fridge too long. But, I tried!!
Deanna Piercy says
Oh, what a shame to have that happen to your freezer! We had that happen once. And then we went on vacation. It was not pleasant.
I end up tossing way more than I’d like, and more so during the pandemic. I’m having groceries delivered and finding it challenging to get produce that lasts until the next delivery. I’m looking forward to being able to choose the freshest produce on my own rather than rely on someone who just grabs what’s in front.
Mary Margaret says
I try for nonwaste and frugality. I save all my vegetable scraps for broth – including broccoli stems. We live in the woodsey mountains and my neighbors chickens run free. Any produce that is questionable gets thrown outside where something will eat it. I don’t waste much or use a lot of processed food with a lot of packaging. I recycle the plastic and paper and my weekly garbage fits into a plastic grocery bag.
When I lost 50lbs, I decided that I needed to rethink the way I clothes shopped. I had mountains of clothes that didn’t go with anything else. I gave my clothes to a thrift store and a pregnant friend and mostly started over. Before shopping, I would decide how I wanted to look and what I needed. Everything I bought had to go with 4 or5 other things I already had. For instance, I decided to shop for a beige turtleneck sweater to wear with my brown tweed suit, black suit, brown skirt, gray slacks, brown leather jacket, and ivory cardigan. I will buy clothes at thrift stores if the quality is very good.
Nine years ago, when my daughter was 15, we were going through my MIL’s estate. SIL suggested we sell her grandmother’s Limoges because “Nobody wants that and it’s out of fashion.” Daughter told her under no uncertain terms that she was taking the china. Daughter has and uses her great-grandmother’s china.
Deanna Piercy says
What a good example you have set for your daughter!