How To Be Frugal In South Korea

One of the best things about teaching in Korea is the pay. We’re all friends here, so we can go ahead and say that the nice paycheck we get monthly from EPIK is definitely one of the perks and main reasons some expats never leave Korea. I was already at the ripe age of 25 when I first moved to Korea, so I’d already had a string of jobs under my belt and some experience with handling my money.

Saving money

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However, all of my money saving ways went out the window the moment I moved to South Korea. I was living rent-free, my bills were pennies compared to American bills, and entertainment in Korea is plentiful and cheap. Needless to say, I blew quite a bit of money the first few months here. Once I hit the 7 month mark and started to actually calculate how much I’d saved thus far, I was more than disappointed with the amount I had splurged. I had to make a few changes, and although they were small changes that hardly affected my day to day life in Korea, they helped me save immensely. It is, after all, the little things that add up which become huge chunks of cash. I decided to cut all the little extras and trim some of the fat from my expenses. These 5 easy changes will help you become a more frugal expat in Korea.

Ditch Your Morning Mixed Coffee

Skipping the purchase of my daily morning mixed coffee from the convenience store was the best change I’ve made because it not only cut an easy (and wasteful) expense from my wallet; it also cut a few hundred harmful calories from my diet. By no means am I a calorie counter, and you can read any one of my foodie articles to prove it, but these easy to drink mixes are pure sugar, syrup, water, and more sugar. I can’t read the Korean language so I can’t prove my theory right, but I’m pretty sure somewhere on the bottle it says, “Contains zero coffee, caffeine, or any identifiable ingredients.” These coffees are pretty cheap at maybe $1.50 each, and it’s easy to buy these when you realize Korea’s coffee shops aren’t open during the morning work rush. My advice is to purchase instant coffee or tea on iHerb that contains no sugar or cream and make a cup at work every morning. Your wallet and blood sugar levels will love you for this change.

Take Buses Instead Of Cabs

This one gets me every time. Before moving to Korea, I used to live in Texas where cab rides were hard to find and expensive. Maybe I wasn’t paying the price a New Yorker would pay, but it would still take a good chunk from my paycheck when I wanted to head downtown in a cab for a night of fun. Korean cab rides are cheap (even if they aren’t safe), so I fell victim to a bad habit of sleeping in late on work days and hopping in a cab to get to school rather than wake up 30 minutes earlier and walk to a bus stop.

While each ride wasn’t obviously breaking the bank, I began to realize that each little innocent cab ride was slowly adding up to an amount I’m too embarrassed to admit out loud. The only way to break this habit and begin saving my cab fares was to become a morning person. Now, I do whatever it takes to make sure I’m up early enough to catch the bus each morning – even if that means setting 10 alarms for myself.

Shop For Quality Not Quantity

My one true vice in Korea has been shopping. I love the tightly packed shops with unique and interesting items for sale like t-shirts with strange English in bold letters or caps with strangely worded expletives. Korea’s shopping scene thrives off the young and naïve thinking they are getting a deal at the stalls which sell sun dresses and shoes for remarkably low prices. The truth is buying these cheap goods actually cost you more money than you save because the quality is appallingly poor. It doesn’t matter how cute and cheap those kitty cat overalls are, put them down because they’ll only last a month or two before falling apart in your washer. My advice for other shopaholics in Korea is to stick to splurging on pieces that are of high quality and can be used often in your wardrobe, and don’t forget to keep the extreme seasons in mind when shopping.

Enjoy Western Restaurants And Pubs In Moderation

“Authentic” western restaurants and bars tend to be overpriced because they’re considered trendy in Korea. Depending on where you go, it’s not outrageous to assume you’re going to pay upwards of $15.00 for a cheeseburger and fries. My advice is to go on nights that aren’t as popular or to check out a restaurant’s Facebook page for promotions and discounts. As for western booze, there’s really not much you can do about the prices of imported alcohol other than try to find pubs and bars that have happy hours. I’d say the best way to cut back on these expenses is to enjoy them in moderation rather than making them a common weekend ritual.

Find Free Festivals And Events

The best way to find free entertainment is to follow VisitKorea.or.kr where Korean festivals and other forms of entertainment are posted. The website does have an English option so there’s no need to hassle your co-teacher for help finding things to do on the website. You can also try to find your city’s Facebook page for expats where people post events that are local to your area. The free events that occur throughout Korea are a great way to have fun and still save your hard earned cash.

If you live in Korea, what are some of the small expenses you cut back on to stay frugal? Tell us in a comment below!

 

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