I’m going to be completely honest. Saving money has never been one of my strengths. I’d always blow my Christmas and birthday money at the mall. Now that I’m in my late twenties (oh dear, that’s frightening to say out loud!) I’ve become more sensible about where my dollars (in this case, my Korean won) are going.
After living in Korea for almost a year and a half now, I have developed a steady monthly budget and I have been able to send parts of my teaching paycheque back home to Canada.
The following is a collection of tips and tricks I use to stay on top of my finances while living abroad. Although this is specific to the cost of living in South Korea, I am certain you can work some of these ideas into your own lifestyle – wherever you are living. I’ll also provide an average monthly budget so I can show you just how I’m able to save, spend and (sometimes) splurge!
Figure out your priorities
Are you saving up for your next big adventure? Maybe you’re collecting coin for a down payment on a house or a car? Or perhaps you’re trying to pay off your enormous student debt? Whatever you’re saving for, figure out exactly how much you need to put aside to make your monthly goals happen. If you want to double it up in a month, then you’ll probably have to cut costs somewhere else to make sure you stay within your budget.
Download a finance tracker app
Spending Tracker is a simple money tracking app that allows you to add your expenses and income and keep a close eye on it. I like the functionality of Spending Tracker because you can customize to view your budget by month, week or day. And you can add your own categories with various icons (such as groceries, dining, clothing and utilities). There are several budget apps out there so head to your app store and find one that works for you (for free hopefully)!
Sign up for a store points card
I know everyone’s obsessed with collecting Pokemon at the moment. But I’m all about collecting points! I signed up for points cards at some of the major stores and big brands in Korea, such as HomePlus, Etude House (makeup store), and CJ One. At the checkout counter, I present my card to the cashier or type in my phone number into the key pad to receive points and discounts. I recently received some gifts and instant discounts at Etude House because it was the week of my birthday. What a nice surprise!
Get a transit card
Another important card to have in your wallet! The transportation system in South Korea is so efficient and I think one of the best in the world (hey Toronto, step your game up!). If you are living in Korea, or even visiting, I’d suggest purchasing a transportation card (T-Money and Cash Bee are the most popular). The card gives you a small discount on riding the bus or subway. Plus, it gives you free transfers – within a half hour – from the bus to the subway or vice versa (just remember to tap your card before getting off the bus). You can also pay your taxi fare with your transit card, too!
Make meals at home
If you want to really save some dough, get creative in the kitchen and make your own meals. I make a weekly trip to the markets for fresh fruits and veggies and to HomePlus where I buy imported foods such as almond milk and avocados. I only have to worry about breakfast and dinner as I eat lunch at work (about $3 a day). At my school, we are able to take leftovers home which is a win-win for me: I save even more money and I get to eat yummy Korean food for dinner. If you are going to dine out, that’s fine because Korean restaurants are pretty cheap! It’s the western-style restaurants that your bank account has to worry about.
Forget about YOLO and embrace FOMO
Back in my university / post-grad days, I didn’t want to miss a beat. I was in a constant state of “fear of missing out”. But now… I realize that a weekend or two of chilling is a-okay! It makes both my liver and my bank account happy! But don’t get me wrong, I highly enjoy the Korea nightlife (as seen on my Snapchat) and have had my fair share of fun nights out dancing to k-pop and drinking soju. So if you’re wondering HOW you can enjoy those nights out without spending a boat load…read below!
Hit up Club 7… 11
The last time I chilled in front of a 711 was in high school, sippin’ Slurpees and eating Big Bite hot dogs. Korea has taken it to a whole new level… and I love it! Sitting out in front of the convenience store with some alcoholic bevies and snacks is a popular thing to do for both foreigners and locals alike. Nothing beats drinking $2 beers and $1 sojus while playing a game of cards – or the popular Korean drinking game like Mandu – on a summer night.
Find FREE things to do around the city
What I love about Korea – Busan especially – is that there are many indoor and outdoor activities to do… that don’t cost a thing! Everything from hiking; to cooking classes; to kayaking at the beach. Many activities are geared towards foreigners that offer discounted prices or free admission. Read here for ten free things to do in Busan, brought to you by fellow blogger and teacher, Wee Gypsy Girl.
So far, I’ve been able to send home over $10,000 CAD and I’m happy I’m meeting my financial goals! If you continued to work in Korea, I guarantee you could pay off all of your student debt; save for a down payment on a house or car; or put money towards a travel fund. ESL teachers in Korea – don’t forget: a chunk of money will come to you at the end of your time in Korea. You will receive pension, severance and your flight home upon completion of your contract.
When it comes down to it, it’s how smart you want to be with your money. Everyone has different priorities. As long as you can see some sort of return on the money you are saving, then you’re fulfilling your goals.
Are you living abroad (or in your home country) and saving towards your goals? Comment below and tell me about it! Feel free to leave any tips that work for you!