In Korea there are expats who throw money around like 18th century princes, then wonder why they’re always broke. And then there are expats who live Zen-like lives in bare officetels, never going out, surviving on instant ramyeon and saving 2 million won a month. Luckily you can avoid these extremes and enjoy life in Seoul while saving some money. Seoul can be a very expensive city to live in. It can also be very cheap, and a little bit of knowledge can save you a lot of money. We’ll skip the commonplace suggestions that can save you money anywhere – ‘spend less than you earn,’ ‘don’t buy stuff because you feel sad’ – instead here are more specific tips on how to save money in Seoul.

1.) Buy groceries at local markets A lot of products are cheaper at megastores like Homeplus and Emart, but fresh fruit and vegetable are often cheaper at the local markets. They’re called ‘sijang/시장’ in Korean, and your neighborhood probably has one within walking distance or a short bus ride away. Take some large bags with you and elbow your way into the crowds of old women haggling over cabbage and potatoes. It’s a surprisingly fun and traditional way to shop that predates supermarkets by centuries.

Korean-Traditional-Markets

Don’t be afraid to get in there and haggle for the best prices.

2.) Buy appliances second-hand You’ve just arrived in Korea and you’ve got your very own shiny, tiny apartment. The natural impulse is to fill it with a bunch of appliances: iron, blender, microwave, mini-oven. But for every starry-eyed newcomer setting up house and home there’s someone preparing to leave. Sites like Craigslist have a lot of second-hand appliances for sale. If you’re patient you can get what you need for a fraction of the price you’d pay in-store.

3.) Learning Korean As with appliances, a lot of eager expats start studying Korean when they first arrive, buying a stack of expensive textbooks. Again, take a look on Craigslist and see just how many used textbooks are selling at discount rates. Ask yourself – how likely am I to use all these books? Buy one used textbook and don’t buy any others until you’ve finished that one. Better still, a language exchange with a Korean costs nothing, and may turn into a good friendship… or something more! If you want structured lessons in a classroom setting, Sookmyung Women’s University offers free classes on weekends.

4.) Eating Out Eating out in Korea can be cheaper than cooking for yourself. To really save money, find the small eateries that cater to students and office workers, which sell filling lunch specials with rice, meat, soup, and sides for as little as 5,000 won. Cheaper still are the cafeterias on university campuses, where similar set meals often cost around 3,000 won.

5.) Cash versus Card Cards are accepted almost everywhere in Korea, and you get a bigger tax refund the more you use your card. But think about how easy it is to spend invisible money on your card – swipe, sign, forget, repeat. It all adds up and you can’t even see it. Depending on how disciplined you are, you might be better off setting yourself a daily limit and carrying only that amount of cash around, using your card only for emergencies. However, if you are savvy about what discounts your card can get you (every bank card has a points program) there are places where the card will save you money.

6.) Drinking

Cheap-beer-and-Soju

The local convenience stores will always have the cheapest prices for Korean beer and Soju

7.) Clothes Small and slim-figured foreigners rejoice, Korea has everything you need and at affordable prices. Street clothing stores and the underground shops at subway stations (Jonggak Station Shopping Arcade is a great example) have a staggering amount of dresses, coats, shoes, and shirts, often priced between 10,000 won to 50,000 won. For the larger foreign gentlemen and ladies, you’ll have to search much harder and pay more.

8.) Coffee Perhaps you waste 6,000 won a day on heart-stopping, savings-draining venti frappuccinos? Perhaps you drink iced Americanos, cutting calories and costs? If you only drink coffee for its energizing properties, then take your cost cutting to the next level – vending machine coffee. Hint: the 300 won option on the machine tastes just as good (or bad) as the 400 won coffee.

9.) Discounts In Korea, discounts are abundant for those who ask. This applies at local markets and small shops, but you’ll be surprised where else it works. Asides from franchises and department stores, it never hurts to ask. Buying shirts from a Gangnam tailor, a couch in Ahyeon Furniture Street, or a laptop in Yongsan Electronics Market – there’s every chance vendors will knock 10,000 won off the price or throw in some freebies. And you lose nothing by asking, just smile and be polite. And remember, most shop owners aren’t trying to rip you off. Don’t be that shopper who bargains an 80-year-old woman into the ground to save 500 won on a pair of socks – you’re shopping, not negotiating the German surrender.

10.) Cheap trips out of Seoul You don’t have to pay huge amounts of money to take a trip out of Seoul. Thanks to the subway and the red long-distance buses, you can reach the seaside or a mountaintop for the price of a latte (or 15 vending machine coffees). Go hiking in Bukhansan National Park, accessible from bus stops and subway stations on lines 1, 3, 4, and 7. Visit Ganghwa Island in the West Sea (red bus no. 3000 from stops outside Sinchon or Hongdae subway stations). Or take subway line 1 south to Suwon and see the famous fortress.
Featured photo by: Kalleboo | Photo Cred: lukehoagland. Jens-Olaf

Have any suggestions on keeping your bank account well fed in Korea? Give us your tips below.

Comments

  1. Kumud Ali says:

    omg that’s gr8 i will trry it surellllllllllllly
    love you seoul muaaaaaaaaaaaah