Money Saving Tips for Paris, France
1. Locate the Nearest Monoprix and Shop There - Monoprix is the French version of an up-scale Super Target and a staple of Parisian life. The top floors contain an array of reasonably priced clothing, accessories, make-up and housewares. All with a "French-flair". The bottom floor houses a gourmet supermarket and bakery.
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Forgot an umbrella, got a hole in your last pair of socks, want some accessories to jazz up a new outfit, stop at the Monoprix. Want to bring back reasonably-priced souvenir for friends? Perhaps, an outfit for a newborn, some chocolate for the office, a funky sweater for a girlfriend, shop at the Monoprix.
And, unlike most of the stores in Paris that shut their doors at 6-7pm, the Monoprix is open after everything else closes. Usually, until 10-11 at night (check each store for hours). Great for last minute souvenir runs. However, it is closed on Sundays.
There are dozens of Monoprix's scattered in every Parisian neighborhood. To locate one near your hotel, go to the Monoprix website.
2. Drink the Tap Water - It is safe to drink the tap water in Paris. Ordering bottled water (l'eau minerale") in restaurants/cafés, can add up to quite an expense. A friend of ours was mortified to learn that her bottled water at a café was twice as much as a glass of the excellent house Bordeaux.
To save 4-7€ during meals, order "une carafe de l’eau, s’il vous plait". The waiter will bring you a carafe of tap water. Look around, this is what the Parisians do. Unless you specify a carafe of water, you will be given and charged for bottled water at most restaurants.
3. Buy at the Department Stores - Window shop in Parisian boutiques, but purchase items at one of the large, Parisian department stores, such as, like Galeries Lafayette or Printemps. The large stores have discounts especially for tourists, such as 10% off every purchase, and additional VAT reimbursements of 12% off if your one-day purchase total is over 175€.
Fashion lines, like Gucci, Chanel, Louise Vuitton, Lancel, and even low-budget chains, like Zara or Morgan et Toi, have boutiques inside the department stores with identical merchandise as their other outlets. Using the tourist discount card, may allow you to get a whooping 25% off. However, watch for red dots on designer merchandise. Red dot items are excluded from the tourist discount.
4. Make Lunch Your Largest Meal of the Day - Save money by filling up at lunch, then eating a light dinner. Many Parisian restaurants offer great deals on fixed price menus for lunch. You can easily eat a great three course meal (appetizer, entree and dessert) for under 15€ (not bad considering that tax and tip are included). By law, all restaurants must post their menu outside, so it is easy to "window shop" for a meal that will tempt your taste buds.
For fine dining, eating lunch instead of dinner, makes even more sense. Consider the famous Parisian restaurant Le Grand Vèfour. Le Grand Vèfour is a Michelin starred restaurant where fine dining has been elevated to an art form. The setting is intimate and luxurious. The food is out of this world. Dinner is a la carte and over 200€ per person. The fixed price lunch option is a bargain for 78€. You'll sacrifice some of the candlelit ambiance at lunchtime. But, if you've dreamed about eating at a "Great French Restaurant" and can't stomach the cost of a dinner, reserving for lunch can be a wonderful compromise.
5. Use your Credit Card, but Notify the Bank Before Your Trip and Know the Card's Conversion Rates - First, use a credit card for the majority of your purchases. Virtually every café, restaurant and store accepts plastic. And, you will receive the best exchange rate possible. However, make sure you read our three critical credit card tips to save time and money.
6. Don't Purchase Euros Before Arriving in Paris - You really don't need to go to your bank and procure euros before arriving in Paris. The airports and train stations are littered with ATMs. You'll get a good exchange rate, pay the same ATM fee that you do at home, and save 8-9% over what you'll pay an American bank for the privilege of traveling with a few euros in your pocket.
Instead, bring some US cash for emergencies, and if need be, use a currency exchange outlet that you'll find on the street in tourist areas, airports, and train stations. Even, the money changers will offer you a better deal than a US bank.
