Money in France and the United States

by Kelly · 8 comments

in Notes On Culture

A little more than a year ago, I wrote a post called A Tale of Two Budgets, in which I did a very unscientific comparison of budgets from two families: mine and a family living in the United States. As happens with so many posts, people commented on it, and then as it got pushed further and further into the archives, the comments died out.

A few days ago, however, somebody left a comment on the post saying that he didn’t agree with the numbers supplied by the American family. And then, a few days later, he came back with his own set of comparisons, from his personal experience spent living in both NYC and Paris.

While you should go back to read the original post (and all of the comments Charlie left), the comparisons Charlie made were so interesting that I’m highlighting them here.

Charlie says:

For the record: because ages of budget/income vary by income-level, I will stick to Cost-of-Living figures. Over the last 30 years, I have lived/worked in NYC (urban & suburban), Chicago, San Francisco, London, the Netherlands (Amsterdam & suburban) and Paris, while keeping a home in the USA.

Having lived in both, here’s a breakdown of the relative Cost of Living between living/working in similar areas in a world capital in the USA (NYC – W 82nd off Central Park West) and one in FR (Paris – 16eme near the Bois). Since the site is based on being frugal – the City named in each category is the one that costs LESS of our household income.

Housing – Paris

  • less than 27% of income vs NY’s roughly 40% (an equivalent to our Paris apt would cost nearly double in rent per month in NYC right now)

Utilities – Paris

  • about 30% less per month for comparable living space where heat/water chgs are collective

Phone / Internet – Paris

  • In NYC – a bundle incl TV, unlimited US Telephone calling & 15mbps Internet is $100-120/month. Paris (w/unlimited calling to 60 countries incl US) is €30/mon.

Cell/Mobile phones – NYC

  • Paris is just catching on to price competition in mobile phone services.

Insurance – Paris

  • Auto/life is about the same, home is less – but INCL Medical/Hospitalization plus “top-up cover” (i.e. Aflac in the US /”mutuelle” in FR)???
  • Insurance total cost in Paris is about than 35% of what our insurance cost us in NY… with lesser coverage and higher deductibles (which are nearly non-existent in France or Med Ins)

Entertainment – Paris

  • Film tix are about equal. But across the board (we are avid cultural fans): concerts, dance, museums, plays etc are cheaper in Paris than in NYC. i.e. West Side Story musical perfomance – Paris top ticket 110 vs Broadway 165 / Alvin Ailey in NYC was $165/seat vs top ticket of 105 in Paris next week.

Air Travel – TIE

  • Both have substantial discount airlines


  • France generally saves more of its income than in the US, although that has changed a great deal with the advent of foreclosures sweeping the USA

Home Repair – TIE

Groceries – TIE

  • although fresh green groceries are a bit cheaper in Paris as are dairy products

Sundries/Electronics – NYC

  • For reasons too deep to dive into here, Paris is more expensive for almost all manufactured goods including cars, household electronics, computers, tools, etc

Dining Out -TIE

  • one can find a range of restos at any price point in either city (although in Value For Money, I’ll take Paris’ food and wine)

Local Tax – TIE

  • unless you are wealthy, there is no local tax other than a consumption tax (VAT/TVA) in Paris plus habitation and TV services tax. Paris VAT is 19.6% but (to my knowledge) NYC charges about 10% VAT PLUS up to 8% income tax. Owned Property tax is higher per assessed value in NYC than Paris a well unless you are assessed a “wealth tax” which near evens it out.

Medical Care – Paris

  • The cost of services, tests, care and prescription medicine is about 10-20% of the same services in NYC. eg: an MRI in NYC = $1000-1500 vs Paris = €89, 2 wk course of antibiotics: NYC $60 vs Paris €5-7

Transport – Paris

  • Metro/Bus/RER system 1.50/11.40/56€ for 1 trip/10x/month pass
  • New York city Subway/Bus = 2.25/20/89$ for 1 trip/10x/month pass
  • Paris->Amsterdam via TGV = 50€ vs NYC->Wash DC on Amtrak = $155 (for a shorter distance)

By the way – before anyone brings up currency conversions, one who has lived overseas knows that conversion (though hard to stop doing in your head ‘-) does not apply when talking about residents who earn the currency they spend – only to people who earn in one and spend another currency, which is quite rare. In general, its 1-to-1 units even tho NYers may earn a bit more doing a similar job, but that is impossible to discuss in this limited context.


1 rachella July 15, 2009

This is interesting.

I’ve been thinking about comparing London/NYC and London/San francisco in the same way, but I always run into difficulty because salaries in London seem to be quite a bit lower so I can’t make a fair comparison.
.-= rachella´s last blog .. =-.

2 AJ July 15, 2009

This is an interesting comparison. How much different are the salaries in the 2 locations?
.-= AJ´s last blog ..Struggling with Food Budget =-.

