Paris Pas Cher: 8 Money-Saving Tips for Paris

poulet rôti

When I moved to Paris, I was pretty shocked at how expensive things were. And I don’t mean Louis Vuitton suitcases or Kelly bags. Something as simple as a sponge at the supermarket would cost 4€ or a plastic storage container at the BHV might run you 15€ around here.

Ouch!

Then I learned about the Paris pas cher stores all over town. Although concentrated mostly in the less-chic neighborhoods, they’re sort of ‘catch-all’ shops that sell everything from scissors, thongs, cookware, hammers, luggage, shampoo, and old Nicole Kidman movies she made when she was a teenager.

I’ve found they’re great places to scratch your shopping itch. You never know what you’re going to find exactly, but they’re great fun to wander through and see what they’ve got if you pass one. You’ll know you’ve found when if there’s lots of stuff hanging from the ceiling, stacked out front, and piled high if you peek inside. Frequently there’s an overwhelming smell of insecticide or mothballs, but you get used to it after a few years, I guess. (Judging from the people who run them, who seem to be oblivious.)

Paris pas cher, in case you didn’t know, means ‘Paris Not Expensive’, and the term is also used to denote bargains in the city. Since the dollar is tanking, I thought I’d share a few of my money-saving tips with you I’ve learned along the way:

Drink Like a Parisian

If you’re sitting in a café, you’ll notice that few people are drinking soda. Most are lingering over tiny coffees, which cost about 2€ instead. You can stay as long as you want without having to order anything else once you’ve finished, no matter what you ordered. My theory is people order coffee because it’s the cheapest thing you can get. I’m often guilty of that too. (If they ask you to pay, it’s usually because the waiters are changing shifts, so don’t fell obligated to split.)

Standing at the counter cuts the prices roughly in half so if you’re just looking for a quick thirst-quencher or a shot of caffeine, you might want to stand.

(I’m a total rube myself. One of my first times in Paris, I ordered a coffee at the counter, then carried it over to a table. That got quite a response!)

In a café, order wine by the carafe which is usually drinkable and inexpensive. Don’t feel like you need to spend a lot of money on wine in a regular restaurant either. Unlike in America, it’s easy to find good wines in the 15-25€ range. Don’t be afraid to order the Vin du mois or something they’re featuring.


Don’t Take Breakfast at Your Hotel

Although it’s tough to get a bargain outta ‘em (faire un prix), when looking for a hotel, ask if they’ll include breakfast. Winter is notoriously slow and they may include it if you ask. This is especially true if the breakfast offered is just going to be a ‘continental’ breakfast: bread and coffee, which isn’t worth the extra 12€ they might be charging.

If you don’t take the breakfast, you can always go to the café on the corner for your petit dejeuner, although sometimes it’s nice just to stumble in your jet-lagged daze downstairs to the lobby for coffee.

Eat Out!

There’s lot of top-notch restaurants in Paris where you can get a terrific…no, make that superb…three-course meal for 30€ including tax and tip. I ate at one last night, and had a salad of cured quail on a bed of lentilles de Puy. That was followed by slices of moist rabbit loin on a rectangle of baked macaroni and cheese, which was finished up by a warm crêpe filled with homemade bitter orange marmalade and a scoop of housemade ice cream. Our wine was a 22€ bottle from the Savoie.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any restaurant in San Francisco or New York that offers a three-course meal with wine for less than $50pp, including wine, tax and tip. If you avoid the high-end places, there’s great bargains in Paris.

Most restaurants and cafés offer specially-priced formulas for lunch. A simple corner café lunch can be had for around 12€ and even the high-end places have fixed-priced menus that are much more affordable than at dinnertime.

Buy What You Can’t Get At Home

At almost any bakery, no matter where you go in Paris, a croissant or freshly-baked baguette costs less than one euro, and I defy you to find either of those in any major US city for the same price. And there’s little that’s comparable to a Pierre Hermé dessert or little sack of bitter chocolate macarons from Ladurée, no matter what the price.

