$20,000 a Year in Korea: Is it Possible? Yes, it Certainly Is

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$20,000 a year in Korea

$20,000 a Year in Korea: “But it’s Impossible!”

I ran across an interesting thread over on ESL Cafe where someone is talking about how, before they came to Korea ten years ago, lots of bloggers were talking about how it’s possible to save $20,000 USD per year teaching in Korea. However, these days, she struggles to save more than a thousand a month on a 2.2 million Won salary. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to say that 1000 Korean Won = 1 USD.

A few of my thoughts on this:

10 Years Later: Still Making 2.2?

I totally get that times are tough in Korea and fabulous jobs are few and far between. It’s really difficult to get a university job in Korea these days. But, after 10 years in Korea who is still making 2.2 million Won and working at what seems like a kindergarten hagwon? That is my very definition of living hell on Earth. Seriously, what has this person been doing with the past 10 years of their life?

Here’s what:

“Of course, money isn’t everything. Living in a new country/culture has it’s own invaluable rewards that should not be overlooked.”

My theory is that anyone who says they didn’t come to Korea solely for the money should be treated with suspicion and questioned further. If you didn’t care about the money, you’d most certainly go somewhere with much better weather and much happier people who weren’t studying and working zombie robots. The extremely high suicide rate in Korea is no fluke.

Why Only 550,000 Korean Won?

This person has debt to pay back home (students loans?) but is only sending back 550,000 each month. This seems ridiculously low. Compound interest can work for you, or against you and in this case, it’s certainly working against her.

The interest payments are probably killing her. Who hasn’t paid off their students loans after teaching English for 10 years in Korea? Why hasn’t she just locked it down and gotten serious about paying them off instead of going on ESL Cafe and lamenting/whining about her situation. Here’s why:

“Admittedly, I am, and always have been, terrible with money.”

If you’re terrible at managing money, why not get educated? Take some responsibility for your life. Use the Google machine to learn something.

Free Lunch + 350,000 on Food

She mentioned that she gets a really good free lunch at school, but that she also spends 350,000 a month on food. What is she eating? 2 meals a day on weekdays, and 3 meals a day on weekends equals about 70-75 meals a month, which is 5000 Won per meal.

If I were in this dire of a financial situation, I’d have locked that food spending down years ago. When I was paying off my student loans, I made the free lunch at school my biggest meal of the day, had only a small breakfast, since snack time at work came soon enough. Then, a modest dinner consisting mostly of vegetables and tofu or beans for a grand total of 4000 Won per DAY on food.

Entertainment: Ummm

Here are some of her entertainment choices:

“Coffee, beers, eating out, dates, baseball games, trips, etc.”

Don’t you know that coffee, beers and eating out are ridiculously expensive, especially if you go to Starbucks and expat bars? Baseball games can burn through $50 without even realizing it by the time you go out after. Trips? $200. Why isn’t she locking it down? Going for walks. Inviting a friend over for dinner. Joining a book club. Seriously.

The craziest part about it is that she seems to be deluded and thinks that she’s living frugally. Let me tell you. This is not frugal. Frugal is rice and beans, beans and rice and not seeing the inside of a restaurant unless you’re working in one.

Victim Mentality

Reading her post made my skin crawl. It’s like she’s all about playing the victim and not being a grown-up, taking some responsibility to make positive changes in her life:

“But if I had no debt…”

“…the majority of us work one job and private lessons are much harder to come by these days.”

“I only make 2.2mil/mth.”

I was in the exact same place she was 10 years ago when I first came to Korea. Working at a kindy hagwon for 2.2 Million and paying off students loans. Except I realized that this is not what I wanted for myself 10 years later. Why has it taken her 10 years to figure out that her situations sucks?

Honestly, she still sounds like the fresh off the boat 22 year old straight out of uni their first year in Korea. It’s all good to live in that world for a year or two. Have fun. Experience a new culture. Make new friends. Travel. But, 10 years later? It’s sad and disturbing.

Why Hasn’t She:

  1. Gotten a better job after 10 years
  2. Found some privates. SURELY she must have some connections after 10 years. I get approached for private teaching at least a couple times a month (but I never do it because I get so much overtime at my uni job).
  3. Stopped going out all the time (But….everyone is doing it!).
  4. Taken some responsibility for her finances and stopped whining on ESL Cafe.
  5. Educated herself about finances.
  6. Started living frugally.
  7. Read the Wealthy English Teacher and started following the 10 steps?

20,000 a Year in Korea: Is it Possible?

Yes, in fact it is. I just wrote a blog post a couple days ago about how I managed to save $22,000 USD per year during my time in Korea. I could have saved a lot more too if I didn’t take exotic vacations twice a year (Europe, Africa, SE Asia, Canada, USA), have a car and two cats, and bought myself a sweet bike and stand-up paddleboard. Probably closer to $30,000 if I had stayed super-serious about frugal living as I was in the beginning when I was paying off debt.

However, the average person coming here for just a year or two? It’s kind of impossible these days and the ESL industry in Korea is in serious decline. But, if you are here for the long-term and can (SHOULD!) work your way up to better jobs? It certainly is possible, if you man or woman up and get serious about your financial future.

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