Earlier on in my first year I wrote a blog and made a video about the average teacher’s income and expense situation here in South Korea. I received quite a bit of feedback on both. Many were curious how I am able to keep my expenses low and although I did my best to answer them piecemeal, I thought detailing it in a blog would be helpful for others. My personal mantra has always been, “it’s not what you make, it’s what you save”. It couldn’t be truer than with teaching abroad. So to that end, here is a breakdown of the 6 main ways I am able to keep my expenses down and save money for a rainy typhoon day.
|Ondol and hot water control|
Cool It on the Heat – The winters are no doubt dreadful. Even though I grew up in New Hampshire with brutal winters, the cold still gets to me. Must be the Florida living after I moved from NH! Or I’m just getting weak in my old age.
In general, apartments here are heated through the floors. The systems are called ondols (온돌) and running them is not cheap. In fact, my electric bill jumped from about $30 to over $100 when I first started using the ondol. I once ran my bill over $125 before I realized I shouldn’t run it whenever I wanted to. At first I would run it and walk around my apartment in shorts and a t-shirt while it was 20 degrees F outside. Then I got my bill. Time to make some changes…
- Wear Layers – I changed my shorts for long johns or sweatpants. I also layer shirts. I wear a t-shirt, a long sleeve over it, and then a heavy sweatshirt over that. This is bare minimum as some of the winter days get really cold. I also wear socks. I would wear slippers if they had any my size in Korea! This get-up allowed me to comfortably hang out in my apartment without always running the ondol.
- Making the Bed – My apartment came equipped with many comforters, blankets, and sheets. It also came with an electric blanket. The electric blanket is the single greatest defense against the cold weather here. I make my bed by first laying down a few blankets or light comforters on top of the mattress. Kind of like my own homemade pillow-top. I then lay the first sheet over the mattress and tuck it in. Then the second sheet. Then a blanket/light comforter. Then the electric blanket on top of that. Then one more light comforter on top of the electric blanket to lock the heat in. I use some laundry rack clips to clamp the top layers together so they don’t slide apart at night. A few minutes before bed I crank the electric blanket, then turn it all the way down to the lowest level before I get under the covers. That keeps just the right amount of heat coming without making me sweat to death while I sleep. The perfect thing for cold nights. And there are many of them.
I now only use the ondol for one or two 30 minute blasts while I’m at home – if ever. Only during the most extreme nights. I actually prefer the bundled up approach now (clothing and bed), so it’s a win-win.
Easy on the A/C – I realized through trial and error that I can adapt to the cold a lot better than to hot summer weather. I have to have A/C and cool conditions or I’m one grouchy person. Here are some recommendations for staying cool without keeping the A/C on non-stop:
- Get a Fan – A fan can be your best friend even in the dead heat of Korean summers. No matter how hot you are, if you simply stay in front of a fan long enough you WILL become cool. Though just not as quickly as A/C. Your A/C may likely have a fan feature too so that should work just the same. If not, keep the temperature just above what you like and the A/C unit will change between fan and A/C periodically. This is how I prefer using it. I have a friend who blasts his A/C for a few minutes and then runs his fan to circulate the cold air. That works very well too.
- Take Cold Showers – One thing I’ve learned over the years in martial arts is how to bring my body temperature down quickly after a training session. To me, there is no substitute for immersion into cool or cold water. Back home, I used to sit in my pool at night after practice until I was actually feeling cold. Well, I don’t have a pool now, so I use cold showers after practice and it helps just the same. I also take cold showers when getting ready to go out or to work. Taking hot showers requires turning on the water heater a few minutes beforehand and throughout your shower. Obviously the less you use it, the lower your bill will be. It has worked for me.
- Watch Your Diet – Eating the wrong foods and drinking alcohol will make you feel bloated and crappy. Alcohol always makes you feel hotter. Many may read this and laugh – I know, there was a time when I would prefer being hot over giving up the booze. But now it’s easy. Just something to keep in mind. Also, if you eat a lot of heavy foods (i.e. fried, creamy, heavy on the meat) your body works much harder to digest it which makes you heat up a bit more. Eat healthier and you won’t reach for the A/C remote as much.
|School water purifer|
Don’t Pay for Free Water – The first time I bought bottled water and hauled it home, I knew I had to find a better and way. And there was. There is! I use the filtered water from my school. Whenever I am finished with any large, heavier plastic bottle (e.g. Gatorade) I bring it to school and fill it up with filtered water from the purifier. After all, that’s what bottled water is – filtered tap water. I go through a lot of water because of my training so over the course of a month I figure I am saving between $30-50.
I Cut My Own Hair – I learned how to cut my own hair about 5 years ago. It’s much easier for guys in general, and even easier for a guy like me. I like my hair really short. I generally give myself what’s called a “high and tight”. Basically your well know military look. Buzzed sides and back, really short on the top. Taking it almost all the way down is the way to go for me during the summer. It also saves me about $10 every two or three weeks. A small gain, but the little things add up.
Social Life – I think the single greatest unnecessary drain on a foreign teacher’s income is going out drinking too much. I rarely drink at this stage of the game, but watching how frequently you go out for beers with friends can help keep some (or a lot) of the cash in your pocket. This is a personal choice – I’ll leave it up to you.
Eat In – Food will be your biggest expenditure (unless you drink), so doing it yourself is no doubt the way to go. Shopping bulk (Costco), local markets, and general supermarkets (HomePlus here) will keep your food costs way down. That being said, I do recommend eating out from time to time to taste some of the fantastic cuisine that South Korea has to offer.