So, you want to save money in South Korea?
So do we! As we’ve mentioned before, one of the major reasons for choosing South Korea as an ESL teaching destination was the great paycheck and perks you get compared to other Asian countries. With a degree and a TEFL certificate you can easily make up to $2,200 per month, which is a pretty nice salary if you are coming straight from Uni, have your accommodation paid for and are in a country that is generally cheaper than back home.
But, saving in Korea does not always just happen without you even having to try, as many people, including ourselves, think. It can, in some circumstances, be pretty hard.
However, in the last few months Oli and I have managed to finally start saving in Korea and it feels great, so we are here today to let you in on a few secrets of saving and spending as an expat in Korea. Let’s learn from our mistakes shall we?
Our number 1, completely obvious, tip for saving is to not start off with debt. I’m not talking about the tens of thousands of student debt you may have, I’m talking about that couple of thousand on a credit card or the money you borrowed for the flight over here. Starting off with debt means you’ll immediately have to start putting the money you do save into paying it back. This is obvious, of course, but it’s worth saying all the same.
As you may have guessed from the plethora of Korea inspired blog posts in the last 8 months, Oli and I adore travelling in this country and take up the opportunity to do so whenever we can. But the wonderful sights and activities that Korea has to offer come at a price. A weekend away quickly gets expensive, especially when you consider the price of hotels in Korea. Good deals can be found, but boy does it take a lot of researching! We would never give up the travel, despite it being a huge part of the reason we haven’t saved, you just have to pick your battles. We didn’t come here to stay in our apartment and eat ramen, but that’s often what you’ll find us doing in the week so that we have more money ready for the weekend.
Korea is an amazing country to travel in, so don’t miss out on that, just know that if you do you may not save as much as you think.
My biggest piece of advice is to work out your budget early on. Decide how much you want to put away each month, for us it’s at least $1000, and then work out how much the remainder will allow you to spend each day. Many people may see it as a waste of time, or just plain annoying, but I find that noting down everything I spend, and on what, really helps. I use the iPhone app Trail Wallet designed by the wonderful people over at Never Ending Voyage and it is perfect for both travellers and expats. You can create your own categories and budget, then you simply put in your purchases in the local currency and it will tell you exactly how much it is in your home currency and out of your daily budget. To give you a better understanding of what we do spend our money on here in Korea, I’ll give you the screen-shot of the last two month’s spending:
As you can see bills were my biggest expense last month, which considering the fact it’s getting warmer and thus we haven’t had the need to put the heating on is a little annoying! Before I came to Korea I heard that bills were pretty cheap but Oli and I haven’t found that to be the case. We don’t enjoy being human popsicles so used our heating a lot in Winter which would set us back quite a lot. We also both have to pay a somewhat hefty sum for apartment maintenance. As we aren’t married we have an extra unused apartment that came in my contract which still racks up bills like these.
While electric and water are pretty cheap, our final bill, for our phones, aren’t. Many expats choose a 2 year, cheaper, contract and then screw over the company (and coworkers) if they leave after a year, but we didn’t want to do that. I wouldn’t give up my unlimited 3G but the $60 a month bill does make me cry a little each time it leaves my bank.
Our second biggest overall expense is eating out. What can we say about this apart from direct you to these posts about the scrummyness of Korean food. This is usually always our biggest expense but Oli’s parents kindly treated us to many delicious meals during their visit in April. Eating in typically works out half that of eating out per month, despite the price of fresh food here!
Transport for March was pretty hefty and together with food-out, drink, accommodation and entertainment, you can see that we spend half our paycheck at the weekends, travelling. But, like I said, it’s all about balance. Travelling to see people in other cities and staying with them has kept our hotel costs down, without missing out on new experiences.
The school category (grey) is uncommonly large as I treated two of my classes to a birthday party and only went and forgot the cake, having to buy a second one! My lunch money (around $2.50 per day) comes into this category too, as does the monthly fee of $10 I pay for our lavish after school celebratory dinners.
Not wanting to bore you too much with facts and figures, I hope this post can highlight a few of the things I know that I didn’t consider about living, earning and saving in Korea. I believe that no matter what you do, or where you work, there is always room for saving, you just have to really want it and make the effort to cut back where you can.