Many people first come to Korea for financial reasons-the free airfare and housing, low taxes, cheap healthcare and decent salary make it possible to save up to $1500 USD per month in some cases. Perhaps you have debts back home to pay off, or are saving up for a big trip around the world or to go back to grad school. It really is possible to save a lot of money and set yourself up for financial success during your time in South Korea. Here are my top 5 frugal living in Korea tips from the book, The Wealthy English Teacher to help you get started on the path towards financial freedom.
Choose Your Friends Wisely
A common saying is that you similar to the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. Intuitively, we know that the people around us can subtlety influence our thinking and spending decisions. The best kind of people that you could hang around with are the locals, or other teachers who make a similar amount of money to you and are focused on paying off their debts or saving money also. The locals will have the best tips for how to live well, cheaply and will usually know the best value restaurants, shopping spots and local markets for groceries. Other expats who are in the same situation as you will appreciate social activities and time spent together that do not require large outlays of cash.
Food and Eating
Eating out in Korea is affordable, but it will be significantly cheaper to cook and eat at home than to eat out. I recommend going “local” by eating the basics, things like fruit, vegetables, eggs, and rice. Learning to cook is really easy and a skill that will be extremely beneficial in your life, both in terms of living frugally as well as for your health. YouTube can work some magic for you! Search for “Food + How to Cook/Make.” Here in South Korea, things like kimchi chigae (kimchi stew), pajeon (green onion pancake) or kimchi bokumbap (kimchi fried rice) are extremely easy to make and you can find the ingredients very cheaply at local shops.
Part of the reason you came overseas was probably to see a new part of the world and experience a different culture. However, if you have significant amounts of debt, you actually have no business jet-setting around the world and the best path for you to a debt free life and financial freedom in the future should be the “stay-cation.” No matter how you spin it (couch-surfing, a great deal on a plane ticket, shared hostels, only street food), a vacation abroad is going to eat up significant amounts of money, which should be going towards your debt payments. A stay-cation really is not such a bad option, especially if you are new to a place. Explore your city, hang out with friends, or start a little project that you have been putting off.
I love a good expat bar. Nice import beers on tap, greasy bar food, staff that speak English, good music, trivia nights and all my friends can be found in one place. Who wouldn’t love it? They are dangerous for anyone trying to save money because before you know it, the night is over and you have spent 50,000 Won or more on food and drink and you might also have an expensive taxi ride home. If you like to indulge in a drink or two, a far better plan for you is the “7-11 Bar” or the “Beach Bar” if you live in a coastal city like I do. Convenience stores here sell all sorts of local and imported beer and they usually have picnic tables or patio furniture set up outside the store where you can hang out and drink.
Choose Your Hobbies Wisely
Just as choosing your friends wisely is important, you should also choose your hobbies very carefully. The best ones are free, or “free-ish.” By “free-ish,” I mean the ones like a board game or book club at a coffee shop where you are only expected to buy a cup of coffee, or a hiking club where the expense is just for transportation to and from the mountain, or a hobby that requires an Internet connection, which you already pay for every month. Some hobbies which I would recommend include:
Board Games: Find some friends or a board game club in your town and enjoy playing games together. Some of my favorites are: King of Tokyo (beginner), Settlers of Catan or Small World (intermediate) and Puerto Rico or Pandemic (advanced).
Reading: You can expand your mind while not opening up that wallet. Of course, you should not be buying your books online or at expensive bookstores. Instead, most towns with a decent number of expats have a book-swap or a take-one leave-one spot. If you can find a book club, it is even better because you can do some socializing in the process.
Exercise: If you can walk or bike as your main form of moving from one place to the other, you will save a lot of money and get some exercise in the process. Otherwise, there are plenty of things you can do that do not involve spending money (avoid the gym–it can get expensive!) to stay healthy. Some of my favorite free exercises include videos at home (Yoga videos, or Jillian Michaels), running, hiking or swimming in the ocean in summer.
Media: By media, I mean things that you can get for free or cheap online with an Internet connection such as podcasts, movies, books, music, and TV shows.
About Jackie Bolen
Jackie Bolen is the author of the book, The Wealthy English Teacher which is available on Amazon. She has been living in Korea for the past 10 years and now works at a major university in beautiful Busan. You can find all her projects at www.jackiebolen.com