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Thursday, December 27, 2012

How to save millions while teaching in Korea!

It's no surprise, if you know me, that you know I love a bargain and love to learn tactics on being more financially savy!  I get the bargain side from my mom who has taught me the tricks of shopping at Thrift Stores and checking out the sale section first, for the past 20 years!  I get the financial 'savy-ness' from my dad, who's always been GREAT with money! And I get my love for budgeting from my diagnosed OCD... I like to think of it as a blessing! :)

I came to Korea for the experience, not the money.  But, I've been pleasantly surprised with the amount I've been able to save in the 4 years I've worked here!  I've had a lot of friends and acquaintances ask me how I've saved so much and I've been debating for a long long time on whether I wanted to tackle the $$$ issue on my blog, but I've recently been able to help someone change their life with this stuff, so I decided it's time to speak up! So, here are the Jillers tricks on how to manage your $$$ while living in Korea and become a (₩)-millionaire while doing it!

1. Stay another year, or two, or three!
 There are amazing incentives to staying in Korea for more than 1 year if you work for EPIK.  For example, you get an extra 4 million (₩) deposited into your bank account each time you renew!  Here's 4,000,000 (₩) worth of 10,000 (₩) bills for a quick visual.  Kinda worth staying, right?
***UPDATE: There's a new rumor going around that EPIK will only be giving renewing teachers 2,000,000 as of 2013 instead of 4,000,000.  Sorry!  

 ... Plus every year you stay in Korea, your pension adds up (if you're American)!  When you leave Korea, you'll get the equivalent of 1 paycheck for each year that you've worked here.  For instance, if you stay in Korea for 4 years and make 2.5 million a month, you'll leave here with 10 million (₩) from your pension ($9300) to add to your savings account!  SCORE, right?!

2. For married couples.
Live in 1 school's apartment together. The other person will qualify for the housing stipend of 400,000 (₩) per month from their school, which adds up to 4,800,000 (₩)  a year, just by living in a smaller place together.  Aaron and I are doing it that way and we're so happy we did!  We can live in a bigger house when we move back to America if we want, but for now we'll enjoy our tight space in Asia and the extra $4,500 a year we're making by living in it.

3. Get yourself on a budget!
I can't stress this enough!  Download and print this document that I made, and keep up with it.  After a month you'll see where all your money is going!  You might be surprised!  I know Aaron was when he first asked me to help him save money 3 years ago!  He was spending almost $100 on his morning coffee every month!  That's $1200 a year on coffee! He started making coffee at home before work at a fraction of the cost!  So, the way this budget works is, every time you spend money, you color in the bars.  Each bar is 5,000 (₩), so if you spend 2,500 on something, only color in 1/2 of the bar.  You can change the line items by downloading this file, editing it, then printing it.

4. Stay in, cook dinner at home and watch a movie!
You'd be surprised how much you spend on eating out, drinks at the bar, and taxi rides home after midnight!  For instance, let's look at a pretend night out in Korea.
 Do that twice a week for an entire year and you'll scratch 4,284,800 (₩) from your savings!  That's $4000 dollars in 1 year! 

5. Brew your coffee at home
I looooooove Vanilla Latte's at Starbucks, but if I bought one every morning on my way to work, I'd spend a pretty penny!  You may be thinking, but Jill, I "need" my morning coffee!  I agree with you, except you don't NEED Starbucks, Angel-in-us or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf coffee!  You could save hundreds of dollars by making it at home before you leave for work! Let's do the coffee math.

6. Listen to Dave Ramsey Podcasts.
My parents definitely put me on track to be financially savvy at a young age... Dave Ramsey helped me, as I became an adult, to manage my money and pay off my student loans in a timely manner.  Not to mention, he inspired me to be debt free, which I've been since I paid off $35,000 in student loans at 23! He may come across as really cocky at points, but his advice is right on the money and you'll walk away inspired to be debt free!
Click here to listen!

