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Social Experiment Update

Update: Failed.

I couldn’t do it. On December 16, my experiment to live on 180,000 Korean won ended — just eight day shy of my target date. I couldn’t make it, and I even bent the rules (i.e. didn’t count any of my Taiwan expenses, which totaled around 180,000 won for the weekend alone). Even then I didn’t really expect to succeed, and my stash of cash even lasted longer than I thought it would.

I might’ve made it a few more days if not for a few foolish five-day stretch. Two weekends ago, I spent 40,000+ won wandering around Hongdae, which isn’t that much for a night out — more than I really should’ve spent on this budget. The following Monday, I went out with my friend, who was looking for a cheap dinner, but those are hard to find in the tourist/ex-pat district of Itaewon. I ended up spending 10,000 won for an unsatisfying hamburger dinner. That Wednesday, I essentially committed financial suicide by going out for a quasi-fancy Thai dinner, dropping me another 16,000 won or so.

This three-week asceticism trip wasn’t all that tough, though. I had gone grocery shopping beforehand, and with the cold weather settling in, I didn’t have too much desire to be wandering away from my apartment’s cozy heated floors. Saturdays were dedicated to practices for Taipei, which usually left Sundays for my “See a New Thing Each Week” tour. Also, it was a good way to wean me away from the hazy, party-filled weekends.

I’ll probably end the month spending just under 400,000 won, meaning the future budgets of 600,000 won will be plenty. Even as strict as this budget was, I don’t feel like I was missing out on anything. I think I needed a chill month after the craziness of the first two. I feel like I’m really starting to settle into this town and living as an English teacher rather than a wide-eyed tourist.

I think I can chalk this one up as a victory.


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A Social Experiment in Economics

One of the biggest reasons I chose to teach English in Korea over other countries was that I would be able to save a significant amount of money in a relatively short amount of time. Without having to pay for housing, gas, and other monthly nuisances here in Korea, I estimated I would bank at least 60 percent of my paycheck each month. Even inadvertently, I had saved about that much (which, however, resulted in the counter-productive purchases of a 22-inch LCD monitor, a DSLR camera, and a round-trip ticket for a weekend in Taipei) but now that the Korean won has fallen faster than Sarah Palin’s approval rating with turkeys, I need to be more critical of my expenditures.

Again, it’s all about setting goals: I’ve decided to put myself on a strict budget. I believe I can live comfortably in Seoul for 600,000 won per month. All it takes is finding some new things to do instead of carousing two nights each weekend in a bar or nightclub. My personal pledge to see something new every weekend helps with this as well; I can’t wake up at 2 pm with a throbbing headache and expect to make sightseeing a priority over drinking water and sleeping more.

After receiving my monthly paycheck, I’ll take out the 600,000 in cash and live from that. The more interesting experiment comes in its first run-through this month: I spent 420,000 won booking a flight to Taipei for an ultimate frisbee tournament, leaving me with 180,000 won for essentially a month. Ignoring the exchange rate[1], think that anything that would cost $1 in the States costs roughly 1,000 won here; I have the spending power of about $180.

Obviously the nightlife will be a bit tamer (I was getting a bit jaded toward the bar scene, anyway), but it’s the little things that will need to be reined in to make this work — mainly my insatiable desire for snacks. I constantly eat, even when I’m not hungry and especially when I’m bored. The stops at 7-11 on the way to school will have to be reduced, and I’ll have to fight off my constant urge to devour street food every time I see it. Chicken on a stick is hard to resist.

While this might be a bit extreme and I might be able to talk myself into ignoring the cost of the plane ticket as an outlier that shouldn’t be figured into my monthly budget, it’ll be interesting to see whether I can do this. I have a reputation to be a free-wheeling playboy with my excess savings, so I’ll have to learn to be more disciplined — especially since I’ve *knock on wood* bought all the tech gadgets I’ll need for this leg of the journey. Maybe the occasional lens will set me back a bit, but in theory, I’ll have more than enough for that.

I’ll probably disappear off the social map for a while (except for my inexpensive “See a New Thing Each Week” tour), but I’ll have more time to be productive for myself and maybe tick some other things off my “To Learn/Do” list. Saving some money and actually doing new things isn’t all too bad.

See you in the black.

[1] At the time of this post, $1 USD equaled 1,456 Korean won. When I arrived in Korea, I exchanged $1 USD for 1,050 won, which means I’ve lost nearly one third of my paycheck in the three months I’ve been here. Because of the Korean economy’s instability, I constantly check xe.com to add a sprinkle of depression to my day.

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