101 Frugal Living in Korea Tips

101 Frugal Living in Korea Tips

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

1. 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?

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Don’t get sick. Although health care in Korea is cheap, it’ll still cost you something so try to be as healthy as possible.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. Homeplus is cheaper than Emart, which is cheaper than Lotte Mart.

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. Potluck party? 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.

17. Learn to love the gimbap. It’s cheap and filling, although kind of nasty after eating it way too much.

18. 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.

19. 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:

A. Aloe-Ae + soju +cider. OMG! Delicious.

B. 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.

20. 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.

21. Study Korean. 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. 

TEFL certification course

22. 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.

23. 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.

24. Tell your friends that you’re trying to go frugal 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.

25. Walk everywhere. Seriously. Even if it’s like an hour or two-it really is possible. Just pop on a podcast and go.

26. Like The Wealthy English Teacher on Facebook. It’ll be the best thing you’ve done all day.

27. 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!

28. 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.

29. Learn to love the eggs. They’re really cheap and healthy too. Fried, boiled, poached, scrambled, etc, etc. Yum!

30. 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?

31. Don’t think home-brewing is going to be cheaper than buying beer from the store in Korea. It’s not. I made that mistake once.

32. Use your bank card for everything. You’ll get some tax credit of some sort at the end of the year.

33. 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.

34. Avoid ATMs from any bank that’s not your own. You’ll have to pay a fee, which can add up.

35. 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.

36. Cook in bulk and then freeze individual portions. When you get busy, you can just grab and go instead of having to eat out.

37. 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.

38. 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!

39. Read books. Go to local book-swaps for free reading material or exchange with friends.

40. Eat vegan-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.

41. Hang-dry your clothes. Do as the Koreans do!

42. Buy rice in bulk and eat it for 3 meals a day. Do as the Koreans do!

43. Make your spending public on your blog or Facebook. Nothing says accountability than everyone knowing about your splurges!

44. Find a Korean girlfriend/wife. She’ll sort our your money troubles in no time.

45. Love the torrents. Sure, it’s illegal, but…you know…

46. Use the cost-per-use model for bigger purchases. Check out this post where I apply this principle to buying a stand-up-paddleboard.

47. Eat out in university neighbourhoods. It’ll be cheaper than other places.

48. Check out frugal living tips on Freedom Through Passive Income.

49. 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.

50. The shopping list and sales. Here’s how I shop for food and household stuff, cheaply.

51. 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.

52. 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 $3.99 you spend all year, for sure.

53. Stop smoking. Cigarette prices recently doubled and it’s not the ridiculously cheap hobby it once was in K-land.

54. Stay cool, minus the air-con. I’ve survived for a lot of years in Korea without it. You can too!

55. 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.

56. Like Freedom Through Passive Income on Facebook.

57. 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!

58. Bring your lunch or dinner to work. DO NOT go out to eat all the time.

59. 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.

60. Work at a public school? It’s all about eating a massive school lunch! Then, just a light dinner later.

61. Live close to work-if you have a say in it, try to live within walking distance of your workplace. Short commutes are awesome!

62. Live in Busan. All social activity revolves around the beach instead of restaurants and bars like in Seoul.

63. 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.

64. Going on the road? Bring some snacks with you. 

65. 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.

66. 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.

67. 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.

68. Check out this frugal living post on ESL Cafe.

69. Insert your own frugal living tip here.

70. 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.

71. Dumpster dive-there is some surprisingly good stuff just waiting to be taken. Yeah for rampant Korean consumerism! I love it!

72. 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.

73. 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.

74. 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.

75. Airbnb your extra room. I do it and make an extra 300,000+ a month.

76. Love the convenience store drinking. Make it a big night out the CU bar, instead of the expat one.

77. Do as the ajumma do. Dispose of trash under the cover of darkness. Forget about paying that 50 Won for a trash bag.

78. Make a budget and stick with it.

79. Work lots. You’ll not only make more money but you’ll have less opportunity to spend it.

80. Go to the festivals. There are a ton of them in Korea and they’re usually fun with lots of free entertainment.

81. Do as the cheap foreigners do. Slip away quietly at a group dinner before paying.

82. 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.

83. 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.

84. Do as the ridiculous foreigners do. Sell your used deodorant and toothpaste before you leave Korea.

85. 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.

86. Exchange money at the bank, instead of the airport. You’ll get better rates!

87. Go to a free Korean class. Churches often offer them and it’s easy enough to just go to the class but avoid the Church service.

88. Chill out, sometimes. Indugle in a mini-splurge every so often to avoid the bigger ones.

89. Join a church, if you’re so inclined. You’ll make lots of friends and have plenty of cheap entertainment-often all day Sunday!