7. Avoid buying stuff at full price!
Trust me, it'll go on sale!  Aaron and I go to Home Plus about 3 times a week to look through their produce sale!  I'm not about to buy a bell pepper for 3,000 (₩)!  Especially since we use about 4 every night for dinner. I wait until they go on sale for 700 (₩) and buy all that they have! :)  When it comes to clothing, H&M is one of my favorite stores in Korea, but I NEVER buy anything full price there.  I do this because I know everything will go on sale!  Case in point, they're having a giant sale right now, and since I waited for the things I loved to go on sale, I saved myself a boatload of money!  Also, if you're shopping in the Korean markets, try asking the owner "Jome gaga juseyo" 좀 가가 주세요  (Can I get a discount, please?)  Sometimes they'll knock off 10-30%!  Every dollar, or (₩) in this case, counts!

8. Pay with cash in Korea.
First rule: If you don't have the money for it, you shouldn't buy it!  Secondly: Pay with cash instead of your credit or debit card.  Our minds have a harder time handing over CASH than handing the store a piece of plastic. Try it for a month and you'll see how much you save just by paying with cash! I'm visual, so this really works for me!


9. Buy online and use coupon codes!
I can't tell you how much I've saved by buying some of the things I need online!  Korea can be cheap if you know where to shop, but buying online can be even cheaper!  If you're in the market for electronics, jewelry, purses, foreign goods, shoes, clothes, etc... try some of these websites that I use!  Most, if not ALL ship to Korea too. (for anything Korean) (for purses, jewelry, clothes, etc) (for healthy foreign food, spices, all natural toiletries, etc) / (for EVERYTHING)
*** If you're shopping at any other store online, go to before you check out, and type in the website's name where your buying something from.  There will most likely be a coupon code to give you a discount on your order!  I just found this coupon code for 25% off the H&M store on ebay!  See what I mean?!


10. Make it if you can!
This applies to everything  from food, cleaning supplies, home decor, gifts, etc. I know not everyone out there is crafty or knows their way around a sewing machine, but if you do, start making stuff instead of buying it!  I've made curtains for my apartment, about 10 pillow cases, a duvet cover, a bed skirt, picture matings, wall hangings, clothes, holiday banners and a bunch of other stuff, and saved myself hundreds of dollars!  I borrowed a sewing machine from my school's 6th grade classroom. Your school might have one too that you can take home and use!  It's worth asking, right?!   I also make my own custom Christmas cards and did custom Christmas mugs this year too, which would be a great gift for co-workers! Aaron and I also cook healthy meals at home, almost every night, for between 3 - 5,000 (₩) a person!  Sure beats going to Outback, TGIFridays or a Korean Beef restaurant and being handed a bill for 50,000 (₩)!

11. Find a cheap hobby!
1. Try blogging, it's FREE!
2. Buy or check out a book from the English library and snuggle up with some homemade coffee.
3. Watch movies on
4. Start a new TV series and throw it on when you're bored and fighting the urge to go shopping!
5. Learn to cook!
6. Study Korean.
7. Craft something out of materials you already have laying around.
8. Plan a potluck at a friends house where you chose a country and everyone make that type of food.
9. Work out at home instead of your gym.
10. Take a run!
11. Skype someone from home. (You know your mom misses you!)
12. Do a puzzle.
13. Play Sudoku!
14. Try a crossword puzzle.
15. Learn a new card game and invite a friend over to play.
16. Meet up with some friends to watch your favorite TV show together every week. (I do this with my friend Ashley. We meet every Monday night to eat popcorn, drink coke and watch Revenge.)
17. Walk around your neighborhood and take some photos! You'll be glad you did when you finally leave this country and wanna reminisce!
18. Start a book club.
19. Volunteer at a local orphanage.
20. People watch.
21. Do an hour of yoga once in a while.
22.  Read blogs. (They're pretty interesting!) wink wink
23. Learn to sew.
24. Get a part time job. (Shhh, I didn't say that!)
25. Read and
26. Write a letter to someone back home and send it in the snail mail.
27. If you have a smartphone, open up an Instagram account and snap away!
28. Browse (That's Aaron's favorite.)
29. Dog sit / Cat sit for friends who need a break from their animals.
30. Clean your apartment. (You know you'll feel so much better when it's all tidy.)
31. Visit a nearby temple.

