We’re Frances and Moe, and we left everything behind in the UK to create our dream life in France. We are currently in the midst of renovating a beautiful old stone house in the heart of the French countryside, with the aim to be as sustainable and self-sufficient as possible. Here is our story…
Figuring out what we truly wanted
After being together for a little while, we quickly learnt the typical 9-5 job and big mortgage was not for us. We craved so much more – freedom, adventure.. we wanted to enjoy our life, all of it, and not feel tied down having to constantly work for a life that we didn’t actually want. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the marketing, what other people are doing, what friends and family say you should be doing… you have to truly block out all the noise and discover what it is you really want. But often, that is not so easy. For us, we didn’t realise what we truly wanted for several years. We explored so many options before we ultimately made the move to France in early 2019.
One thing was clear to us from the start – we knew that we didn’t want to be tied down financially. We wanted a home that didn’t mean we had to work for the next 40 years to be able to pay it off. This led us to exploring van life, buying a boat, buying land to build ourselves, and finally: a cabin at the bottom of my parents garden. And for six months, we made all the plans, provisions, designed the cabin, even nearly ordered the cabin itself. However after doing the numbers again it became clear this lifestyle wouldn’t be as financially free as we thought we’d be. After much deliberating we drew a line under the cabin idea and went back to the drawing board. So what next?
I, Frances started looking at land to buy again, whilst Moe started looking up houses for sale in far flung places such as Australia and Canada. I told him to stop being so unhelpful and help me look for somewhere in the UK. He proceeds to look at houses in France – of course – and we were both drawn to the completely affordable houses. We revelled at the places we could afford, the old stone buildings, huge barns and acres and acres of land! All for the price of a deposit on a tiny 2 bedroom house in our home county of Kent. Sure, the houses needed a LOT of work, but we still couldn’t believe the prices. After a bit of fun, we closed the tabs and that was that.
Could moving to France really be possible for us?
A conversation with my mum about the prices of the houses in France a couple of weeks later was when it all really started. My mum looked at me and said; why NOT move to France? It got me thinking, what is keeping us in the UK? Our dream home and life could be within arms reach, why not explore that? Moe and I sat down and seriously discussed the prospect of living in France. So many questions cropped up: what about work? What about the language barrier? Moe did speak a decent amount of French already, but what about me? What if we don’t like the area? We worked through each potential issue and came to the ultimate conclusion that there really wasn’t any issues at all, and that we should just go for it.
Working out our finances
Back in the UK, we were both self employed. Myself, as a wedding photographer, and Moe as a mechanic. We were very lucky to be able to both still live with family to keep expenses down. It was important to us to save for our own home, as quickly as we could. Together we had managed to save up about £40,000 over the years, working hard, making lots of sacrifices and being very careful with our money, in hopes one day it would all pay off.
House hunting begins in France
The big search for our future home begins. We first did our research on the different areas and what you could get for your money. It became very clear to us that the older, more rural countryside properties were the cheapest. It didn’t take us long to decide to narrow down our search to Normandy. Lots of affordable countryside homes with lots of land, still fairly close to the UK, and also a similar climate to the UK, perfect for us and our two dogs.
Once we had decided on Normandy, we began to obsessively check online for houses for sale, whittling down our favourites to a select few to visit. In October 2018, we went on a long day trip to France, visiting around 10 houses. We had a very specific list of requirements – a quiet, rural location, a property full of character, a a decent roof, a good amount of land.. we also had a budget of around £50,000, our £40k and then some inheritance money from family. We knew we had a lot of requirements, but somehow, on that first day we found our dream home.
Above: our house the day we first viewed it
Buying our home mortgage free
Our house was listed at €75,000 (£68,000 at the time), which although considerably over our budget, we were so impressed with what had already been done to the property. It’s very common in rural France to have your own septic tank, and many older properties either do not have one or have one that does not conform to standards. However a new septic tank had recently been installed on this property. A new second floor with bedroom and bathroom had also been completed, and the roof was in good condition. A new boiler had also been installed which meant we could realistically move in straight away. It’s common to offer low on renovation projects in France, so we decided to offer €55,000. They were happy to take €60,000 (£54,000) and so we accepted straight away. We received the keys 5 months later in March 2019!
Our plans for the house and lifestyle goals
We have so many plans and ideas for our future home and life. Since our house came as a mostly blank canvas, it has really given us free reign. It is important to us to have an energy efficient home, and we also would love to become fully self-sufficient in our energy usage one day. We would also love to be able to collect rainwater, creating all the potable and non-potable water that we need. We have our own septic tank so waste water is already taken care of on site. We want to grow and forage as much of our food as we can, to know where our food comes from and reduce our impact on the planet. Whenever we can, we always use what we already own, buy second hand, repair or up-cycle before buying new. When we do purchase new, we research thoroughly to pick the most sustainable option available to us.
Ultimately, we want to build a life that gives us freedom. Financial freedom, and freedom to be able to do what we want with our days. We want to be able to enjoy the home we’ve built and time with family and friends. We want to be able to go on spontaneous adventures, exploring this amazing place we call home.
How we make it work financially
In 2019, I continued to work as a wedding photographer in the UK, bringing in a decent income for us both to not only live off, but also get stuck into the renovations. Moe made working the house his full time job, as we found it would be more financially beneficial to do things this way. By doing the majority of the work ourselves, we have been able to keep costs low. The previous owners also left behind a lot of building materials, so we have been taking full advantage of those. We also always search for items second hand before buying new. As we have been renovating as we can afford it, and also since doing the work yourself is much slower than hiring in professionals, we found a great balance.
However, with the pandemic in 2020, the first half of the year slowed down for us. I watched nearly every single 2020 wedding of mine get postponed, one by one. We were unsure of the future, especially with finances, and decided to take a step back with the house. Come the summer, living in a building site started to get to us mentally. We decided to pick the work back up, taking the gamble of spending our money on the house instead of holding onto it. We knew we couldn’t continue to live in the dust and dirt for much longer and had to put our mental health first. My wedding photography work is very uncertain right now, so we are diversifying our income. This is one of the reasons we set up our online vintage shop, Stoneware Barn. Shopping second hand is a big passion of ours, so sharing the unique second hand vintage items we find here in France with the world is so rewarding.
Despite everything, we are determined – we don’t give up easily, and know we will make it work financially one way or another!
Above: our house in April 2020