90. Hit the public libraries. They often have English books, especially in Seoul or Busan. Heck, Busan ever has an English library with thousands of books!

91. Beach camping! It’s totally legal in Korea and it’s free.

92. Explore Korea-it’s pretty cheap and also really fun!

93. Hit the sauna and jjimjilbangs. They’re really fun and cheap and you can spend hours there.

94. Shop for food late at night. All the perishable stuff will have huge discounts.

95. Borrow! If you need something, just post it up on Facebook and ask someone if they’d be willing to lend it to you.

96. Love the temple stay-it’s the cheapest weekend out that you can do.

97. 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.

98. Choose friends wisely. Avoid the big spenders at all costs!

99. But, make friends! They can really help you out with things like pet-sitting, moving, etc. Of course, return the favour, you know?

100. Avoid having a car. I tell you this from personal experience-it’s more expensive than you might think.

101. Power through the tough times. Frugal living will eventually become a habit.

TEFL certification course




13 comments on “101 Frugal Living in Korea Tips
  1. Doug Shin says:

    Enjoyed most of all your suggestions. Except the one about paying for the trash bags. Keep the planet clean:)

  2. Jackie Bolen says:

    Yes, I’m actually all about saving the environment! That one about the trash bags was sarcastic 🙂

  3. Erick Kim says:

    good information.
    try to take a look this website. They have COSTCO products/Local Food Delivery/Tax and Legal Issue Consulting and so on

  4. Jen says:

    I had a co-worker who openly filled her 2l and 5l bottles at school. She paid off her student loans her first year in Korea. There aren’t many perks at hagwons, so don’t be shy about taking advantage– your boss probably isn’t shy about taking advantage of you!

    Speaking of taking advantage, when I first arrived in Korea, it was summer, and teacher apartments didn’t have AC back then, so I kept my trash outside to keep the house from stinking. That only lasted a week or two, because I had ajummas fill my trash bags with their garbage under cover of night. And I mean, it would be busting full every morning, no matter how little trash I had put in it. So, I say to anyone thinking of doing that, pay it forward! LOL

  5. Jon says:

    Regarding Homeplus or Emart or Lotte Mart being cheaper, I would say it depends on what you buy and when you buy it. I do most of my shopping at Lotte Mart and find that their prices are generally comparable to Emart. Some things are more expensive, and some things are cheaper. But overall I think my spendings are about the same no matter where I shop.

  6. Given the high price of quality imported beer and the recent FTA significantly lowering the price of certain ingredients neccesary to homebrew, I’d say there is no better place on earth than Korea to pick up the craft. For about $100 and some relatively basic techniques, you can produce 5 gallons / 20 liters of 3-4% beer for about 15,000w.

  7. #78 and #98 for sure. A true friend will not expect you to break the bank.

    • Totally agree with you. I’ve found that some of the best friends I have here are cool with just hanging out at one of our houses watching a movie or playing some board games. We get a few snacks and beers from the local grocery store and always have a good time. Or, friends that I can exercise with. We go biking or hiking and sometimes get some $5 cold noodles or kimchi chigae after. It’s perfect!

  8. Found this from the “You came to Korea for the money” post http://teachinginkoreanuniversity.com/you-came-to-korea-for-the-money-right/

    What people usually forget to list as a budgeting aid is

    “Pay Yourself First.”

    It’s sortof the old Christmas Club routine the banks did back in the 1970s. Decide how much you want to save each paycheck. Take that right off the top on payday, deposit it in a different bank account. (Ideally one that pays a little interest.) You can only take money out with some thought, and self-flagellation. Even better if it is a different bank (less convenient) and you don’t carry the ATM card around with you.

    In the west we can generally get our employer to do this for us (if not a small business), but in Korea it’s not so common. You can have the bank to automated electronic funds transfers if you choose to not walk the cash from Bank A to Bank B yourself.

    • Jackie says:

      I totally agree with you. It’s an excellent strategy, particularly for those who are trying to pay off something like a student loan. Send a million Won (or even more) on payday and then live off the rest. Same principle applies for savings.

  9. mandoopanda says:

    This was a thoroughly helpful post Jackie! Thanks so much! There are so many more ways to save money than I was aware of! I’m definately going to try a few of these.

  10. Vivienne says:

    #9: No matter how hard one lives healthy, some times you get sick.

    #18: I have had two root canals in Korea. The cost of the root canals in Korea is nothing compared to the U.S.! What makes root canal expensive in Korea are the gold crowns. If the amount is over W50,000 and you have certain Korean credit cards, you can spread out the payments (equal amounts) over two to five months and NOT be charged interest.

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