Saturday, June 26, 2010

Finances in Korea: 3 years later...

Many young people from the U.S. (and Canada and England and Australia and New Zealand and South Africa) select South Korea for their ESL teaching adventure because it promises a decent financial payout: relatively high salaries for a relatively low cost of living with lots of perks (free air or a bonus in lieu of air, cheap health care and low taxes, free housing or housing allowance, severance "bonus" every year, refund of pension money, proximity to other popular travel destinations in Asia, etc.). While I took a substantial pay cut to come here, for many others money was the name of the game.

Although my main reason for coming to Korea had very little to do with money, I decided to see how I've done the last three years and whether my decision to live here for the last three years was half the "win" financially as it has been personally.

In the U.S., as a teacher, I made between $36,000 (first year, straight out of school) and $43,000 (my third year with some extra duties like yearbook and after school test classes a couple days a week). Now, I would make more (depending on the district I chose and how much of my Korean experience they count probably between $50K and $60K) because I have completed my master's degree. Of course, this is assuming I can find a job in the current market... which may not be possible.

In Korea, I've made between a little less than $20,000 (my second year when the exchange rate for the won went crazy) to a little under $30,000--these figures are including housing calculated out as part of the salary, yearly bonuses and plane tickets, and extra classes/duties at school as part of that figure. I did not do private lessons (illegal for most ESL teachers here, but still common), which could have substantially increased my earnings here in Korea. I also chose jobs for reasons other than salary. I was offered substantially more by other schools, but chose the schools I did for personal and professional reasons. I'm saying earnings-wise, I could have done better if I'd cared to.

So in those three years, what have I accomplished financially? I dug up my old money file from June 2007 to see.
+ $20,000 less debt, including NO MORE credit card debt
+ Retirement accounts worth approximately the same--which considering I couldn't contribute to them at all since 2008 (no U.S. income) and the market crash in that time, that's a small miracle I wasn't even expecting
+ Getting married--paying cash for our 150ish person wedding was pretty awesome
+ Relocating to a new country with a cat
+ Two lovely vacations to Southeast Asia--my solo trip to Vietnam and the honeymoon to Cambodia and Thailand
+ Two trips back to the U.S., one for three weeks that included Min Gi (who did pay for his own plane ticket)
+ A great deal of travel within Korea
+ Getting a U.S. permanent resident visa (green card!) for my husband (not cheap!)

By the time both my husband and I arrive back in the U.S., we will be able to add the following:
+ Relocating to the U.S. with 2 people and 2 cats
+ Another $500 less debt or so
+ A 4-day, 3-night trip to Jeju-do (Korea's Hawaii... so they like to say)
+ Emergency cash savings of about $7,500-$10,000, pretty dependent on the exchange rate over the next few months

Considering that I've also had a major hospitalization in that time, I'd say that's pretty much a "win" all in all. Especially considering that I only really started "trying" to be more frugal a little over a year ago when we decided to get married (I'd always wanted to be debt free when I got married... I did not achieve that goal, but I didn't do too badly).

I've been pretty focused the last few months on the negatives of my financial picture (still owe a shocking amount of student loan debt and expect to be unemployed in the U.S. for a substantial and indeterminate amount of time, therefore lacking in health insurance, independent living space--yup, we're living with the 'rents for a bit, and forcibly delaying our desire to start a family until we're a bit more stable), that I've completely ignored the fact that I've managed to pay off so much debt and do so many things I never thought I'd be able to "afford" in the last three years.

With the larger salary in the U.S. (once I finally get a job!), I can probably pay down my debt a little faster, so I have a goal of being free of grad school debt within two years of gainful employment (the undergrad loan being at 1.65% interest, it seems silly to pay that off as quickly when I'd also like to have a bigger emergency fund, starting a family nest egg, and some savings for Min Gi to start his own business when we return to Korea in 4-5 years).

If you've been reading this blog, you already know what a "win" Korea was for me in the personal development and growth area... but until I sat down and crunched the numbers, I hadn't really appreciated how much of a win it was financially, too.

1 comment:

  1. YAH SOUNDS AWESOME DIANA! The win in personal development is exactly the reason I didn't take that job offer. Even if it takes me (and you) a little bit longer to stock pile some money or pay off debt, I think LIVING and ENJOYING are more important then any $ you've got in the bank. So congrats on your success. And good luck with the job search back home!



Related Posts with Thumbnails