Let’s talk about MON-EY! This is something you may want to read if you are planning to move to South Korea or you are already here and want to know how to save a bit of money each month. If you’re here for any other reason, then welcome! Come along on this blog journey with me. I’m not the best money saver, but I know how to be frugal when I need to be (my bank account is scoffing at me right now). So, if you like money, let’s talk about how to keep more of it in your bank!
1. Drink Less Coffee
Coffee can really set you back here in Korea. A coffee from a major coffee chain can cost between 4,000 and 6,000 KRW. That might be half of your hourly wage, depending on where you work.
While I was working full time, I felt too sleepy to care about the daily caffeine expense adding up in my bank account. Eventually, I decided to deal with instant coffee in the mornings which led me to give up coffee altogether. I now only drink coffee when I’m at a cafe on the weekend. I’ve learned that it’s better to save cafe trips for a weekly trip rather than forking out each day.
Coffee Tip: If you’re looking for a place to study or work, many cafes in Seoul are really happy for you to sit there for hours without ordering more drinks. I like to do this, that way when I buy a coffee for $6 or $7, I feel as though I am paying for a cosy place to sit in addition to the actual drink.
2. Walk the extra distance to the supermarket and avoid the convenience stores
Convenience Stores are just that: convenient. They’re great if you’re on the go and you need a snack or a drink. Unfortunately, you do have to pay the price for the convenience as everything is pretty expensive. Popping out during work hours, or dashing to the convenience store late at night can end up being a bad money habit.
When you’re shopping for food at your grocery store, take into account the snacks you might be buying regularly from the convenience store and buy them in bulk at the supermarket. Buying fruits for slicing, packs of yoghurt or boxes of muesli bars can really save you money. Plus, it’s a great way to stay on top of your healthy eating!
3. Cook Large Portions / Eating In
This is obviously not exclusive to South Korean living, but just a reminder. Whether you’re cooking large batches of pasta sauce or vegetables you love to eat regularly, you will end up saving a lot of money. Also, your tired body will thank you when future-you doesn’t feel like cooking.
What I like to do is buy big veggies like pumpkins, broccoli and sweet potatoes and cook them all at once. I then just store them in the fridge and add them to my plate throughout the week. It can be hard to get the right amount of vegetables into your daily diet here in Korea. Veggies are usually mixed in with sugary sauces or spicy side dishes. If you’re a simpleton like me, you may just want to eat a bowl of vegetables without the flavour explosions.
4. Invest in Vitamins
Koreans like to work hard which gives its workers little time to rest their bodies. This might leave you in a battle with your immune system, especially if you are travelling here to teach English. Invest in vitamins you think you might need (I don’t want to give unauthorised advice) because they may be cheaper than prescriptions and trips to the doctor’s office in the long run. Although medicine is quite cheap here, I often found myself buying a lot more of it than I would in Australia. It all adds up.
Take care of your body, sleep well, and don’t be tempted by the cheap prices of alcohol. Trust me, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.
Exercise is the last thing you’ll want to do if you’re working full time in Korea. It gets even harder to stay motivated when the temperature starts to drop. But hear me out, exercise and taking care of your health is a great investment and is a way to save money. Here are my thoughts: When you exercise, you will feel more energised, so you may not need to spend that $7 on coffee. When you feel good, you feel less inclined to eat Doritos between meals, so fewer trips to the convenience store. You won’t have to buy new clothes each season when you don’t feel good in your current wardrobe, which means fewer trips to the clothing stores.
Not convinced? Well, if you live in Korea, you’re bound to end up on a hike at some point (Koreans really love to hike!) Otherwise, just try and find ways to keep your exercise fun! I personally love watching ‘Yoga with Adriene’ and ‘Chloe Ting’ on YouTube for my indoor workouts!
6. Don’t Give in to Temptations
Any corner you turn in Seoul will lead to a strategically placed beauty store, jewellery shop or cheap clothing store. It’s hard to resist, especially if you’re having a low moment or the outfit you’re wearing isn’t as cute as the one in the store window. But, you must resist. Overtime, justifying these purchases can really add up. If there are things you actually need, plan what you will buy before you know you’re going to be running into these temptations!
