How We Saved Money Teaching English in Korea

We came to South Korea with a plan: save money in order to travel for as long as we could afford afterwards. Now, we are setting out on a one-year journey that, as long as the budget holds up, should be within our means.

Note: neither of us has student loans to pay. That one was just luck. Jeff started out with a decent amount in savings from his previous job but Rachel started with very little.

In the end, we saved approximately 75% of what we earned. We could hardly believe it ourselves, but the numbers are there. We will have to stick to a budget during the year trip, but there’s definitely room for emergencies.

So how is this possible? Here’s a couple of factors that helped and some money-saving tips.

Decent Salary and Great Benefits

Working with EPIK in public schools, we earned a pretty good salary. If you get a TEFL certificate, which we did, you can earn a bit more each month. Best of all, though, were the benefits. Our apartments were free. We got some money to buy stuff for the apartments, some money for the flight to Korea and the flight out, health insurance which we paid half of, and finally a nice severance bonus and pension. South Korea has one of the best salaries for foreign teachers (Japan is better).

Low Cost of Living

But then again, Japan is much more expensive to live in. Our living costs were very low. We had to pay utilities but no rent. These were not especially expensive. Rachel paid for internet, but Jeff’s came with the apartment. We both got basic phone plans that cost less than $20 a month. In addition, public transportation is rather cheap – the bus is around $1 and the subway is just a bit over $1 typically. Food is not expensive, either, if you stick to things that aren’t imported (in the grocery store) or Korean food (in a restaurant).

And now, for our tips:

Keep Track of Your Spending

Rachel has a cash book for this purpose and is very thorough, tracking every expense. Jeff simply keeps a good eye on his bank account. So many people we know don’t know what they are spending. If you keep track of it, you can see the areas that you could cut much more easily. Also, this way, you never have to be that person who says “maybe next week, guys, I need to wait until payday.” This is especially important if you are paying off any kind of debt.

Drink Mostly Water

One of the places you are probably spending a fair bit of money is on drinks. Whether it’s alcohol, coffee, soda, or fruit juice, it costs you more than water. If you are buying some sort of drink every day, it really adds up. Every now and then we will drink something other than water (water gets kind of boring over time) but mostly, we just drink water. We also refill our 2 liter water bottles at school so for the most part we do not spend money on water either (Korean tap water is not advisable to drink).

Avoid Taking Taxis

Sure, taxis are cheap in Korea. Maybe you’re just spending 5,000 won here and 10,000 there on a taxi. But the bus or the subway is still cheaper. We try to take taxis as little as possible. Sometimes it’s annoying because it means we have to go home a bit early or take a much longer time to get where we’re going, but it definitely saves us money.

Don’t Go Shopping

Of course, you can buy things you need. But think hard about if this purchase is something you really need. You might want that new shirt because it’s on sale at H&M but I bet you don’t need it. The best way to resist is just not to go shopping. Not that you can avoid walking by stores in Korea… but strengthen your resolve and cut down your unnecessary purchases.

These are the ways that we’ve managed to save up enough for our trip, for which we have budgeted about $15,000 per person. Of course, we are not always perfect in our resolve to spend very little, but we mostly stick to the plan. I think the best advice is just to make it a priority. Find whatever motivates you, and use that as the tool to make yourself strong against the urge for material possessions. We are not hermits, we go out and hang out with people plenty. But a lot of time, we spend little to no money, unless we are eating. We love food too much to budget a huge amount on that – we just offset the occasional meal splurge with a bowl of ramen.

What are your money-saving tips?

11 thoughts on “How We Saved Money Teaching English in Korea

  1. Amanda @ Farsickness

    Wow,I am impressed! Those are all wonderful suggestions, and really, if you follow them should save so much (I know because I didn’t follow them and didn’t save a lot!).

    I’m horrible with money so now I just take out 200,000 won every week in cash and only spend that. If I run out before the next Monday, I’m out. If I have money left over then it can be rolled over to the next week. It’s worked out well. Also, I do have to send money home every month for those pesky loans…
    Amanda @ Farsickness recently posted..A Day of Rest in PohangMy Profile

    1. Rachel

      That’s a pretty good strategy too. I took out the same amount at a time and tried to make it stretch as far as possible without using a card. I think one time I went 3 weeks!
      Rachel recently posted..What’s NextMy Profile

    2. Greg

      This is one of the best tips for people who struggle to control their spending. Take out a fixed amount of cash and only spend that. It is so much different handing over currency than it is swiping a card. You can see your money depleting, feel its heft dwindle away… It really makes you think twice about that new thing you think you want =-O

      Sage advice all around!

  2. Pingback: August Wrap Up - Farsickness: A Travel Blog

  3. Tom @ Waegook Tom

    Nice tips, guys! Korea is a great country to save money in and like you, I’m saving about 75% of my salary each month prepping for my RTW next year – although I must say, I’m a lot shoddier at tracking what I’m spending! In terms of transport, I always take the cheapest option – the bus in a city, or the slow train/bus between cities (whichever works out cheaper).

    Water, though – I didn’t think about that! I actually spend a fair bit on drinks, so may try and cut down there. As for food though, I love it too much, although I’m fairly lucky that a) I love Korean food and b) I’m British, so there’s not much food or brands from home to tempt me (unlike my American friends!)
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..Jeju Lava Tubes, Or Sign KarmaMy Profile

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