Okay readers, who likes money? You? Me? Everybody, right? Here’s how you’re going to be able to keep more of it in your wallet at the end of the month when you’re living in South Korea, working as an English teacher, studying or whatever.
101 Frugal Living in Korea Tips you Need in your Life
Respect the 10,000 Won
It’s how you become rich. A 10 here, a 10 there, it really adds up and before you know it, you’ve spent more than 50,000 that day. Think carefully about it and consider whether or not it’s really necessary. Do you really need to buy that round of nasty shots at the bar?
Eat Before you Go Out
Eat before you leave your house-this way, when you go out you won’t be tempted to eat junk food or processed stuff, which can really add up. For example, maybe I’m meeting my friend at 12. I’ll probably eat an early lunch instead of buying something later. Even if I’m not really hungry at 11, I will be at 1 if I don’t eat something.
It’s all about Gmarket. Seriously-you’ll save so much money on a variety of stuff. You really should be hitting it hard. Like hard. It’s no joke.
For food shopping, use the local marts or the traditional markets. They’re usually a lot cheaper than places like Lotte Mart or Emart, especially the Lotte, which as we all know if total and complete rip-off.
Order from Iherb. As you likely know, Iherb is amazing. Like for real. Amazing. It’s an American company that specializes in health food, vitamins and supplements, although they do have all the junk food from home as well (ummm…Salt & Vinegar chips!!!). Shipping is often free and you’ll get your package in around a week. Get $5-10 off your first order by using this link. It’s the best deal you’re gonna find all month, trust me on this one.
Secret Hummus Recipe
Order yourself some dried chickpeas and learn to make delicious hummus. It’s gonna be frugal living gold for you every single time you go to a party and have to bring something. Here’s my secret hummus recipe.
Love the Fruit Trucks!
Who doesn’t like a 5,000 Won watermelon or a 3,000 Won flat of strawberries? Amazing! So keep your eyes open and hit that stuff hard. It’s frugal living, off the street style.
Love the Stay-cation
Stay at home and enjoy Korea instead of taking expensive tropical vacations around Asia, particularly if you’re paying off debt. Traveling around Korea for a week will cost you $300-500, instead of the $1000+ that a week in Thailand would. Sure, it’s not exactly a prime travel destination, but there are still some nice places to see.
Don’t get Sick
Although you do get healthcare coverage in South Korea, it still costs some money every time you go to the doctor.
Clean out the Cupboards
Eat all the food in your cupboard and freezer. I try to do this every 6 months or so, only buying a few fresh fruit and veg to supplement it. It really cuts down on the grocery bills significantly for like an entire month, twice a year. It’s not gonna be pretty, but you know, just power through it.
Love the 3 for 20,000
Homeplus always has sales on wine: 3 bottles for 20,000. Stock up there instead of at the convenience store and you can indulge on the cheap. That’s some frugal living, indulgence style.
Host a Party
Host a frugal party-it’ll likely be cheaper than a big night out. Here are my top tips to help you out with this.
Homeplus is cheaper than Emart, which is cheaper than Lotte Mart.
Go to Costco and buy in bulk. But, make sure that you’re buying stuff you actually use and not things you wouldn’t normally buy. For example: I quite rarely eat junk food, except when I go to Costco in Korea I’m super tempted to buy things like granola bars, potato chips or pretzels that I would never buy except if I was having a party or something like that.
However, good purchases for me at Costco would be cat food, wine, nuts, cheese, coffee or tortillas. These are things that are much cheaper at Costco than other places and which I would actually buy from the regular supermarket on a consistent basis.
Fill up Water at Work
Don’t buy bottles of water, but instead bring one to work and fill it up there. Do it slyly though, you know? People will think you’re really cheap if they catch you doing it all the time. Maybe just casually fill up like 5 small ones at various times throughout the day instead of a big one.
Make a delicious salad-it’ll be delicious, people will appreciate a healthy option and it will be way less expensive than bringing meat products. Here are my tips for how to make your salad awesome.
Learn to love the gimbap. It’s cheap and filling, although kind of nasty after eating it way too much.
Go to the Dentist!
