The Korea Herald


Workers groan under high prices for food, fuel, rent

By 천성우

Published : July 14, 2011 - 19:20

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High prices for basic necessities such as food and housing are taking their toll on Seoul’s office workers, with many people turning to cheaper alternatives to make ends meet.

Im Su-jeong, 33, works in Seoul’s financial hub of Yeouido, where dining out is known to be expensive. In a culture where going Dutch is still awkward and sometimes embarrassing, Im finds herself easily paying 40,000 won ($38) for a meal with four colleagues.

“At my job, I often have to feed my colleagues, but food is so expensive that I end up looking for affordable places such as small pizza restaurants that sell two pizzas for the price of one,” she said.

On top of that, she pays 400,000 won for rent each month as well as utility bills and interest on loans. Spending on leisure has therefore become a luxury.

“I like music, but I don’t even remember the last time I bought a CD. I use the streaming service on the Internet,” she said. Im is not the only person in Seoul scrambling to save on food, judging from the rising popularity of public canteens. Of some 250 lunch coupons sold each day at the canteen in Gangnam Police Station, in one of the richest areas of Seoul, about one-third go to nearby office workers looking to cut down on food costs. They are charged 1,000 won more than staff at the police station, but for only 4,000 won, or about half the price elsewhere, they can be sure to have a good meal.

“Many young office workers come here for lunch, probably because prices are high in general in the Gangnam area,” said an official at the police station, who asked not to be named. “We’re a little concerned about receiving too many (outside) customers because in a public canteen, we can’t reflect the rising price of ingredients in the price of food.”

The same thriftiness is found in people’s choice of transportation. With the price of gasoline exceeding 2,000 won per liter in Seoul, some people are turning to public transportation or searching for cheaper gas stations, while others are filling their own tanks.

“The gas station I go to now costs up to 300 won less (per liter) than stations in the Gangnam area, so I’m able to save about 10,000 won each time,” said Kim, a 30-year-old office employee who asked not to be identified. He said he has sacrificed the free car wash at the previous gas stations he used to go to and now fills his own tanks.

“Nowadays, we can compare petrol prices between different gas stations through the Internet, so many people I know are also going to ‘self-stations.’”

Paying rent is another major burden for the average office worker. Park Seong-jae, 32, said he was forced to sell his car after his landlord raised the deposit and rent on his accommodation.

“I was asked to pay an additional 10 million won in deposit and an extra 100,000 won in monthly rent, and I had no choice because other places were even more expensive,” he said. 

(Yonhap News)