12. Learn to cut and color your own hair! 

If you're blonde like me, you know there are only a few salons in Busan that are even worth chancing, but you're still gonna pay 100,000 for your roots to be touched up and another 20,000 for a simple trim!  Uugghhh. Why not learn to do it yourself?  I've never been to cosmetology school, nor would I say I'm great at highlighting hair, but back in 2003, I decided that I'd rather spend that $100 a month on something other than sitting in a salon while my hair stylist painted 99 cents worth of bleach onto my hair, only to leave the salon 3 hours later with nothing but my roots touched up!  I grabbed some bleach from Sally's Beauty Supply (in America) and taught myself how to highlight my own hair for $1.00 each time.  Now, 10 years later, I'm still highlighting (and cutting) my hair in my own bathroom at home for about 99 cents a month!   If you do the math...
I think I'll take that savings and buy myself a car in April!  :) 

13. Don't save more than $1000 if you have debt.
The fact of the matter is, if you have debt, you shouldn't be "saving".  It's an oxymoron and a bad idea. The money you're making on interest is nothing compared to the money you're losing on the interest rates your debt is accumulating!  So, keep 1,000,000 (₩) in an account, just for an emergency, and send EVERYTHING else home each month to pay off your debt! 

14. Pay off 1 credit card at a time. 
This may sound strange, but by tackling 1 balance more than the others, it will give you a boost of instant gratification and help you feel like you're accomplishing something!  Pay off your smallest debt and once it's finished tackle the next smallest debt.  In other words, pay 3x, 4x, 5x's (whatever you can) of the minimum amount on 1 debt until it's gone!  *** I have a friend who's working as an EPIK teacher in Korea that I've helped get on a budget in order to pay off their credit card debt and student loans. They've been able to send home about 1,600,000 a month and will have paid off almost $20,000 in 13 months!  It is possible people! 
 15. Open an IRA!
Once you're debt free, SAVE, SAVE, SAVE and try putting at least $100 a month in an IRA account!  (If you're consistent, you'll likely end up with a million dollars by age 50!  YES PLEASE!  It's amazing the freedom you'll experience when you have money tucked away for a rainy day.  With a bit of discipline and a lot of creativity, I've saved enough money to sustain me for a couple years in the US (just in case it takes a while for our photography business to become profitable). And it's not like I've had to sacrifice having fun while I saved it - I've traveled abroad 13 times since living here and paid for 1/2 of my wedding and honeymoon and still have money to spare. It's hard sometimes, I'm not gonna lie, but the sacrifices out weigh the end goal! Start today and make it a goal to pay off those pesky credit cards and student loan payments by the end of 2013!


 Start today!

We're 3 days away from the New Year and there's no better time to start a new years goal of being debt free, or a (₩)-millionaire, than now!  And there's no better place to start than here in Korea where you're basically making $2000+ a month and have NO EXPENSES but your phone and apartment electric bill!   :)

Happy New Year and may you be debt free and a (₩)-millionaire by 2014!


  1. downloaded file...made a list of debt and downloaded some podcasts. With your awesome tips, I know I can do this :) Thanks for sharing your wisdom <3 PS-we are running out of time for you to visit my little corner of Korea :)

    1. Good girl! I KNOW you can do it! Will you be home the week of January 13th?

  2. This is really great advice! Also great photos too! JT

  3. Great tips! :D you've reminded me to stay on track and get back to saving! I'm happy I found your blog!

  4. Find a cheap hobby...number 16 is my fave of course!! Great blog Jillers! You made me feel guilty for drinking my vanilla latte while reading tho ;)!

  5. Find a cheap hobby...number 16 is my fave of course!! Great blog Jillers! You made me feel guilty for drinking my vanilla latte while reading tho ;)!

    1. I thought you might like hobby #16! It's one of my favs too! .... Of course you were drinking a latte! Lol

  6. Great post Jill. Very different from your regular posts, but equally well written. I so wish I was crafty like you to make my own stuff, but perhaps I should start with something simple and give it a try.

    1. Thanks Magda! :) It's okay that you're not crafty, you can learn! Just try starting with finding something you want to make on pinterest and then find a written tutorial or search for a video tutorial on youtube! You'll be crafting in no time!