In Korea, you get a very cheap check-up and cleaning every 6 months through your national health insurance. Take advantage of this and go! Things like root canals are very expensive so it’s way better to avoid them. Check out this post: Frugal Living-Dental Care.
Love the Soju
It’s like wicked cheap and the new flavoured stuff is pretty decent. Beware the hangovers though. Just FYI: you must try these two secret cocktail recipes:
Soju Cocktail #1
Aloe-Ae + soju +cider. OMG! Delicious. Frugal living, having some fun style.
Soju Cocktail #2
Hong-Cho (Pomegranate drinking vinegar) + pomegranate soju +cider. OMG! So refreshing on a hot summer day at the beach.
Better yet, do like I did and have a soju cocktail contest for your birthday party and get friends to make you delicious drinks. Then, give away something random to the winner like a house-plant. It was kinda the best party ever, not gonna lie.
Go on a Money Diet
Check out the results from my latest money diet. The goal is to spend as little money as possible for a single month and to track your spending. It’s usually quite revealing since most people don’t really know how much they’re actually spending.
You can haggle for stuff in markets, or find some Korean friends. It’s also like the cheapest possible hobby you could ever have. Alternatively, beef up that resume a little bit and use up lots of your free time by doing a TEFL training course.
Love the 5 for 10,000
Homeplus always has 5 bottles of import beer for 10,000 Won sales. It’s mix and match too so take advantage of this and don’t buy the same thing for double the price at the convenience store.
Try to avoid all things Western. Most of it is way overpriced in Korea. The more you can live like a Korean, the less money you’ll spend.
Tell your Friends about your Frugal Living Plan
Tell your friends that you’re trying to go frugal living and save money. Perhaps they are as well and you can enjoy some frugal hang-out time, like going for a hike or sunning yourself on the beach with some convenience store beers.
Seriously. Even if it’s like an hour or two-it really is possible. Just pop on a podcast and go. You’ll save money in the short-term by not paying for transportation. You’ll save money in the long-term by being in excellent shape.
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Like The Wealthy English Teacher on Facebook. It’ll be the best thing you’ve done all day.
Love the 1+1
Things like oil, laundry soap and pasta sauce are on sale a lot so never buy them at full price. Just hold out for a 1+1 sale and get 2!
Try out Hobbies Before Buying Gear
Hobbies: try ’em out before you go all in and buy lots of expensive gear. For example, you can rent scuba gear for a year or two and see if you really love it before dropping a few thousand dollars. Check out this post on Freedom Through Passive Income for more details: All in on the Hobbies.
Go with Eggs for Frugal Living
Learn to love the eggs. They’re really cheap in Korea and healthy too. Fried, boiled, poached, scrambled, etc, etc. Buy yourself one of those big flats at Emart. Yum! Frugal living, the delicious way.
Get a Transit Card
You’ll save a hundred won or so every single time you take the subway or bus. That adds up, you know?
Home-Brewing-not so Cheap
Don’t think home-brewing is going to be cheaper than buying beer from the store in Korea. It’s not. Getting the ingredients to brew beer is very expensive. I made that mistake once.
Forget the Cash
Use your bank card for everything. You’ll get some tax credit of some sort at the end of the year.
Use a Credit Card for the Discounts
Get a credit card for all sorts of discounts. KEB in particular is quite generous about giving them out to foreigners. OMG! 1/2 price Starbucks. Better yet, you can even collect cash from friends for their drinks and put it your card, making yourself a nice chunk of change in the process.
Avoid Random ATMs
Avoid ATMs from any bank that’s not your own. You’ll have to pay a fee, which can add up.
Head to the Mountains!
Koreans are all about hiking and you should be too. It’s great exercise, there are a million and one mountains and you can enjoy some quality conversation time with your friends.
Cook in bulk and then freeze individual portions. When you get busy, you can just grab and go instead of having to eat out. That’s assuming you don’t have a fridge the size of a shoe-box.
Send Money Home the Cheap Way
Set up an automatic remittance or Internet banking. You can transfer money to your home country way more cheaply and easily than going into the bank and having the teller do it for you.
