Maximizing Savings in Korea: Part I (Your Mart and Mobile Carrier)

If you’re one of the many who resolved to get through the new year making better financial and economic choices you may have already encountered a number of unexpected setbacks. Perhaps the winter’s early arrival brought about a major spike in your heating bill or maybe you’re mentally cursing at your inebriated state over the weekend after buying that extra round of shots for your new “friends” you met at that random bar. As most of us know, it’s far easier to spend than save which isn’t helped by the continually rising cost of living in Korea (with Seoul residents bearing an extra burden). You may even find yourself wondering whether your paycheck is coming through to you and your bank account or practically straight to your credit card company.

To help readers out, this is the start of a new series to share a few potentially unknown tips and tricks to cut costs, maximize savings, and/or stretch your hard earned won in returns for you. From hidden discounts to benefits, here are a number of simple steps you can take to ensure more of your earnings in your possession!

We’ll begin by looking at ways to save while grocery shopping as well as looking at the benefits your mobile carrier can provide.

Finding Savings at Your Local Mart:

Know Your Types of Marts as Well as Their Pros and Cons

Traditional market Image source: Kihoilbo

Traditional market
Image source: Kihoilbo

Despite not being a very large country, consumer goods in Korea can pass through quite a number of companies and hands which often leaves the final price for consumers awfully high. While large supermarket chains offer a bit more modern convenience you should know that, in general, prices at supermarket chains will be higher than your neighborhood market.

This is especially true for food items such as fresh produce so make the effort to get to know the small to mid-sized markets in your immediate area. Yes, this also means overcoming your hesitancy in following that group of Korean ajummas to the traditional market by your house. After all, Korean ajummas are a frugal crowd with high expectations in price and quality so take it as a sign when you see a flock of black, curly haired women in flower-patterned pants crowded around certain stores as a stamp of approval and try and shop where they do. That being said there are certain benefits that larger supermarkets have such as carrying harder-to-find imported goods and sometimes having event sales (such as 1+1 deals) that could make prices of some goods cheaper there. Prices can, and often are, found cheaper online as well but I’ll expound on that in a future post.

Accumulate Those Membership Points

Sample Emart membership card Image source: Emart

Sample Emart membership card
Image source: Emart

At your local neighborhood market be sure to ask about any membership point system they may offer. If they do have one, enroll in it (this usually requires simply registering a name, address, and phone number) and be sure to get your points in every time you make a purchase there. In most cases, your mart will usually give you a membership card you can provide for scanning or you can usually provide your registered phone number to the checkout clerk. Each purchase you make will add up in points and, after having saved a certain number of points, you can use them later on to get a deduction. Tip: in most of these systems, you accumulate more points by spending cash instead of card so try and get some bills ready on grocery shopping days.

If You Need a Large Quantity of Something, Ask About Discounts for BulkPurchases

If you have a large dinner party coming up or need to purchase something in bulk ask your neighborhood mart if they’re willing to sell at a discounted price in bulk (say, for example, a box of it). This is a trick locals often use before major holidays (when a lot of food needs to be prepared) or kimchi making season and you can sometimes score a hefty cut in price. Or, you can even split it with friends or neighbors (similar to Costco purchases).

Ask About Any Free Delivery Service Offered

You should also inquire about any free delivery service offered by your mart. If they do offer such a service, most marts will stipulate your total must be over a certain limit (usually around 20,000~30,000). But if you do meet the requirement and you live in the same neighborhood, the market can usually deliver your groceries (except for fragile items such as eggs) to your home for free which is much more convenient than having to take a taxi, not to mention it saves you the taxi fare. Do note two things about the delivery service though: when delivery orders are backed up (such as on weekends) delivery may sometimes take over an hour and, also, delivery service usually ends earlier than the mart’s closing time, so plan accordingly!

Check out the Sale Corner 

Every mart and supermarket has a sale corner or display where usually some bruised  and”ugly” produce and/or products that are very close to their expiring dates are sold for extremely low prices. Who knows, you may luck out and come across an item or two you were needing for that night’s dinner or the items there may even inspire you to change your meal plan for the day! Even if they’re not items you will eat right away, if it’s something that you can store and extend the shelf life of, such as through freezing, then it’ll be worth the small effort.

Go Before Closing Time for Some of the The Best Discounts

Both neighborhood markets and major supermarkets usually hold major flash sales during the final hours before closing time. This makes it a great time to pick up both ingredients and food you want to eat within a day or two at some of the best prices. At the larger supermarkets, this includes steep discounts near closing time for their pre-made, unsold dishes such as pizza, chicken, baked breads, sushi, kimbap, etc.

Invest in a Reusable Grocery Bag

Image source:

Image source:

Each time you ask for a plastic bag at checkout, there’s a small charge that’s levied on you. It’s not at all a huge sum but it does add up in cost over time and will probably leave you with more plastic bags than you know what to do with. Invest in a sturdy reusable grocery bag or two to rid yourself of any more unnecessary charges while helping play a small part in helping the earth!

Your Mobile Carrier and Credit Card

Get a discount at the movies, convenience store, restaurant, and more

Korean mobile plans can be ridiculously pricey at times but you should know that all plans come with a range of benefits. Depending on not only your mobile carrier but also your phone plan, your membership can bring provide discounts on a daily basis at just about everywhere including convenience stores, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, movie theaters, hair salons, amusement parks, resorts, and more. To take advantage of these memberships you can either request an actual membership card (for free) to carry around or, even simpler, download the official membership app of your mobile carrier to your phone. Whenever you make a purchase just show them your membership and you’ll receive your discount.

Example of movie theater discounts for SKT users Image source: SKT membership homepage

Sample benefits include SKT users receiving 20% off most purchases at Tous Les Jours (including cakes), LG U Plus users receiving free size upgrades or espresso shot/syrup pump additions at Starbucks or KT users getting 20% off at Paris Baguette. Sometimes there are even “membership day” discounts offered at participating businesses where there’s an additional discount for your mobile membership (usually 10% in addition to the normal discount percentage) on that day. The establishments you can get a discount and what percentage will depend on the businesses your mobile carrier has partnered with. Certain restrictions will apply however such as membership discounts often not accepted with other discounts and do be aware that there’s usually a cap in both the daily and yearly use for your membership though!

The full list of benefits, and terms, are provided through the following respective membership homepage links (though they are in Korean): SKTLG U Plus, and KT Olleh.

Get Some Tunes for Cheap

Mobile carriers are usually partnered with a music service such as Melon, Genie, etc. As such, you can usually receive a discount on your monthly subscription to their partnered music service site, allowing you to listen to their music whenever you want.

If you’re purchasing a new phone and signing a new contract, be sure to also ask the salesperson about free subscription offers to their associated music service. In some cases, your mobile carrier will allow you to use the music service for free for a limited time.

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