Korean Life: Living On A Budget In Korea

I have to live on how much?

I have to live on how much?

Until recently, I had been spending (or wasting) a lot of my disposable income on…well, many things. Clothes, video games and expensive foods to name but a few. Now, however, I am on a strict budget as I am saving for my (hopeful) working visa break in Canada. But living on a strict budget has proved harder than I thought. Perhaps because I am trying to eat well at the same time. But my article today is going to cover some basic tips for living on a budget in Korea.

So, first let me give you some context for just how much I have had to slash back my spending. After taking out things like food, my phone bill and utility bills, I used to have around 1,200,000 Won as ‘disposable income’. Looking back on my spending habits now makes me realise that I tended to waste a lot of it on things I wanted, not things I needed. Now, I am sending home about 1,400,000 Won a month (approximately 1,550 CND). That leaves me with about 700,000 won to survive on. Surviving on this much is possible, if not a little…restricting.

Tip One: Food

To anyone living here in Korea, it is well known the Korean food is much cheaper (on average) than Western or other foreign foods. A lot of Korean restaurants can offer you a whole meal and side dishes for around $5 or $6. Marta and I ate at a restaurant called Red Cook and our whole meal cost us about $11. I had pork cutlet with rice and some mandu (dumplings). Marta had a delicious looking ramyun that also came with mandu.

We have also begun cooking at home. Although some ingredients (like meat, for example) are pretty expensive, it is possible to live fairly cheaply here (especially if you raid the sale sections like Marta and I do). A lot of “Western brands” are pretty expensive to buy here too, so look out for a Korean equivalent if you can. But Marta and I have managed to eat fairly well this last month and so far we have done one large grocery shop for about 70,000 KRW. Of course, the daily essentials like milk and bread need to be picked up but they are pretty cheap.

Good Coffee In Korea Can Be Expensive

Coffee addicts beware! Coffee in Korea is (apparently) pretty expensive in comparison to places like the US and Canada. I have found it to be pretty much on par with the cost of coffee back in the UK though. An average cup of coffee (think Americano or Latte) will set you back somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 KRW. I have been surviving by buying the (not so awful) coffee that convenience stores offer. It is 1,000 KRW for a cup of ice and a sachet of ready made coffee. Although it can add up if you drink multiple cups a day, if you are able to survive on one cup (like me) this can be a real money saver.

Tip Two: Clothes

Now, anyone that knows me well will tell you my most powerful weakness is clothing. Last winter, I spent around $450 on flannel shirts alone. Korea, with a booming menswear sector, was like a godsend to me (who grew up in a small town that barely had any good clothing at all). Now, many other blogs would probably tell you to go to Seoul. They have some amazing markets in Seoul, it is true, but the fact remains that many people living here or coming to live here will not be living in (or perhaps not even near) Seoul. But fear not, for there are a nice range of markets and stores in my city (one of the smallest district capitals in Korea).

Me, in pretty much any clothing store!

First of all, UNIQLO is a great store to shop for basic items that you want. They do a great range of plain t-shirts made of cotton for about 12,000 KRW. Chinos start from 39,000 KRW and they have even started a range of slim-fit shirts which are perfect for work. A Korean store called Top Ten is also good for budget items. I picked up a linen shirt there for 19,000 KRW and the quality is surprisingly good. Underground markets or stores that sell ‘Made In Korea’ goods are also a great place to hunt for bargains. Sure, the quality is not premium but it is good enough and a good chunk of my summer wear is made up of thing I have picked up in these stores.

Tip Three: Entertainment

When I first arrived in Korea, I would go out. A lot. I think I was out twice a week, every weekend and I would easily drop around 100,000 KRW on a night out. It is easily done. You start off well, but six drinks down the line you are suddenly buying everyone you bump into a drink. But it is possible to go out and have a great time without losing a substantial amount of your wages.

Ah. The weekend ritual.

The first, and probably easiest option, is don’t drink as much. Instead of heading out, blowing a fortune on drinks and forgetting where you are, your name and why you are there, you can have just as much fun spreading out your drinking over a longer period. Overall, it costs less and (if you are like me) will probably help you save your dignity as well. Or don’t drink at all. Stick to soft drinks. You can also avoid taking taxis (seemingly cheap but they soon add up). Buses in Korea (at least in my city) tend to run until fairly late and then start up again at 6am. It is easy to stay out all night (especially if you start late) and just grab the first bus home.

Heading for the bus

The cinema is another cheap option for a good time. It is much much cheaper to go to the movies here than it was back home. Even the food is cheap (Marta and I spend 10,000 on a couple set which is 2 drinks, some nachos and a large popcorn). The tickets themselves tend to be around 5,000 KRW for the first performance of the day and not much more after that. Korea has a great range of foreign movies, especially all the big blockbusters.

You can also invite people over. Rather than go out, have a (cheaper) night in at yours. Cook some amazing food, grab a few beers from the local mart and spend time socialising with friends. This is probably the easiest way to save money and still see people.

Let me know, did you find these tips helpful. Any I missed?

Ricky

One Comment on “Korean Life: Living On A Budget In Korea

  1. All super great tips! Definitely the sale sections at food marts like Home Plus can save you a fortune, especially on “foreign” produce like celery or more expensive items like fruit. Also local markets usually offer cheaper prices if you’re brave enough to approach the often sour-looking ajummas guarding their stuff and are comfortable with speaking a little Korean 🙂

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