A Week In South Korea On A $32,000 Salary

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Today: a U.S. Army Officer who makes $32,000 per year and spends some of her money on silk pink scrunchies.
Occupation: U.S. Army Officer
Industry: Military
Age: 22
Location: South Korea
Salary: $32,000
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,581
Gender Identity: Cis Female
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0 (I live in on-post housing so I don't pay for utilities or rent.)
Loans: $0 (I bought a cheap Korean car in cash for $1,300 when I got here, and I had a full merit scholarship to college.)
Life Insurance: $5
Roth TSP Contribution: $478 (15% after-tax)
Service Automatic TSP Contribution: $32 (in nine months they'll match up to 5%, for now, it's just 1%)
New Car Savings: $700
Emergency Fund: $0 (I hit my $5,000 goal earlier this year!)
Travel Fund: $200
Hulu/HBO: $20 (I pay for this, mom pays for Netflix, and we share both)
Planned Parenthood: $10
Car Insurance: $6
Health Insurance: $0
Gym: $0
Utilities: $0
Phone: $70
Wifi: $70

Day One

5:45 a.m. — My alarm goes off and I bundle up and head outside for property layouts. It is freezing and going through all of our equipment is miserable. Usually, I do PT (physical training) with my unit in the mornings, but inventory is my temporary morning purgatory.
8 a.m. — Head home for breakfast! I take a long, hot shower to warm up and sauté some spinach, tomatoes, and meal-prepped potato wedges with an egg and cheddar cheese. I pour myself a cold brew and get started on emails.
9:30 a.m. — I head into the office and get more paperwork done.
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12 p.m. — I rarely eat lunch during workdays because I'm so busy, but our new office is right next to the snack bar for the Korean soldiers embedded into out unit and they have awesome affordable food. I get a fried rice bowl and take five bites before I have to run out for a task. $4
2 p.m. — I get out of the office to do some training with my soldiers! We run through basic individual gunnery tasks. My job is pretty cool but because our branch is so tiny and there are so few females, I can't go into as much detail as I would like to.
8 p.m. — My First Sergeant kicks me out of the office and sends me home. I warm up the leftover fried rice from lunch with veggies and a fried egg, smother the whole thing in garlic chili sauce, and chow down.
9 p.m. — I take another hot shower, make Sleepytime tea, and pass out.
Daily Total: $4

Day Two

5 a.m. — Early wake up today to hit the gym before layouts. More equipment layout awfulness afterward.
8 a.m. — I have a sandwich thin breakfast sandwich with cheese, an egg, tomato, avocado spread, and frozen breakfast sausage. I remember that I'll be in the field for my friend's birthday next month and place an order for flowers to get sent to her while I have my morning cold brew. I heard about this flower company — Bouqs — on Shark Tank and so I'm excited to see how they look IRL. $54
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9:30 a.m. — Work. I get some paperwork done, attempt to deconflict two co-workers who hate each other and between whom I always seem to get stuck in the middle of, and do a gunnery evaluation.
3 p.m. — We're usually released early on Fridays, but I have to stay behind to deal with soldier issues. I also find out about a mandatory leadership hang-out instituted by our commander so there goes my early release.
5 p.m. — I barely have time to run home, shower, and change before going to the subpar, overpriced, on-post restaurant picked out by leadership. I order lemonade and nachos and attempt to hide out with the other junior officers. $11
7 p.m. — One of our favorite soldiers is leaving, so a big group of us decide to go to his going away party. I order a round of Kamikaze shots for everyone and a few screwdrivers. $43
1 a.m. — I am literally about to pass out (from exhaustion, not alcohol) and finally get home, take another shower, and am dead asleep.
Daily Total: $108

Day Three

10 a.m. — I usually don't drink this much since alcohol, soldiers, and foreign countries are historically not a great mix and I have stress dreams all night. I call my best friend and she talks me down for an hour.
11 a.m. — Another breakfast sandwich while chatting with another friend back in the states. She's an officer in the Air Force and we have a fun time shit-talking each other's services (all in good fun, of course) and talking about our experiences in male-dominated environments.
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12 p.m. — After deep cleaning my kitchen, I finally make it out of the house. I stop at Starbucks to get a drink and get my holiday gift card punched (17 drinks gets you a free Moleskine planner here!). I love making my own cold brew for daily drinking, but I do allow myself to go to coffee shops on the weekends since there are so many fun ones in Korea and it brings me a lot of joy. $5
12:15 p.m. — I head to the commissary and stock up on meal prep stuff for the week: lettuce, lean ground beef, chicken bouillon cubes, a rotisserie chicken, frozen broccoli, a case of La Croix, and turkey bacon. I also get a command strip hook. $23
12:45 p.m. — I head to the Korean grocery store for a few things I know are cheaper and better quality than on-post — fresh chives, scallions, mushrooms, and a dozen tangerines on sale at the tail end of their season! $5
2 p.m. — This week, I got my first period in over two months — the stress of losing a loved one while stationed overseas plus the crazy operational tempo of my job here has caused my cycle to be pretty messed up. My body thus feels like crap. I bake a loaf of sourdough bread that I've been fermenting for a couple of days and then go on a very shitty three-mile run.
5 p.m. — I shower and eat my fresh sourdough with a chicken caesar salad for dinner while watching The Good Place on Netflix. I'm obsessed with Jameela!
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7 p.m. — I have a glass of wine, do a face mask, and pull the trigger on my Nordstrom cart I've been sitting on for weeks — I get pink silk pajamas and pink silk scrunchies. The only time I get to be myself is after work, so I don't mind splurging on some things to feel more feminine. $89
8 p.m. — I pick up my embroidery hoop and start working on it. It's another traditionally feminine hobby that I've picked up to balance the nature of my work.
Daily Total: $122