And, forget about Euro denominated Traveler's Checks. They are rarely accepted at hotels or shops.
7. Use Your Cell Phone for International Calls - Cell phone coverage is ubiquitous in Paris, and most US carriers offer economical plans for you to use your cell phone in Paris. For $10-15/month, you can avoid the outrageous fees that hotels charge for phone usage and have the convenience of having your phone with you at all times.
For those of you who can't travel without your trusty laptop, Skype is the most economical way to keep in touch with home. This free service lets you call another computer anywhere in the world for FREE. You talk through your computer's microphone instead of a telephone. Or, pay Skype 2.7eurocents/minute to direct dial a phone in the US.
8. Don't Bring Home Brand Name Wines and Champagnes. Buy Local, Less-Known Brands- By "brand names", we mean the French champagnes and wines that you can buy at your local liquor store. With the plummet of the dollar versus the euro, the large French wine exporters have kept prices stable in the US to keep US demand high, while raising prices in France. So, that bottle of Chateunaf du Pap or Perrier Joet champagne is priced the same or less in your hometown than in Paris wine stores or at the airport's Duty Free.
Instead, purchase wine that the Parisians drink on a daily basis, and that you can't get in the US - the hundreds of Beaujolais, Cote du Rhones and Burgandies that you can purchase for 5 euros a bottle at the Monoprix or Nicholas. Consider purchasing a Champagne that is not as recognized outside Europe from a local retailer as a souvenir. One example is Alain Theinot NV.
9. Visit Museums on the First Sunday of the Month - On the first Sunday of the month, entrance to many national museums and monuments are free. This includes the Louvre, Pompidou Center, and the Musée D'Orsay. Note that you may be trading money for time. The lines are long with locals on the free Sundays.
For sculpture lovers, several works, including Rodin's "The Thinker", are displayed in a garden within the Musée Rodin. Access to the garden only is less than access to the entire museum.
10. Drink Wine, Not Soda - Unlike the US, where ordering a soda at a restaurant will save you $5 over ordering a glass of house wine, in Paris, Coca-Cola is priced like an expensive import. Expect to pay around 5 euros for a Coke and 4 euros for a glass of wine. We've actually paid 7 euros for a Diet Coke ($10 US at the time) at a café in St. Germain de Prés.
If you're worrying that all this wine will make you "too tipsy", be aware that the French believe "everything in moderation", whereas Americans believe "bigger is better". A glass of wine in Paris is 3-4 ounces, unlike the 8-10 ounce pours that are the custom in the US.
If you still can't break your Coca-Cola addiction, buy it at the Monoprix or local grocery. You'll still end up paying significantly more than in the US - 5 euros for a 6-pack of cans.
11. Surf for Free - Leave your heavy guidebooks at home and use your laptop to access up to date Paris event information. Wi-Fi (wee-fee in French) is much more prevalent in France than in the US. The mayor of Paris boasts that there is no place in Paris (inside or out) without a wi-fi signal. Wi-fi is free at all public parks, libraries, major squares and district halls. Most cafes are also offering free wi-fi access to their patrons. Look for the "wifi gratuit" message printed outside on the cafe awnings.
12. Don’t Assume that Because the Hotel has a Breakfast Room, that Breakfast is Included. Many hotels will charge extra for their continental breakfast. This cost can be as high as 12 euros. So make sure you read the fine print on your reservation. On the other hand, if your ‘petit dejeuner’ is included, indulge. In a good number of hotels, the breakfast room is wonderfully serene and can be a pleasant way to begin the day before hitting the streets. After all, as your mom always said, "breakfast is the most important meal of the day".
13. Buy the Paris City Passport - This pass entitles you to discounts at attractions, stores, and museums. While not every discount is a winner, you should find enough good deals to justify the cost (5€), especially if you plan to take a boat ride on the Seine. Order online and pick up at a tourist office when you arrive in Paris.