  7. Wow! What a great post! But it's also mostly relevant outside of Korea, too. Since I'm married with young children it's soooo hard to budget and track my cash flow because I have little ones demanding my attention almost constantly. Also, we had problems in the past due to lack of communication with keeping our account balanced (how could he predict I was buying a quilt while he was buying a shirt?). We minimized this by establishing 3 accounts (1 just to pay fixed bills, and 1 each for spending and flexible bills). I made the fixed bills auto pay, too, so I have one less thing to worry about with my kiddies. It's worked really well for us but we needed a better, simple, and extremely fast way to track our personal cash flow. After reading your post I was finally motivated to check out the iPhone app store and found the perfect app for me. There are great ones for free that allow you to choose your currency (great for Korea). Anyway, I thought I'd throw that out there as a method for any married people who are struggling to keep things balanced.

    My question: how did you learn to do your own highlights? My haircut is way too complex to do myself but I'd loooove to not have to pay for color, too.

    1. Hey sharon, I'm so glad you found it relevant for your life outside of the US, too! Great idea with the 3 different accounts and having auto payments set up! I'm sure that's been a life saver for you guys. I actually switched over to an AWESOME iphone budgeting app a couple months ago, called ACE BUDGET. It works like a charm for me, and tallies all of my different line items and tells me how much I'm saving and gives charts and graphs to show me where my money is being spent! As far as my hair goes, I just went for it one day! I asked the lady at the beauty supply store how to mix the bleach and volume and then just did what I'd watched my hair dresser do for years when it comes to the foiling part! I've also used boxed dies when I went brown for a 1/2 a year. That was SOOOO SIMPLE! Haircuts are a little harder, I admit... but with a good pair of scissors and two mirrors (one in front and one in back), and lots of patience (maybe wait till the kids are sleeping), you can do it too!

    2. Oops, I meant "life outside of Korea!" It's early in the morning here, so I'm not on my game yet! :)

  8. Great tips.
    I would also suggest getting a 'cash receipt' (현금영수증) card, and using it every time you buy something with cash or your 'check' card. You can get a nice tax refund at the end of the year. If you don't feel confident applying for it yourself, get a Korean friend or a staff member at your school to help. Also make sure you submit the correct documents at tax time (January). Again, get help if you need to, it's worth it.
    National Tax Service (English page):
    Cash receipt card:

    1. Great idea with the 'cash receipt' card! I'm shocked I've never heard of that... or maybe I'm not shocked! Both of my darling co-teachers live at home and don't know much about finances / tax tricks in Korea! lol One of them told me last year that if I spent over 20 million on my debit card within 1 year, I could get a tax refund... but I didn't spend anything close to that, so I just figured I'd never get any tax breaks. :(

  9. Hi, Jill. I'm your neighbor in Yeoungdo you never met - lol! This is really an awesome article. I have not been good about my IRA, and you jogged my memory - thanks!

    About the change in renewal bonuses - how did you hear about that? Is the 2 million being cut in half? Have you heard about the bonus being affected?

    Thanks again for the great blog.

    1. Hey neighbor,I was able to job your memory about your IRA! It's always good to be throwing cash in there! :) About the change in renewal bonus, I heard that from someone who had read my blog post and had sent me a message. I don't have any details other than what I wrote as an update in the post. Good news is, Korea is DYNAMIC, and things are always changing, so hopefully for you and anyone else who's staying another year, the bonus will be just as it always has been! Fingers crossed! :) Have they told you when you can expect to see the new contract?

    2. Knowing when we will see things like contracts can be a mysterious endeavor! Maybe some time around June since I'm an August teacher. I think things are leaning toward scaling back a bit like you said you heard. All you can do is remember the good old days!

      Looks like you've officially left the country. Thank you for all your posts and all the best in your future endeavors back home.


    3. Yea, you'll probably see it a month or so before your current contract ends! Hopefully there'll still be some perks in the next one! We left a couple days ago and are lounging around in the islands of Indonesia! Can't complain! Take care and keep warm over there!