Tuesday, June 11, 2013

a lightening of the budgetary load

Assuming certain things happen here in the States before I jaunt off to Korea, my life, come September, ought to offer a lot more breathing room. This post allows me to "think out loud" about my budget. Since I have no sense of shame—nor, apparently, of privacy—I have no compunction about sharing details of my monthly budget with you, Dear Reader.

Here are my standard monthly expenses:

Rent: $780
Car Payment: $213
Car Insurance: $122
Verizon (2 lines): $160 ($80 defrayed by my brother)
eMax Student Loan: approx. $245 (varies slightly every month)
Comcast ISP: $75 (ouch)
Sallie Mae: $0 (for now; will start in September unless I defer a couple months)
OneMain Financial (loan repay): $255
Chase Amazon Visa: $25 (minimum payment)
PNC Bank Monthly Finance Charge: $12
Electric Bill: approx. $70 (varies wildly)
Gas: approx. $160
Groceries: approx. $200

I haven't included certain one-time expenses, such as a repayment I need to make to my buddy Dr. Steve. In all, the above comes to a total of $2317.00. Yikes. I earn barely enough to clear that hurdle and have any money left over for discretionary expenditures. Basically, for the past several years, I've had no breathing room at all, which means I've had to learn to live less extravagantly and more frugally. I admit this is a situation of my making, but I'm a believer in the idea that, if you don't like or accept your fate, you can damn well change it, and that's what I've been trying to do pretty much ever since I began working at YB. No disrespect to YB, which has done so much to get me back on my feet both financially and emotionally, but the place simply doesn't pay enough for the hours we're expected to work. That's a major reason why I've wanted out.

You may recall that, early on in 2011, I had pinned my hopes on working for Manhattan GRE, a company that pays its employees a scrotum-exploding $100 per hour to tutor the GRE, but only if those employees are able to score at or above the 99th percentile on their GREs. After two attempts at scoring that high, however, I gave up trying. I flirted with the idea of going back to work for an old company at which I had temped, Comprehensive Language Center, but that never came to fruition. Ever since I joined LinkedIn, I've been peppered with ads to work at Kaplan SAT as an SAT instructor; Kaplan's standards aren't as high as MGRE's; they want SAT scorers in the 90th-percentile range as instructors. Of course, Kaplan's hourly wages are also correspondingly lower; no $100/hour miracle pay there. In the end, a career at Kaplan didn't appeal to me, so I ignored the ads.

Meanwhile, the idea of going back to Korea made more and more sense, so I began to concentrate my efforts in that direction, especially in 2012, when I applied twice for work at Sungkyunkwan University. SKKU failed to respond at all, which gave me a very poor impression of the university's professionalism. A "We received your papers; thanks" email would have shown at least minimal courtesy, but I was completely ignored. This past April and May, when I was in Korea, my buddy T, who teaches at SKKU, painted a rather gloomy picture of his situation, which further soured me on the place. So, I thought to myself, why teach under those conditions? I'd rather be paid less and have a better time than be paid more to work in an oppressive environment. Such are my values. It's not all about the money.

So I decided to bet everything on a Hail Mary pass: a trip to Korea that would allow me to get in the faces of the universities to which I would apply. I conspired with my buddy Tom, who dumped 70,000 of his Asiana air miles into a round-trip ticket for me, and got help from John McCrarey and his family, who happened to have an empty apartment just waiting to be used in Seoul. Now, at long last, after a month-long trip to Korea and twelve applications to various universities all over the peninsula, I've snagged employment at the Catholic University of Daegu in Gyeongsan City, right next to Daegu. My new job offers pay that is, over a year, comparable to what I'm earning now, but I'll be working far less, will have four months' vacation with the option to teach during break (for close to $40/hour), and will finally have benefits like health insurance. I worried, after my accident last October, about what could have happened had I been seriously injured while lacking insurance. Not pretty.

Another big change, though, will be my budgetary landscape. I won't be in a $780/month apartment: the university will partially fund my rent; I won't have a car to drive (on the assumption that my buddy Mike buys my car from me), which frees me up from both car payments and insurance; I won't have a cell phone or electric bills to worry about, and Internet service from my new apartment will likely be free. If not, it'll certainly be cheaper than Comcast (about $30-$50 a month, at a guess). So here's my future projected budget, reworked with the above considerations in mind:

Rent: $300 (estimated)
Car Payment: $0
Car Insurance: $0
Verizon (2 lines): $0
eMax Student Loan: approx. $245 (varies slightly every month)
Korean ISP: $30
Sallie Mae: $320
OneMain Financial (loan repay): $255
Chase Amazon Visa: $25 (minimum payment)
PNC Bank Monthly Finance Charge: $12
Electric Bill: $0
Gas: approx. $0
Groceries: approx. $200

Add up the new figures, and we get $1362.00, which gives me $955 per month of breathing room.* I'll be able to pay off friendly debts rapidly, and will also be able to pile up enough cash to pay off my credit card, and perhaps even finish off my OneMain Financial loan within a calendar year.

So even though my move to Korea represents a lateral shift in terms of income, the change in my budgetary picture will make me, once again, able to do fun stuff like fly to Europe during vacation. I have to be realistic, of course: I won't be able to afford a flight to Europe during my first several months of work, as I'll be too busy paying down debts. But eventually, Europe will be within my grasp again, and I'll be raring to go.

My one fear is that something is going to happen between now and August 13 that will mess all this up. Here's hoping that my fears are unfounded. To cautious optimism, then!

*Even if I end up paying for a cell phone as well as for an ISP, that probably won't amount to more than $30/month with a Korean smartphone. Such service is generally way cheaper in Korea than it is in the States. Initial phone purchase may take a bite out of my budget, but even during that first month, I'll be close to having more than $800 of breathing room.



John said...

Not to mention the intangibles like Korea being a pretty cool place to live. I did that NOVA rat race for 8 long years and it pert near killed me. Well, sucked the life out of me is what I mean. Moving to Korea was the best thing I ever did.

Charles said...

So the school is not covering the housing? That's a bit odd.

I also find it amusing that you think you are going to be able to survive in Korea without a cellphone.

Kevin Kim said...


Well, I did (grudgingly) mention the cell phone in my footnote. As things stand, I've already got a cell phone that I can use again upon my return to Korea. It's a "dumbphone," to be sure, but it's a legitimate phone number. At some point, though, I'm sure I'll want to upgrade to a smartphone. It's really too bad I can't jailbreak my Droid and take it with me to Korea (or can I??). It's two years old, but it's still going strong and is now loaded with games and Kindle books that I haven't finished reading. Did I hear correctly that Samsung phones are on the Android platform?

John from Daejeon said...

Before you leave get yourself a googlevoice phone number. You will be able to use wifi service to make calls back to the states/Canada for free from anywhere in the world from computers and smartphones.