A Week In Ulsan, South Korea, On A $23,000 Salary

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.

Today: a teacher who makes $23,000 per year and spends some of her paycheck this week on french fries at a sushi restaurant.

Occupation: ESL Teacher
Industry: Education
Age: 23
Location: Ulsan, South Korea
Salary: $~23,000
Paycheck (1x/month): $1,930

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0. (Luckily, the program I work for covers my apartment!)
Student Loan Payment: $500. (I took out a private loan my freshman year of college and I'm aggressively trying to pay it off.)
Utilities: $100
Phone Bill: $50
Savings: $400-$600. (I have a total of $3,000 in savings.)
Spotify: $10
Bus Card: $20

Additional Expenses
Gym Membership: $350 for six months. (Gyms in Korea are interesting; you pay a lump sum to join.)

Day One

6:45 a.m — I struggle to get out of bed before beginning my morning routine of oatmeal, coffee, and getting ready. I talk to my friends and family who are still awake in the U.S., and then head off to work.

8:40 a.m. — Immediately start online shopping as I sit down at my desk. I think twice before dropping money on new jeans and go into my first and only lesson of the day.

10 a.m. — Back at my desk, I swiftly put the jeans and earrings into my shopping cart and purchase. A pair of my beloved jeans ripped on vacation recently, which is how I am justifying this purchase to myself. $91.45

12 p.m. — My school offers lunches for teachers for roughly $40 per month, but I prefer to bring my lunch and avoid the questionable meats. I scurry out of the cafeteria after I eat and go back to my desk. Today is a slow day sitting at my desk working on a multicultural class lesson plan I am doing in the upcoming months. As a break, I start online shopping again. I remember I am running low on a few products that I order from the U.S. every month or so. I restock on all my essentials. $49.66

4:40 p.m. — As soon as the clock hits 4:40, I fly out of work and to the gym.

6:30 p.m. — Finally get home. I start making pasta, check my phone, and straighten up my place. I devour the pasta in just a few minutes, and then hop in the shower.

9 p.m. — I talk on the phone with a guy I've been chatting with. We talk for 45 minutes and I get sleepy, but then end up staying up until 11 talking with family and friends who are just waking up in the U.S.

Daily Total: $141.11

Day Two

7 a.m. — I hit snooze two times before actually getting out of bed. My apartment is FREEZING because the heating system in Korea is a lot different than in the U.S. They use floor heating here, so the heat doesn't really stay in my apartment like it should. Despite feeling chilly, I start moving and getting ready for the day. Answer a "good morning" text from the guy I was talking to last night, but I'm unsure of how I feel about meeting up tonight.

9:10 a.m. — I get a message from one of my co-teachers about how much I owe for a dinner we all went to on Monday. I transfer her the money, and then start thinking about how great the pizza and pasta were. I might have to eat it again for dinner tonight. $10.64

12:20 p.m. — I thought I'd finished my last class of the day, but I find out that I have an afternoon class with sixth grade again. There was some drama between a homeroom teacher and my co-teacher, so the class got pushed to this afternoon. I always find out last minute about things like this. Unfazed, I start brainstorming activities we can do since we finished the book in our lesson earlier today. My co-teacher and I head to lunch, and I listen to her valid complaints about the homeroom teacher.

2:10 p.m. — Back at my desk until 4:40 p.m. There are absolutely no lessons next week, so there is no planning to do. I focus on my multicultural class materials and watch YouTube videos before I leave for the weekend. This week was unusually exhausting considering I only had 40% of my classes. I'm ready to rest.

4:50 p.m. — I get home and feel like having a night in. Flake on the guy who I talked to last night. He wanted to get dinner, but I really don't feel like socializing. I sit on my phone for a little bit and then finally get up from my bed to make dinner. I throw lettuce, lentils, and sweet potatoes in a bowl and think about how I really should have gone to the store.

7:30 p.m. — I fall into a Spotify hole and start expanding my latest playlist. There is a lot of good music that has just come out and I am really digging it. After listening for a while, I start kind of watching Altered Carbon on Netflix, but I'm really only paying attention to my phone.

9:30 p.m. — I talk to my mom on the phone for an hour and a half. I dish on all of my boy drama and work updates from the last week. It is extremely difficult to match up our schedules during the week, so I cherish all the time I get to spend talking to mom. Shortly after our call, I pass out.

Daily Total: $10.64

Day Three

9 a.m. — Had quite the snooze this morning. I'm happy I got to rest today because I needed it. I check my phone, get up, and make breakfast. It's also great to feel well-rested after a Friday night because I usually feel like garbage on Saturday mornings. I text my best friend in the States because I am pretty sure she doesn't have work today. We FaceTime for a while and catch up. I love when our schedules line up because I miss her so much and she gives great advice.