Other things native to France that are well-priced: Parisian chocolates, sea salt such as fleur de sel, wine, and raw milk cheeses.

(For cheese-lovers, there’s the very friendly Fromagerie 31 at 64, rue de Seine, that offers degustation plates of 5, 7 or 9 cheeses, which you’re invited to choose from their selection, which includes a salad as well, starting at less than 10€ Wine is available by the glass too. (Update: As of April 2010, Fromgerie 31 is closed.)

And while you’re in Europe, eat Spanish Iberico ham and lomo, and foie gras. (I recommend Bellotta-Bellotta and da rosa.) Since they’re illegal or prohibited in some places, eating them at any price is a bargain.

Get The Discount

Although the dollar is weak, you can shop in department stores, taking advantage of their 10% discount cards for tourists (bring your passport to prove it), then you can take the de-tax of 12% if you spend around 170€. While the math proves it’s still not a huge bargain, there’s many items, especially clothes and housewares, unavailable elsewhere that you’ll find here that you can’t get in the states.

If you’re into clothing, there’s great depot-vente‘s, or used clothing shops, around Paris and a search of Google will pull up addresses. Don’t mind the snooty attitudes in some of the places. Just like us, the people working there couldn’t afford to wear new couture either!

Two favorites:

Alternatives
18, rue du Roi de Sicile (4th)
T: 01 42 78 31 50 (M: St. Paul)

Chercheminippes
Various addresses on the rue Cherche Midi, in the 6th

Don’t Get Crazy

In your effort to save money, spend where it’s important.

If it’s late and you’re wiped out, spring for a taxi home rather than killing yourself taking the métro late at night. If you’ve had a rough day of museum-hopping, or shopping, sit in a café with that overpriced Coca Light and watch the world go by. You’ll pay for it, but the experience is quintessentially Parisian and priceless.

It’s not worth ruining your vacation to try to save a few bucks.

Shop the Flea Market

In my opinion, the Porte de Clignancourt flea market, which is the most famous, is nothing more than a high-end antique mall. And an expensive one at that. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth visiting unless you’re looking for something chic and pricey. You might disagree, but from what I’ve seen, the prices are outrageous. And watch your pockets up there too.

Lesser-known to tourists is the Porte de Vanves flea market, which is a real flea market. Much more so than Clignancourt, and a lot more fun to poke around in. Your money will go farther there, but some of the dealers drive a very hard bargain, especially when they get a whiff of our anglo-accent.

Still, there’s some really cool stuff, a little bit of everything, and bargains can be found and a bit persistence can pay off. It’s harder to bargain with large bills and no one seems to have change ever, so come prepared.

Buy a Navigo

If you’re coming for a week, you can buy a Carte Navigo for around 16€ that gives you unlimited rides on the métro, buses, and RER’s within Paris. Intended for residents, most tourist have no trouble buying one at the ticket counter. Bring a stamp-sized photo of yourself and the cards can be bought Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday and are good for that week, from Monday morning through Sunday night. You can also get a Paris Visite card good for 1, 2, 3 or 5 days. Although if you want a one-day card, it’s more economical to get a Carte Mobilis instead.

Or you can buy a carnet of 10 tickets, priced at about €12, which can be used anytime.

If you’ve got any tips to share, feel free to share them in the comments.
I’d love to hear them.

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26 comments

  • so do we get to see a picture of you in your Paris Pas Cher Thong?

  • Thank you for the great tips! I’ll be in Paris in September!!! (very much looking forward to my trip…)

  • Um…personally I’ll pass on the thong. I bet David will too.

  • I think that the Paris Museum Pass is a good savings in both money and time, because it covers admission plus gives you priority access. Less time standing in lines, more time sitting in cafes, shopping, etc. Link: http://www.parismuseumpass.fr/

  • If you come to brussel once, i’ll give you some good address in brussel, it’s just a little more than 1 hour of Paris by Train and we are chocolate & beer country ;-)

    thansk for the good address

  • Funny, your description of the Paris-for-less tawdriness still sounds so….elegant.

    I’m looking forward to Paris someday.
    Yes! I want the bars, baguettes and flea markets.

  • We’re always trying to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the proverbial dollar, so when we’re visitng (as opposed to living) in Paris, I always find that it is cheaper to rent an apartment for a week rather than to pay hotel bills – that way, we can do our own cooking, which brings down expenses VERY quickly when you are a family. Plus you generally get more space. Some agencies I have had luck with are: http://www.yellowstay.com ; http://www.lodgis.com ; the FUSAC ; Craigslist; and for those who speak french, ads through PAP (locations saisonnieres). Many of the agency apartments now come with high-speed internet and phones.

    Also – don’t underestimate the financial and cultural benefits of WALKING. If you stay in a hotel or apartment that is located in one of the central arrondissements (in particular, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th) then you can walk relatively easily to almost all of the main museums/cultural attractions in Paris…and not only do you save money spent on metro tickets, but you also get to know the city much better, and improve your fitness. Plus, you will be astounded to discover that the distances are often much smaller than you would think from just looking at a map. And you will be immensely flattered when someone stops you on the street and asks you for directions!!!

  • The museum pass is good, unless you’re unlucky enough (like we were) to be in Paris one year during museum strikes. Or as they put it on the signs…rough translation….’certain employees were in discussions’ :)

  • Lorna:

    That’s how I felt when the metro-ticket machine charged my carte bleu/credit card 10.9 euros, but didn’t give me any tickets, and there’s no way to get a refund (or dispute the charges.)

    And in the words of Miss Diana Ross, “…and there ain’t nuthin’ you can do about it.”

  • For a more fulfilling Flea Market experience, I have come to prefer the Brocantes that seem to roam the city. You once linked to a site for those, didn’t you?

  • Vicky is spot on: Rent an apartment and walk. My husband and I came back from Paris several pounds lighter and yes, the distances are much shorter than they seem.

  • How timely. We leave tonight for our annual Valentine’s Day trek to Paris, and I am acutely aware of the dollar’s sad loss of value. Thanks!

  • Had I known some of these nice hints before… :-) I was in Paris a long time ago… and I found out that I could not eat well because I could not speak French, and consequently could not read the menu! So once we pointed to someone else’s table and said to the waiter: “We want that, merci” instead of please! Anyways, being able to stay for as long as you want in a café is sooo nice. Not sure if this happens there, but here you just take your time to order, enjoy your drinks and then food comes, not right away like in some places. I read your blog every day. And some of the cooking hints you’ve shown I have applied to my cooking and also I have spread the word on my blog. Thanks!

  • You’re making me want to travel.

  • hi david, great tips, thanks. luckily, i wasn’t aware you had to be a resident for the carte orange, (or i might have had one of those ‘cheese shop’ moments :)

    i would definitely agree with the advice of renting an apartment. much cheaper than a hotel, you can save so much on meals, and have a true ‘parisian experience’ as well.

    i would add to your recommendations the ‘batobus’. for those not familiar, it’s a hop-on-hop-off type of bateau mouche on the seine. one week’s unlimited voyages is 16 euros. it stops at many of the main attractions along the river, and it’s a great way to get around, or to just enjoy the ride!

    also, on rue mouffetard, the rotisserie chicken meals are so cheap … for only 2-3 euros you can feed two!

  • Very well timed, indeed – I have family coming in for the first time and I need to march the group through your city soon. This has already saved me for the 3 day trip…

    More more more!
    But I’m not ready to know about the thong.

  • Returning home from the boulangerie this morning (as I do EVERY morning), I thought I should mention that visitors to Paris wanting to save money (and, often equally critically, time) can also do very well at lunch time by eating the ‘formule’ offered in many of the bakeries. A typical formule – which might be, say, 5 or 6 euros – will provide you with a hearty sandwich (made with baguette, or you might have the option of a ‘suedois’, which is made with a round bread I *think* is limpa), a simple pastry (e.g., an eclair), and a coffee or a soft-drink. This is the indigenous version of ‘fast food’, and many cuts above what is available in North American food courts.

    I tend to stick to the places which provide chairs and tables, but some smaller places only have a stand-up counter. There are dozens (not doubt hundreds!!!) of bakeries offering ‘formules’ Monday-Friday in the central arrondissements, sevice is snappy (unlike in many cafes, where there is one server and a gazillion customers), the sandwiches can be really quite delicious, and the quantity of food is adequate to keep my 6’2″ husband happy until it is time for a high-end mid-afternoon pastry stop.

  • Please tell me the name of the restaurant where you had that gorgeous meal. I promise I won’t tell anyone.

  • I’ve seen those early Kidmans on IFC-usually she’s a naughty schoolgirl climbing over walls to meet her beaux..you didn’t miss much.
    I’m thrilled to hear about the Fromagerie 31, just down from my hotel.
    I’ve gazed in their windows many a time.

    Next visit I’ll pluck up my courage
    and get a plate o’ fromage..

    Tip:Buy the museum pass on Wednesdays.
    Start at the D’orsay and get it over with.
    But end up at the Louvre, which is open till 9 on Wednesdays and not very crowded by then.
    I like the ready-made salads at Monoprix for room picniques..after overspending in the patisseries all day.

  • David..

    So many great tips. I buy the Carte Orange and Museum Pass…always! And I totally agree with you about the Clignacourt Flea Market! Just to add a few tips of my own….

    Lunch prix-fixe menus are less expensive than dinner, so I make lunch my big meal. Polidor is one of my fav’s…you get a 3 course lunch with a demi pichet of red wine for about 15euro! I try to look for small places, not in the city center. The food and prices are generally better.

    L’As du Fallafel…a fallafel for 4 euro..fills you up for hours while walking around the Marais!

    I visit any street market, buy a baguette, cheese, fresh fruit and a small bottle of wine..take it to any great setting and enjoy an inexpensive meal.

  • Hi David-
    “Paris Pas Cher” is not a chain of stores but a guide of the same name that comes out every year. It offers a round up of the best-priced stores in an around Paris. They give stickers to the featured stores, which is what you see on shop windows (and that’s why you’ll also see years mentioned, referring to the edition(s) in which the store was mentioned.) There are also listings for all sorts of services, which can be quite helpful.
    Cheers

  • Hi Haapi: Yes, I know. But Paris pas cher is a term folks use for those terrific little stores that are jam-packed with all that cool stuff: cookware, tools, kitchen tools, clothing, etc…in addition to the name of that guide book as well. Which I should probably buy!

  • Great tips, thanks David. Was resigned to having only 1 heavenly meal a day in Paris in Mai. Will be wandering around the city with your list of cafes/restaurants/places to do!

  • Mmmmm France, my country, that’s funny how seing it as a tourist is way more delightful :) I would say that your stories are really close to the french reality, taking a small coffee with a “croissant pur beurre” at the “terrasse” to start the day, was one of my favorite thing to do! I would say that if you really want to discover the old Paris, you need to get lost in the “arrondissements” of the centre of the town! “Le Marais” is one of my favorite area, go to “rue des archives” and walk around, small streets and buildings that seem to be falling… If you really really like cheese go to a “savoyard” restaurant, nothing better than melted mountain cheese with white wine mmm

    Talking about expensive prices, don’t only go the corner shop, especially the one open at night and after midnight, it’s useful yes but 3 or 4 time more expensive than any other food store & not necessary good quality products!
    Other and last advice, do you like tea? My favorite but really expensive brand is “Mariage Frères“, it’s the most flavourful i have ever experienced! (32 rue du Bourg-Tibourg, Paris 4e)

    Take care :)

  • Hi David,

    Thanks so much for the great tips!

    I was wondering if you might be able to provide info on where to find the “Paris Pas Cher” stores? I tried looking online, but it only gives info about a guidebook and not about any of the stores.

    Thanks so much for any help you can offer – it is very much appreciated!

  • There’s many of them located on the rue de Belleville, up in the 10th.