7. Plan Your Travel Properly
This is a tip that applies to any ex-pat, in any country, because travel is inevitable. If you’re planning a trip to the countryside or to the other side of the world, plan your dates, times, and bookings well. Cancelling plans, re-booking, and unexpected costs can end up costing a lot of money. I am going through a travel-related debacle as we speak, so I thought it necessary to add this into the mix!
8. Fast Fashion = Fast Way to Lose Money
We all know this. We’re smart people. Shopping at fast fashion stores is a fast way to lose money (as well as being a terrible waste of human rights laws and environmental standards). Yet, we still find ourselves justifying those one-off purchases because we really need them. However, as a person on a low income, it’s often not financially viable to ‘invest’ in better quality pieces. This is why second-hand stores like ‘Vin Prime’ are a great place to get long-lasting pieces at a lower cost.
In my opinion, being on a lower budget gives you the daily challenge of putting beautiful outfits together with things you have owned for a long time. My advice: unfollow anyone on Instagram who makes you want to buy new clothes. Don’t do it right now, just keep it in mind the next time you’re scrolling through mindlessly!
9. Frozen fruits
This is a weird one, but hear me out. Fruit and veg are quite expensive in Korea, in my opinion. I think this comes down to the fact that most of it is imported. Or, if it’s cheap, you have to buy in large quantities. Either way, you can end up throwing out a lot of fresh produce. It is much better to do more frequent trips to the market than to buy a lot of produce once a week.
Alternatively, frozen fruits are simple, just chuck them in your morning porridge and you’re able to get your daily fruit intake without having to throw out mouldy fruits each week.
Find a job you’re happy with and know that being under-appreciated and overworked is a recipe for disaster and will make you buy shoes at zara that are too small for you
I have recently left my English teaching job here in Seoul. I was getting paid well, enjoyed teaching children, and also had a great rapport with my co-workers (I hope). However, the long hours (9am – 6pm), the micromanagement, the monthly deadlines, and overall lack of appreciation meant that I burnt out BIG time.
I was perpetually exhausted, kept making the same trip to the overpriced hospital (I worked in the Gangnam area so everything was more expensive), I felt unmotivated in other areas of my life, rarely got a holiday and was basically just going to Coex (a big shopping mall) after work to remind myself of the life I wanted to lead in order to keep going. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy teaching, it’s something that I am still passionate about. However, being under-appreciated and overworked is a recipe for disaster.
For me, leaving my job was the best financial decision I made this year. It motivated me to save enough to live off while I looked for work and gave me the freedom to enjoy a break in an exciting city like Seoul. Now that I am happier and more in control of my life (whatever that means), I don’t feel the need to carelessly spend money on things that bring instant gratification. I don’t go out to the convenience store every second day to buy snacks to keep my energy levels up and now I have so much time to find new hobbies and return to my old ones. Oh, and I finally got around to improving my Korean like I said I would in January!
I enjoyed my job and my duties, but the additional responsibilities that came with it were not worth the toll placed on my health and happiness. If you are feeling the same way in your job, I urge you to motivate yourself to find a way to get out of it. I am making clearer decisions, enjoying doing odd jobs and spending quality time with my new husband. While I am still looking for work, I’m not worried about money because I know how happy I was when I made the decision to leave my job.
This isn’t to say ‘go and quit your job immediately’, but rather to think about a plan of attack, and find a way out that will help you breathe easier. I actually enjoyed going to work a lot more in my last two months (I had to give 60 days notice), because I knew it would be over soon. I soaked in every moment and got the most out of my time there. Although it can be comforting to get a monthly salary, it doesn’t feel as rewarding when the work is making you exhausted.
I’m sorry to end this post on a rather sour note there, but I do think it is important to discuss in case anyone else is experiencing these issues! The money game is a challenging one and it’s important that we don’t beat ourselves up when we make the odd spending mistake. If you’re interested in money matters, I really love the YouTube channel ‘The Financial Diet’. Since I started watching them, I have had a better relationship with money and I find their content super relevant and engaging!
To read more about life in Seoul, here are some of my favourite articles from my blog:
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Have a great day and stay warm!