11:30 a.m. — I go out to get groceries, and since I didn't go out for dinner and drinks last night, I feel like treating myself at the store. I pick up hot sauce and other splurge items and then grab an Americano at a coffee shop near my house. I end up FaceTiming with another of my best friends when I get home. She catches me up on what is going on back at our university, since she is still a student there. After reminiscing for a while, we hang up and I try to get my day rolling. $29.33

1:50 p.m. — Make lunch and get ready to head to the gym. Lunch is tofu, rice, and salad – super simple. Korea has forced me to eat simply at home, as I prefer to eat plant-based, and the options here for veggies are slim; my main protein staples are lentils and tofu. I listen to my new Spotify playlist to get motivated for leg day at the gym and dance a little bit before heading out.

4:15 p.m. — Finish up my workout and walk home. I eat a quick snack and slowly get ready for dinner with a friend. I turn on the TV in my apartment, which has collected dust since I arrived in Korea. I watch some of the Olympics and get a little bummed out that I blew the opportunity to watch in person when the events are being held only a few hours away from me.

6:30 p.m. — I catch a bus to downtown Ulsan to meet my friend for dinner. I am feeling so much more sociable today. My city only has buses as its public transport, which is a bit of a bummer, because I miss the metro and am not a fan of the jarring bus adventures here. My life flashes before my eyes every time I set foot on one! The drivers here barely stop when picking up new passengers. $11.89

9 p.m. — We get dinner at a sushi place, where I order French fries (which is weird). The fries are subpar but the translations of the sushi roll names into English make up for it. Against my better judgment, we head over to where all the bars are. We drink and play darts. $9.22

11:30 p.m. — We head to another, more lively bar. We drink a few fruity drinks and play more darts. Korea is a bit behind when it comes to music and no one here actually knows how to do "The Cupid Shuffle," so my friend and I do it and the rest of the people at the bar fist pump. $11.06

3:30 a.m. — I finally leave the bar and hop in a taxi. I am impressed with the Korean taxi driver because he actually understands my Korean when I tell him my address. I get super tired in the taxi and look forward to crawling into my bed. Get home, take out my contacts, wash my face, and go straight to sleep. $14.32

Daily Total: $75.82

Day Four

10 a.m. — I do not feel good. Chug a ton of water and eat something to make myself feel better, which works. I cancel my afternoon plans so that I can take it easy. One of my best friends asks if we can talk on the phone. We talk for two hours and catch up on what has happened in the last three months since we last chatted. She tells me about her nightmare road trip with a friend from college and I tell her about my vacation and guy troubles.

12:20 p.m. — I remember I don't have coffee in my house and need to drink some before a headache sets in. Can't get motivated. I finally get myself ready to go out into public, pick up the coffee, and retreat back into my apartment. I feel 100 times better after drinking the coffee. I also make a quick lunch because I am strangely very hungry today. $5.99

3 p.m. — I think hard about going out and exercising, but do not move from my bed. I watch YouTube videos and text my friend about how lazy I'm feeling. It's okay to take it easy on a Sunday!

5:30 p.m. — Finally put all of my laundry away and start making dinner. I make a traditional Korean street food called Tteok-bokki — Korean rice cakes in a super spicy sauce. This batch I make is so spicy it makes me sweat and my tongue feels like it's going to fall off. I save the leftovers for lunch, but I fear that I'll start sweating at work when I eat them tomorrow.

9 p.m. — After a few hours of being lazy and watching The Amazing Race, I decide to be a grandma and go to bed at 9:15. I felt like going to bed for the night at 3 p.m. today, so I think it's a good call to give my body what it wants.

Daily Total: $5.99

Day Five

6:45 a.m. — Going to bed early last night was a smart move but I still feel like I could snooze for another two hours. I slowly get up and get into my pre-work routine. I was too lazy to make my lunch the night before, so I whip something up now. I get a call from the guy I declined dinner with the other night — a butt dial, he claims — and then he proceeds to ask how my weekend was. I leave later than usual.

8:45 a.m. — I roll into the office and get settled in for a long day of sitting at a desk. There are no English classes this week and everyone is gearing up for the last day of school. I have things to work on and online shopping to browse, so I keep pretty busy as I sip on my second cup of coffee.

11:30 a.m. — My co-teacher tells me it's time for lunch – an hour earlier than our usual lunchtime. We meander down to the cafeteria and, to my surprise, it's full of first and second graders. My heart melts because they're so cute! Luckily, my spicy leftovers don't make me sweat and I eat my lunch pretty quickly.

