The Art of Living Cheap and Austere in Korea

  • Photo by Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist

    Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist

Editor’s Note: Some of the ideas or hacks mentioned in this article are not exactly safe. Please use extra caution when trying to grill samgyeopsal with a hanger or cook ramyeon without a pot. Read on. It will all make sense.

Life in Korea can be pretty affordable, but it can also cause major sticker shock. When an Americano costs 4,000 or 5,000 won (add 500 won for iced), it’s a wonder how young people in Seoul manage to balance their lives with their paychecks. The answer is simple. Very, very simple. Here are a few household tips from college students who live alone, known as jachisaeng (자취생), who often move to Seoul to pursue their studies.

If you don’t have a home, rest your head at a 24-hour sauna.
No place to rest your head? No problem. One college student I know lived out of a jjimjjilbang (Korean sauna) for close to a year while attending university in the city. “Get friendly with the staff,” he advises. Once the sympathetic night manager figured out that he was living in the sauna, he gave him free breakfast every morning. 3,000 won per night to rest your head includes unlimited hot water, comfortable, albeit a bit sweat-scented sauna clothes that double as PJs and a locker to keep your valuables safe. It amounts to a cool monthly rent of 90,000 won, including utilities.

Photo by Yaeri Song for SeoulistIf you don’t have a clothes dryer, use your hairdryer for small articles of clothing.
Dry small items by placing them in a plastic bag and blowing hot air into it with a hair dryer. This is a trick I learned from someone who doesn’t have a clothes dryer, like most people living in Seoul. It comes in handy when you have to quickly dry small items like socks, underwear or hand towels. The hot air from the hair dryer will fill the bag and help dry your socks quicker. Watch out so that you don’t burn yourself or the plastic bag in the process. If you have the luxury of time and ondol (heated floors), laying socks flat on the floor is known to do the trick as well.

Photo by Yaeri Song for SeoulistIf you don’t have a pan or grill, wrap silver foil around a misshapen hanger.
Here’s a cheap and easy trick for those who don’t possess the appropriate kitchen tools but still want to cook. You’ve been forewarned: this can be a very haphazard hack! Bend a hanger into a rounded shape and wrap with silver foil for grilling meats. Use a toothpick or chopstick to poke some holes through the foil for ventilation. Be particularly cautious if you’re grilling samgyeopsal, as the hot fat from the meat tends to splatter. This method also works great for camping and other impromptu grilling parties.

Photo by Yaeri Song for SeoulistIf you don’t have a pot to cook ramyeon, cook it directly in its packaging.
Ppogeuri (뽀글이) is the method of cooking ramyeon (aka ramen) noodles directly in their plastic wrapper, popularized by the guerilla culture of young Korean men in the military. Take extra caution when making ppogeuri, and wear gloves or mitts if possible. Heat water in an electric kettle. Open the ramyeon package at the top and break the noodles into four equal pieces. Place the pieces back in the bag and mix in any packets of spices and flavoring. Secure the package upright, preferably inside a small bowl. Pour enough boiling water to cover the noodles. Fold over the top of the package, making it hard for steam to escape. Fasten the folded top with a pair of chopsticks or a clip. Wait about three minutes (two, if you prefer al dente) and you have a bag of delicious and dangerously hot noodles. (Here’s a photo tutorial for your reference!)

If your cupboards are bare, visit your nearest supermarket between 5 and 8 p.m.
Emart, Homeplus, Lotte Mart, Kim’s Club and Nonhyup Mart are all great options. There’s no need for modesty or nunchi here; some marts even display signs encouraging shoppers to sample freely. One serial sampler recommends the mandu corner if you’re particularly hungry. “It’s easy to cut meat and sausages into tiny sample slices,” says the avid mart visitor who wished to remain anonymous. “But mandu and other foods with filling tend to fall apart when cut too small, so they’re generally offered in bigger portions.”

Photo by Yaeri Song for SeoulistIf you don’t have a shower or hot water, put your electric kettle to work.
Don’t dread your gas bill in the winter months. I learned this trick from someone who barely used any gas. Boil water with an electric kettle and combine the hot water with cold water for economical baths, just like they used to before running water. Tip: Outfit your sink with a dustpan to fill a bucket or container with tap water to achieve the perfect temperature.

Photo by Yaeri Song for SeoulistIf you don’t have presentable tissues, dress up your toilet paper roll with Kleenex boxes.
Korean households are known to use rolls of toilet paper in lieu of napkins, but if you find that unsightly, you can fit the average toilet paper roll into a square tissue box and let it roll out or poof up, depending on how you decide to use it.

Photo by Yaeri Song for SeoulistIf you don’t have a pillow, create an improvised pillow from large plastic bottles.
For some people, a plastic pillow is better than no pillow. I learned this from an intern who utilized this method for long nights in the office. Next time you’re about to throw out a plastic bottle, think again. Also works great (for passengers) during road trips. Tip: If you work in an office, snatch some industrial-sized printer cartridge bubble wrap and bedeck your two-liter bottles for extra comfy padding.

What are some cheap tips and hacks you’ve picked up from living alone? Share them below.


Yaeri Song

About Yaeri Song

Yaeri Song is a closeted filmmaker based in Seoul who enjoys long walks in the park with her celebrity Pekingese.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.