Study abroad is super fun, but you know what isn't? Suddenly running out of money partway through your program. Knowing general cost of living and how you typically spend money is essential for a healthy financial life and a healthy life in general. In an effort to understand my spending habits as well as give you get an idea of what you may pay for different items, here's a look into a regular week of my life in Seoul through the eyes of my bank account!
First, I'll lay out my actual spending. Afterward, I'll debrief where I am able to cut back on spending and some general habits that explain my spending. I'll throw in some of my larger, infrequent purchases like tattoos, hair, and travel outside Seoul.
large taro boba from Gong Cha with Yonsei student discount - 3750 won
three Chinese sugar doughnuts from a street food stall - 2000 won
a single sunflower to brighten my dorm room - 3000 won
Total: 8750 won or $7.40 USD
hot green tea latte from Angelo Dio in SK Global - 3800 won
five servings of fried chicken I keep in my fridge for leftovers - 36750 + 750 (delivery fee) won or 7350 won per serving
Total: 41300 won or $34.92 USD
yhree pastries from a local bakery - 4500 won
one shot of espresso from Paris Baguette - 2000 won
hangul Museum gift shop (postcards, keychain, bookmarks, and enamel pin) - 29000 won
iced green tea latte in Hangul Museum - 4200 won
bus fare to and from Hangul Museum - 2500 won
Total: 42200 won or $35.68 USD
iced coffee from GS25 - 2500 won
bus fare to and from Bugaksan Mountain - 2500
Total: 5000 won or $4.23 USD
dinner and drinks with friends - 12000 won or $10.14 USD
toilet paper and K-Pop album - 22760 won or $19.76 USD
Total: 34760 won or $29.90
standing fan - 24870 won or $21.59 USD
chapstick and 4 single-use mud masks from Daiso - 5000 won or $4.23 USD
banana milk, peach iced tea, kimbap, and chips from GS25 - 5400 won or $4.55 USD
Total: 35270 won or $30.37 USD
groceries at No Brand (cereal, instant coffee, chocolate, pocky, bread, ramen pack, almond milk) - 22980 won or $19.47 USD
Total: 22980 won or $19.47 USD
Weekly total: 190260 won or $161.97 USD
So that's what I spent in a week. I think it is fairly representative of my habits aside from some of the one-time purchases and excursions like the fan and Hangul Museum trip. Now that you've seen some of what I spend on, I'll elaborate on some larger purchases and where I'm saving money (or not).
I have four notable instances where I have spent a significant amount of money: my hair, tattoos, traveling to Busan, and the HYBE Museum.
When I first got out of quarantine, I went straight to the hair salon where I when from virgin, black hair to blonde—a full bleaching job. It took close to 5 hours (with short hair) and cost 241000 won ($204.16 USD). I paid in cash which kept the price slightly lower by about 20000 won. Comparatively to the U.S., this was a cheaper haircut largely due to the conversion rate and that tipping isn't TIP-ical in Korean culture.
While in Seoul, I have gotten two tattoos. The first one was on my left forearm. It was black and white with linework and shadows. It cost 270000 won ($228.72 USD) in cash and took close to three hours. The second one I got was about 4cm x 4cm on my right wrist. It was also linework in black and white with a red accent. The second tattoo cost 250000 won ($211.78 USD) and took about an hour. While these tattoos may have been slightly more expensive than what I would pay in the US for similar ones, it was much faster getting an appointment, and the artists were more popular on the tattoo scene in Seoul.
Traveling to Busan wasn't a bank-breaking expense, but many students will travel while studying in Seoul so I thought I'd share my associated costs. We took the train (to Busan), which cost about $60 each roundtrip. It was not the bullet train though as that was more expensive. My friends and I also split the cost of an Airbnb which was $70 each for a studio apartment split between four people. Spending while in Busan didn't deviate from my typical spending patterns, but we did splurge a bit on seafood!
Lastly, I recently took a tour of the HYBE INSIGHT Museum. While it may not be surprising that I spent a lot of money on a K-Pop-related expedition, I wanted to make note of the expense. I ended up spending over $200 USD between registration and merchandise. The ticket was only $23 with the photo ticket, and the rest was photocards, postcard sets, egg tarts, and two keychains from the Upcycling Lab. It should be noted that I will be returning as I would like to get some gifts and the Euphoria room spray scent. Side note: the museum itself is really cool even if you aren't a diehard BigHit/HYBE fan!
While my sample weekly budget doesn't reflect it, I do eat full meals every day! I don't typically have a big appetite during the daytime, so I usually have a light breakfast and am satisfied until dinner. I try to save money on meals during the week by eating in the dorm, so I can go out on the weekends with friends to different restaurants. For breakfast/lunch, I'll have instant coffee—I firmly believe coffee is a meal—with cereal or oatmeal. For dinner, I'll eat leftovers or ramen combined with pickled radish and rice. Typically, at the beginning of the week, I'll bulk order from a restaurant on Shuttle (a food delivery app like GrubHub) and keep the leftovers for the rest of the week (I'm in a single and am blessed with a mini-fridge). I'm also able to save money by using a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (Discover), taking out cash only when necessary due to international atm fees, and by bringing all the toiletries I need from the US.
Some things that should be budgeted for that you may not think of include: money for your transportation card (rides are typically 1200 won which covers transfers between buses and the subway), laundry (about 800 won per load), and prepaid sim card for a working Korean number (starting at 30000 won/month for the cheaper plans).
I hope all of this helps you plan your finances during your time abroad in Seoul!