2 p.m. — I start thinking about how I'd like to get involved in volunteer work in Ulsan, so I do some research. I find an organization and shoot them a message. I browse online more and am quite surprised by how quickly time is passing today. In addition to the volunteering, I would also like to enroll in a Korean language class because living here and not knowing much Korean is a major missed opportunity.

4:40 p.m. — I try to get out of work as soon as possible and head straight to the gym. I feel super hungry and a little worried that my workout won't be great because I haven't eaten enough. I block out these thoughts and push my mile on the treadmill in record time; it feels easy. It really is all in your mind when it comes to pushing yourself at the gym. Unfortunately, I learned these no-B.S. mentality tricks long after I swam and ran in college and high school.

6 p.m. — I leave the gym and go to the store to pick up my grocery staples, and make a sweet potato, salad, and tofu back at home. I feel motivated, so I clean my apartment and put all of my clean clothes away. I don't know how I always end up with so many clothes to put away after only a few days! $18.32

9:30 p.m. — I wind down and listen to music. I watch an episode of The Amazing Race again and chat with a friend. 10 p.m. rolls around and I pass out with the plan of heading to the gym first thing in the morning.

Daily Total: $18.32

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — Guess who didn't go to the gym this morning! I sleep another 15 minutes and then give my mom a quick call. Finally, I get up at 7:10 and start getting ready. I speedily get ready and have time to do chores around my house, and yet still head out the door a little late.

8:45 a.m. — No class again today, so I have to invent things to keep busy. I will try to sift through all of the tax information I have received to give to my mom, who is an angel and is helping me with my taxes while I'm overseas. One of my co-teachers is having a rough morning and I see her crying. The teachers here rotate the grades they teach every year, and she went from teaching fifth-grade English to first-grade homeroom. First grade is the very first year of Korean elementary school, so she will have to teach them all of the basics. I know she'll be great at it, but I wish I could make her feel less sad about the switch.

12:30 p.m. — We head to lunch. I feel like a bottomless pit today and leave unsatisfied after I finish my lunch. This leaves me a bit worried because I definitely did not pack sufficient snacks today. I try to pull myself together and forget about my stomach's rumbling by busying myself with work.

3 p.m. — I am wildly hungry and overall do not feel that well this afternoon. I need to reconsider the amount of food I bring to work. I take the last package of nuts in our office (and the only snack left) and munch on a banana. The last hour of work is dreadful – time seems to pass so slowly. My co-teacher tells me that we have a work dinner to celebrate the last day of the school year, but I decline because she tells me only 20 minutes before the day ends. I tell her I already have plans for the evening.

5:30 p.m — I skip the gym today because I really felt ill after work today. I start making dinner at home and listening to tunes. Tuesday nights are the best because I get to watch The Bachelor. I'm not too fond of Arie but I continue to watch this season because I live for reality TV.

9:30 p.m. — I am reverting back to my grandma ways this week and spend the night watching YouTube videos. Tell myself that I'm going to the gym in the morning and pack my gym bag to avoid any excuses!

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

6:30 a.m. — I get up with a hint of reluctance and get ready for the gym. I pack my breakfast and lunch and then walk over. I am so happy to see how bright it is getting at 7 a.m. now; it is making me stoked for spring and summer and I need to get OUT of my winter slump. Hit back and biceps at the gym. I shower, curl my hair, and do my makeup at the gym before going to work.

8:35 a.m. — Immediately upon getting to work, I crack open my overnight oats. I am so hungry this morning. Make coffee in the office and realize I have the whole place to myself today. Luckily, tomorrow is the first day of a four-day weekend. I text a Korean friend about our plans to meet for dinner later.

1 p.m. — Honestly, I have no idea what I have done today, but time is passing quickly. Start chatting with a guy I met this summer – boredom at its finest. I have purposely left my wallet at home for the past two days because I sadly cannot trust myself with online shopping. Also, going to the gym this morning was a great idea because I haven't fallen into my post-lunch slumber.

5 p.m. — I run to the store to get food and go for a walk. I pick up pickles (a strange craving), apples, carbonated water, and Tteok-bokki. Surprisingly, I don't see any of my students on my walk to and from the store. I get home and redo my makeup and fix my hair before going out to dinner. I end up having a weird reaction to a product I use. Of course this happens right before I meet someone for the first time! $10.02

7:30 p.m. — So, so hungry. I meet a new Korean friend for dinner. We get pasta and pizza and chat about life in Korea, life in the U.S., languages, and gun control. We plan to play beer pong and darts at the local bar the next time we meet. He tells me that in Korea, it is customary to treat a new friend to dinner, so he pays the bill. I tell him I will buy him drinks when we meet next.

10:30 p.m. — I relax at home and chat with friends from the U.S. No work tomorrow, so I think about how much I can sleep in in the morning. And just like that, I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $10.02

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