Day Four

8 a.m. — I wake up and lounge around in bed for a couple of hours before getting up and getting my day started. I call a friend back in the states while making Jok Moo, a savory Thai porridge from Chrissy Tiegen's cookbook that I've been cooking my way through. It's delicious! I have some ginger kombucha with it as well.
12 p.m. — I do my weekly load of laundry and talk to my mom and brother on the phone. They've been debating whether to come visit and I'm trying to convince them to wait for the summer. My mom lets me know what she wants for her birthday, so I order her an iHome alarm clock and packing cubes for a Christmas present for a friend. Holiday gift season plus all of my family and friends' birthdays means more gift spending in the next two months than usual. $79
4 p.m. — Finally make it out of pajamas and into the gym. I do four miles on the elliptical and an ab workout. A major perk of living on-post is access to our 24-hour gym for free! It's pretty good in terms of equipment and is never crowded on the weekends.
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5 p.m. — I go to the post exchange to get some protein powder and brown sugar. $40
6 p.m. — I eat another chicken caesar salad with sourdough for dinner and make banana bread to avoid wasting old bananas for dessert.
8:30 p.m. — I try to keep my sleep schedule consistent on the weekends so that Mondays aren't even worse than they naturally are. I get in bed and read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential because I miss him and damn, the guy could write. I fall asleep after about 20 minutes.
Daily Total: $119

Day Five

5:45 a.m. — Wake up and head over to PT. We run a few miles and then I go home and have leftover Jok Moo and cold brew for breakfast.
9 a.m. — I bring some of my banana bread from last night to share with my coworkers. We do the usual maintenance Monday stuff and I work on paperwork in the afternoon. I am responsible for about 20 soldiers and all of their passes, leave requests, evaluations, awards, etc. Also, HMWVVs (colloquially: a humvee) suck and keeping mine running is another whole job.
7:30 p.m. — I leave work to celebrate my friend's birthday. We go to a hot pot restaurant that's pretty good! One of my other friends treats so I grab coffee and dessert for myself and the birthday boy. Again, the coffee/dessert cafes in Korea are insanely fun and delicious. $16
Daily Total: $16

Day Six

5:45 a.m. — Up and to PT. I leave after stretching for a little bit since I'm taking a PT test tomorrow and I have work to do. I have the last of the sourdough bread I baked this weekend for breakfast and an almond milk protein shake.
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8:30 a.m. — More layouts. It is freezing and life is awful.
9:30 a.m. — I run through some gunnery drills with my soldiers and attend a rehearsal for a brief we'll be giving to a higher echelon next week. One of my soldiers loses her I.D. and I bring her to the police station to get a new one. I sync up with my Platoon Sergeant in the afternoon and knock out some admin tasks.
5:45 p.m. — I head home early to relax before my PT test. I bake the teriyaki chicken I prepped over the weekend and have more Jok Moo with it while watching Parks and Rec on Netflix in an attempt to absorb some of Leslie Knope's unfailing energy and optimism.
9 p.m. — In bed trying not to be nervous. We have to take a PT test (situps, pushups, and a run) every six months and I really want to do well and set a good example for my soldiers.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

5:15 a.m. — Up early today for the test! I end up a few points short of my goal, but still overall one of my better scores. The 30-degree weather for the run did not help.
7:30 a.m. — Shower and breakfast! I have leftover banana bread and cold brew then head to do more layouts. So boring, tedious, and awful.
9:30 a.m. — I do some gunnery training and paperwork, then prepare for a fuel mission and upcoming exercise. After interning extensively in the private sector during college, the sheer amount of unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy in the military kills me. Most of my peers and bosses have no work experience other than the Army and think that this way of doing things is normal when it's absolutely not.
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7:30 p.m. — My friends and I finally get out of the office and go for Korean fried chicken to celebrate passing my PT test this morning! I had no idea that fried chicken was such a big thing here in Korea, but there's a chicken place on almost every corner and the place we go to tonight may be my new favorite! $9
9 p.m. — We go across the street to a 7-11 and I get a chocolate matcha ice cream cone to cap off my celebratory food night. $4
Daily Total: $13
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