Avoid Scuba Diving
Sure, it’s fun but conditions are terrible in Korea and it’s also wicked expensive. If you’re lucky, you can maybe see a sea urchin!
Go to local book-swaps for free reading material or exchange with friends.
It’s great for your health and good for the wallet, especially in Korea where things like meat and dairy are really expensive. Plus, the Earth will thank you too. Karma, or something like that.
Don’t Buy a Clothes Dryer
Your apartment probably won’t come with a clothes dryer. This is a good thing. It’s way cheaper on electricity to not use it. Hang-dry your clothes. Do as the Koreans do!
Do as the Koreans Do-Rice Style
Buy rice in bulk and eat it for 3 meals a day. Do as the Koreans do!
Make your spending public on your blog or Facebook. Nothing says accountability than everyone knowing about your splurges!
Date a Korean Lady
Find a Korean girlfriend/wife. She’ll sort our your money troubles in no time.
Love the torrents. Sure, it’s illegal, but…you know…
Use the cost-per-use model for bigger purchases. Check out this post where I apply this principle to buying a stand-up-paddleboard.
If you Must Eat Out…
Eat out in university neighbourhoods. It’ll be cheaper than other places.
More Frugal Living Tips
Lowball the Desperate
Take advantage of the desperate people. You know, the ones who waited to sell their crap until like 2 days before they’re leaving. Lowball them and they’ll likely be so desperate just to get rid of junk that they’ll take it. Plus, you’ll get lots of freebies too.
Get Household Staples Cheaply
The shopping list and sales. Here’s how I shop for food and household stuff, cheaply.
There is such a Thing as a Free Lunch
Work at a hagwon that serves lunch? Make it your biggest meal of the day, by far. Then, just eat something small for breakfast and dinner. That’s some serious frugal living if you can get a free lunch every single day.
Buy this Book
The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future. It’s the first and only personal finance book for English teachers and contains lots more frugal living tips. It’s going to be the best few bucks you spend all year, for sure.
Cigarette prices recently doubled and it’s not the ridiculously cheap hobby it once was in K-land.
Go Without the Air-Con
Buy a Bicycle
Get a bike and use it! Do all your errands, get to work, meet friends, etc. It’ll pay for itself in a month or two, if you buy a cheap one.
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Work at a university? Eat at the student cafeteria. It’s usually like 3000 Won for a filling, but not so delicious meal. Power through it!
Bring your Lunch or Dinner to Work
Bring your lunch or dinner to work. DO NOT go out to eat all the time. Frugal living does not involve the inside of a restaurant unless you are working at one. I know that bringing lunch to work is very un-Korean style. But, don’t worry about it.
Wear some Warm Clothes
Bundle up in winter. Don’t crank up the heat but instead wear a sweater and get a blanket. You’ll get used to it over time and as a bonus, your body will burn a ton of calories keeping itself warm. Frugal living, electricity style.
Eat a Lot
Work at a public school? It’s all about eating a massive school lunch! Then, just a light dinner later.
Forget the Commute
Live close to work-if you have a say in it, try to live within walking distance of your workplace. Short commutes are awesome!
Live in Busan
All social activity revolves around the beach instead of restaurants and bars like in Seoul.
Drink Coffee at Home
Make your coffee at home. It’s way cheaper just to buy a coffee-maker, filters and beans than to buy it in the shops. There aren’t that many cheap, but delicious options like back in Canada or the USA.
Going on the road? Bring some snacks with you.
Buy a Brita Filter
If you don’t want to fill up your bottles at work, get a Brita which will be way cheaper than buying bottles.
Pimp your House
Make your house awesome. You’ll be happy to stay home instead of always feeling like you need to go out. Plus, you can invite friends over.
Avoid the Gym
It’s kind of expensive and you can exercise for free easily enough. Think about hiking, walking, yoga, weight at home, etc. Or, just hit the free gyms in the moutains
Frugal Living on ESL Cafe
Check out this frugal living post on ESL Cafe.
Insert your own frugal living tip here.
Grow some Food
Grow some veggies in your house. You probably have a balcony so take advantage of it, especially herbs which are way too expensive in Korea and not easy to find.