3 susanintexas July 16, 2009

I’ve been doing this over the last year to decide whether we will stay in the US (where we are now) or move back to France (from where we moved in 2006)…and we spent the last two months in France doing just that…my results are similar to above, though I’d say food costs are much cheaper in France if you cook from scratch/organic/healthy etc… Here in Texas we have not much local fruit and veggie, so we pay much higher than in France, but that may not be the case everywhere. Gasoline/Petrol added in would tilt towards the US as prices are cheaper, but our cars use MUCH more and distances are often further here than in France.

Our decision is to stay here in the US for now….but it was not made on economic reasons. It would be cheaper for us to live in France–two adults and three young children–and we’d have more vacation time (about double). For now, we’ll stay here, but we’ll still be looking at the issue to see when/if it makes sense to move and we are lucky to have the choice!

4 Kelly July 17, 2009

In my experience, salaries are much lower in France than in the United States, at least in terms of the money that you actually take home. Not to mention that in France, taxes are calculated separately from paychecks, rather than being deducted, so that is another factor to take into account.

In France, health insurance deductions are taken from pretax pay, and if the employer has a private health plan, then deductions are much less- my husband's plan covers all 5 of us for less than €40 per month.

The government also covers a lot of things like childcare subsidies, back to school expenses, and so on, which are very important especially for low income people, as it ensures that while they might be poor, at least they have health care, school supplies for their kids and so on.

That said, the difference in salary is important between the two countries- my husband and I would earn at least twice as much in the US (or even the UK) as we do here. As a reference point, a public school teacher here, with no dependents, takes home about €1300 here.

5 Kika July 18, 2009

I lived in England for a year and a half years ago and two of my sisters just moved back to Canada from England after having lived there for 17 ys and 8 ys. We found the cost of living there crazy compared to Canada and I’d always assumed it would be similar to France. There are some bonuses in the UK that we experienced, though, (apart from the shopping, in my sisters’ opinions), namely, that post-secondary education was provided for us virtually free of cost after three years living there (with a UK entry clearance). I came back home to go to school and came out with about $35,000 in student loans while my older sister remained in England and received her education debt-free. The other thing I remember being considerably cheaper was junk food! Not very helpful 🙂

6 Mickey July 18, 2009

It’s very interesting that Paris rated so well (so low!) in the cost-of-living comparison. As a traveler, I find Paris much easier on the pocketbook than New York City – and I’ve been to both cities often enough to know how to find bargains. I have yet to find a decent hotel room in New York for less than $100, but a perfectly clean, safe room in Paris for about 75 € is possible.

But for cost-of-living – like Kelly, I live in Grenoble and find the cost of living here “out in the provinces” significantly cheaper than Paris. Paris salaries are higher, but so is the cost of everything else, as my Parisian friends have noted. And Grenoble has a pretty high cost-of-living when compared to other areas I’m told.

I was quite surprised to realize, when I went house-hunting in Grenoble, that although real estate prices were way less than those in Silicon Valley where I last lived (California is way off the map when comparing real estate), they were pretty comparable with those in the Rochester, New York area – and were quite a bit higher than those in other parts of New York State where I have lived before.

My own cost-of-living in Grenoble is comparable to what it was for me in Silicon Valley, more expensive in some ways and less expensive in others. My electric bill here is staggering. Electric heat? Whose bright idea was that? (France gets a significant amount of electricity from nuclear power, BTW. I’m old enough to remember the promise of a future with “electricity from nuclear power, too cheap to meter.” Ha!)

7 Abigail July 18, 2009

I have to say, it sounds like the guy knows what he’s talking about. And it makes moving to Europe sound all the more appealing by the minute. Especially the health care issue.

Too bad he doesn’t seem to realize that our health care system is “the best in the world” and any socialized medicine is evil and will clearly let seniors and such die rather than provide them with the proper care.

Seriously, how much work is it to move to France? I’m sure I can pick up French okay. Tim will learn. Sigh.
.-= Abigail´s last blog ..Debt first, kids later? =-.

8 The Frugal New Yorker July 20, 2009

Very cool! I look forward to reading “A Tale of Two Budgets” right away. I’ve lived in both NYC and Paris, and most of this seems right to me. Phone/Internet seems to be totally off, though–don’t know where such a plan was when I was looking for internet services in Paris! I ended up piggybacking on someone else’s wireless because I couldn’t afford the 35 euros per month for Internet–cost for TV and phone didn’t even enter into the picture! Also, as a renter, electricity costs killed me in Paris–you usually don’t have to pay that in NYC.

Transportation in Paris was even cheaper for me than the prices quoted, though–the French gov. heavily subsidizes most student expenses. Also, I couldn’t agree more about the cost-value of food (from markets or restaurants) being better in Paris! The French believe that their land has quasi-magical properties that produce high-quality food (they call it their “terroire”), and I think they’re right!
.-= The Frugal New Yorker´s last blog ..I can make that cheaper… =-.

Previous post:

Next post: