With the rise in the price of oil and the decline in the value of the dollar, we are now paying $7.30 per U.S. gallon for diesel fuel at current exchange rates. That's €1.23 per liter, which is what SuperU was charging on Wednesday. If you go to a service station, you'll pay closer to $8.00 a gallon. A U.S. gallon is 3.79 liters.
Diesel fuel is still less expensive in France than gasoline (gas must be about $10.00 per gallon in U.S. terms) even though 70% of the cars sold here have diesel engines. When we arrived five years ago, diesel fuel was about €0.85/liter, or about $3.60 a gallon. So it has doubled.
Luckily, we don't drive much and don't need to. Let's not even talk about the cost of heating oil in dollar terms...
The prices of what are called produits de base — staples — at the supermarket have increased by anywhere from 25% to 50% recently. A liter of milk that was costing about 50¢ U.S. now costs $1.00. A kilogram of flour has gone from 40¢ to 75¢. Butter from $1.75 to $3.30 a pound.
About the only things that haven't gone sky-high are wine and fresh vegetables. I guess that's what we need to live on (and we do!). Meat prices haven't increased very much either, as far as I can tell. Of course, the gradual decline in the value of the dollar has made those prices increase as well, at least for people like us, who live on dollars.
If you have the time and the inclination to buy less expensive meats and vegetables when they are available and prepare your food from scratch, you can still live well and not spend a fortune. That's what we try to do. We hardly ever buy prepared food. Bread hasn't gone up much (at least in terms of euros; we pay 78 eurocents for a delivered baguette).
I have become a bargain shopper, that's for sure. I was always conscious of prices, even when we were both working in California and had good incomes. It seems silly to me to pay a higher price for something than it is worth. And what it is worth is the lowest price you can find, given good quality.
The French Finance Minister, in an interview last week, said there wasn't much the government could do about rising prices except look for instances of gouging and stop those. That's probably true. The was a lot of laughter when the minister suggested that consumers should make sure they are taking advantage of competition — in other words, shopping in one store for things that are cheaper there, and going to other stores to get the best prices offered in them.
Most people who work for a living just don't have time to shop in three or four different supermarkets every week and spend that much mental energy on comparing prices. I am lucky, because I do have time to do that, and I have five grocery stores within three or four miles of the house. And no traffic to fight.
SuperU in Saint-Aignan has nice produce and the best pork products. Intermarché over in Noyers has better beef and better prices on chicken, as well as pretty good produce. In both stores, you can buy produce in bulk, as much as you want, rather than in packages that contain more onions or garlic or whatever than you want to buy at one time.
Ed has the best milk at the best price, as well as good prices on cheese, ham, and other staples of our diet. The produce isn't generally that good, but now and then there are great specials on good fresh fruit and vegetables. Then there's Netto, another discount store that often has good specials, and Champion, which is kind of fallback option that I don't go to often.
It's nice that we don't have a hypermarché, or superstore, like the ones they have in Amboise, Loches, Blois, and Tours. I think a super-sized store — for example, E. Leclerc, Carrefour, Auchan, Géant — might kill off the local competition. That's never a good thing. Besides, I like the scale of the smaller markets.
Prices at the outdoor markets are a little higher, but often the quality seems higher too. For local goat cheeses, the best fish, nice ham and sausages, and locally grown, seasonal produce like strawberries and asparagus in the springtime, the farmers' market is the place to go. You pay a small premium, but it's worth it.