There is some surprisingly good stuff just waiting to be taken. Yeah for rampant Korean consumerism! I love it!
Learn to Cook
It’s a hobby that’ll save you thousands of dollars over the course of your lifetime. Check on YouTube for some “How to make _____” videos.
Collect Cardboard for Cash
Do as the grandmothers do. Collect cardboard in your spare time on a big cart and then bring it to the recycling center for cash.
Go Old School
Get a pay as you go phone and get friends to call you. They likely have plans with a set amount of minutes they never use.
Airbnb your extra room. I do it and make an extra 300,000+ a month.
Check out the CU Bar
Love the convenience store drinking. Make it a big night out the CU bar, instead of the expat one.
Under the Cover of Darkness…
Do as the ajumma do. Dispose of trash under the cover of darkness. Forget about paying that 50 Won for a trash bag.
The Dreaded B Word
Make a budget and stick with it.
OT? Yes Please!
Work lots. You’ll not only make more money but you’ll have less opportunity to spend it.
Festival it Up
Go to the festivals. There are a ton of them in Korea and they’re usually fun with lots of free entertainment.
Just Slip Away…
Do as the cheap foreigners do. Slip away quietly at a group dinner before paying.
Frugal Living Fun
Board games-play them. Buy one or two, make some friends and play them lots. It’s way cheaper than a big night out. My favorites are Settlers or Catan, King of Tokyo and Puerto Rico. Board games really are frugal living genius, if you use them enough to recoup the upfront cost of them.
Meat, and lots of It
Big night out? All you can eat meat buffet! They’re usually around 15,000 but you can get some good value by not eating breakfast or lunch so you’re ravenous by the time you get there.
Sell used Toiletries on ESL Cafe Before Leaving Korea
Do as the ridiculous foreigners do. Sell your used deodorant and toothpaste before you leave Korea.
Work Dinner? Stay until the Bitter End!
Go to all work dinners. Free eating, and drinking, for hours and hours. Don’t leave until the bitter end so you can squeeze every last drop of entertainment out of it.
Don’t Exchange Money at Airports
Exchange money at the bank, instead of the airport. You’ll get better rates!
Free Korean Classes
Go to a free Korean class. Churches/cults often offer them and it’s easy enough to just go to the class but avoid the Church service. Just don’t get sucked into a cult.
Relax, Spend a Little Bit
Chill out, sometimes. Indugle in a mini-splurge every so often to avoid the bigger ones.
Lots of Free Entertainment at Church
Join a church, if you’re so inclined. You’ll make lots of friends and have plenty of cheap entertainment-often all day Sunday!
Hit the public libraries. They often have English books, especially in Seoul or Busan. Heck, Busan even has an English library with thousands of books!
It’s totally legal in Korea and it’s free. Frugal living power all the way.
It’s pretty cheap and also really fun! You can take public transportation and stay in love motels to maximize your frugal living.
Soak your Money Woes Away
Hit the sauna and jjimjilbangs. They’re really fun and cheap and you can spend hours there.
Late Night Food Shopping
Shop for food late at night. All the perishable stuff will have huge discounts.
If you need something, just post it up on Facebook and ask someone if they’d be willing to lend it to you. I like the idea of posting on Facebook so that people can volunteer if they want to help you.
Meditate your Weekend Away
Love the temple stay-it’s the cheapest weekend out that you can do. Frugal power!
Alternative Sleeping Arrangements
Love the minbak/love motel/yeogwan/jjimjilbangs. These will all cost you way less for an overnight stay than a Western style motel. And they’re surprisingly nice usually, especially the higher-end love motels.
Love the Frugal Friends
Choose friends wisely. Avoid the big spenders at all costs!
But, Make Friends!
They can really help you out with things like pet-sitting, moving, etc. Of course, return the favour, you know?
Avoid Owning a Car
I tell you this from personal experience-it’s more expensive than you might think. I had a car for four years in Korea and wasted a ridiculous amount of money on it.
Get some Mental Toughness
Power through the tough times. Frugal living will eventually become a habit.
Have your Say about Frugal Living in Korea Tips
Do you have any tips or tricks for saving yourself a ton of money while living in South Korea? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
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