Let’s be honest: It’s easy to blow all your cash or end up charging a few tens of thousands of won to your credit card at a Korean grocery store. A box of choco pie alone (which, let’s face it, can be gone in a day or two) sets you back around 5,000 KRW, while meat and other essential groceries in Korea range from 5,000 to 10,000 KRW.
So how do you stretch your budget and save more money? Try these simple ways:
1. Know Where To Go
HomePlus, eMart, and Lotte Mart are your best bets for quality items at affordable prices. There are also foreign grocery stores, smaller shops, and traditional markets you can shop in.
Reserve that trip to Costco for groceries that you need to buy in big bulks.
2. Buy Only What You Need And What You Can Consume
Don’t you just hate it when your milk goes bad and you have to throw out most of the carton or bottle? It’s like throwing away money, to be honest.
Make a list of everything you need for a certain period. For perishable food (especially fruits, veggies, meat, bread, and milk), make sure you know when they would go bad, and make sure you eat or cook them before those expiration dates!
3. Browse, Browse, Browse
Chances are there are several brands offering the same items, and some of them are cheaper than others. Make sure you do the legwork and weighing all your options instead of buying the first thing you see.
Most groceries sell meat and vegetables at discounted rates, especially if the items only have a few days of shelf life (but not expired) left. Take advantage of these discounts, especially if you’re planning to cook those ingredients within a day or two.
4. Buy Snacks In Bulk
This way, you don’t have to pay the (padded) convenience store price. Most snacks won’t spoil easily, so this makes sense.
A lot of the snacks come in bundles of four or more. Take advantage of those deals—they are lifesavers.
5. Keep An Eye Out For 1 + 1 Offers And Other Deals
Aside from snacks, you’re better off buying in bulk when it comes to those goods that won’t get spoiled easily or could be used for several weeks or months (like toiletries, cleaning supplies, or personal care items).
Keep an eye out for the many “2 for the price of 1” deals, “4 + 1” and “4 + 2” offers, and those purchases that come with gifts that you can actually use.
6. Go An Hour Before Closing
Especially if you’re just going to buy some fresh, frozen, or refrigerated goods.
Some grocery stores and smaller supermarkets (HomePlus, for instance) hold sales for the stuff they need to sell by the end of the day. You can take advantage of the 20-50% discount you get.
7. Scan The Aisles Up And Down, Left To Right
The items that are harder to reach (a.k.a. the ones on the top shelf or the bottom rack) may be the cheapest or the ones on sale.
And as always, compare options and brands. Find out which is cheaper with some quick, simple math:
Price / (Total Weight or Volume x Quantity)
Take these items from Lotte Mart for example:
Item A: Dried Seaweed Sheets 3,500 KRW / (15g x 3) vs.
Item B: Packets of Pre-Cut Dried Seaweed 3,800 KRW / (9g x 8)
Item A: Dried Seaweed Sheets 77.78 KRW/g vs.
Item B: Packets of Pre-Cut Dried Seaweed Sheets 52.78 KRW/g
The 8-pack of dried seaweed sheets is cheaper than the larger seaweed sheets, which you still have to cut and pack separately if you’re going to eat it as a snack. (Of course, the large sheets are still a great buy if you’re going to make your own gimbaps).
8. Bring Your Own Bag
It’ll save you around 200 won—a small change, sure, but it adds us if you go shopping often.
Let’s say you visit five times and bring your own bag: you save 1,000 KRW already. You can use that to buy a small coffee, a simple snack, or some street food like two sticks of odeng (fish cake)!
9. Check Your Options Online
If you’re not really in a rush to buy your groceries in Korea, compare the prices at the store or supermarket with the prices at online shopping sites like GMarket.
In some cases, you get waaay better prices and free shipping. In other cases, you get online coupons for downloading the online store’s app or signing up on that website.
10. Buy Fresh Groceries At Outdoor Markets
Instead of buying fruits, vegetables, and banchan (side dishes) in the grocery store, look out for traditional markets or random carts on the street. You’ll get more for the price you pay at the grocery.
Keep an eye out for those ajeossis driving trucks and selling produce, too (or when you hear someone saying something via a megaphone, go outside and check out what he’s selling).
They usually sell sacks of produce fresh from their farms for cheap. Sure, it will take you a month or so to go through a whole sack of onions or potatoes, but it’s a great way to save money on those pricey ingredients!