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How an Honest-to-God Frugal World Traveler Shops

Or, rather, doesn’t shop.

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Welcome to Racked’s How Do You Shop? series, in which we ask a variety of people some deeply personal questions about how they earn, save, and especially spend their money. If you know or are someone with an interesting relationship to $$$, email alanna@racked.com.

Lianne, 29, is an English teacher at a women’s university in Tokyo, but she’s had all kinds of jobs all over the world. She was adopted from Korea and grew up in New Jersey.


What is your annual salary, on average?

The past two years, living nomadically, maybe $8,000 to $10,000. When I worked full-time in Korea teaching English, about $24,000 USD, though that depends on the exchange rate. Accommodation was included and I barely had any living expenses.

How much do you currently spend on rent/housing?

About $718 USD per month.

What other work have you done this year?

I taught at an adult language school in Sydney for a few months. That’s what I did for money. Most of 2017 was spent traveling and camping throughout Australia in a converted station wagon with my boyfriend. When we weren’t living under the stars, we were house-sitting or doing HelpX, a help exchange during which we stay with families in exchange for accommodation.

The kind of work varied, but it was mostly an educational opportunity and a chance to connect with local people. We lived in an intentional community with 40 people while learning about and practicing permaculture, helped a couple with their coffee-roasting company, stayed on a camel farm in the Australian outback, built a website for a plants nursery, walked a dog daily on the beach for a busy family, and did natural building with mud and straw in Bali.

We’re open to almost anything, so it’s been an adventure! While we didn’t make much money, we didn't need much because our costs were covered with these exchanges.

Whats your biggest monthly expense besides rent? Does your school/job cover health insurance?

Yes, they cover my insurance. I don’t have many transportation costs because the company gives me a commuter pass. The main thing I really buy is food. I can’t buy much because I have to leave here in a few months and already accumulated too much shit when I used to live out of a backpack.

I love to buy produce and interesting foods to try and cook! And experiences. I have plans to travel to Mount Fuji soon. I’m going to stay in a capsule hotel, which is about $20. So excited for that experience! Transportation should be about $50 round-trip.

How much do you put toward savings each month?

I don’t really have a regular income, but I save most of what I earn because expenses are low. Maybe $1,000-$1,500 a month, when I’m working. When traveling full-time I need very little, so I don’t deplete all of my savings.

How much would you say you spend on clothing per month?

From $0 to $20. I recently spent about $50 for work and winter clothes, but it’s rare that I buy clothes.

What are the most expensive items of clothing or accessories you own?

My Keens were $60 and have traveled all around with me for the past three years on hikes and in waterfalls and lakes. Sturdy, practical, and comfortable! They’re also waterproof.

How much would you spend on a T-shirt?

Maybe $5 from a thrift shop, or if I wanted a new one, then $5-$10 in Korea or $10-$15 at Uniqlo. But I almost never want new clothes because there’s too much waste in the world and enough to go around already.

What about a fancy outfit, like for a wedding?

Also thrift it! I’ve seen nice, good-quality dresses for less than $20, especially in Japan, where people take good care of their clothes.

How is the culture of preserving clothing different in Japan as opposed to the States?

It comes down to the individual person, but in general, people [in Japan] can be perfectionists. They care a lot about their appearance, so clothes are ironed and well-maintained. People always look so sharp, and white shoes are WHITE. There is a lot of fast fashion in Western countries, so clothes can get holes and fade quickly. Again, depends on the person!

Is there anything in your life that makes you feel pressured to shop?

Not while in Australia, but yes, I do feel pressure in Korea and Japan, where people look so put-together all the time. I do have to wear professional clothes at my current job, but I was able to build a wardrobe from the secondhand shop nearby. They are strict with the dress code.

How did your daily uniform differ when you were in Australia?

So different! In Australia, I’d just wear whatever. Most likely [I was] in flip-flops — or thongs, in Aussie lingo. People are so casual there. At work in Australia, though, I would wear teacher-y clothes like dresses and skirts, but still pretty relaxed. In Japan, I have to wear a suit. I wear a black jacket every day.

How does your approach to shopping compare to your parents approach? Do you think you spend more or less?

I spend more! My dad still wears the same Looney Tunes sweatshirt that I can remember since I was a kid. My mom rarely buys clothes, too. Regarding my Korean birth parents, they spend a lot on clothes, I think. Whenever they see me (most recently last month), they complain about my clothes and drive me to a store and try to buy clothes for me. I object and find it awkward and unnecessary, but they have bought clothes for me in the past, which I still have.

It’s a complicated situation, though, as they seem to try to do these gestures as a way of saying sorry and to “make up” for the lost time.

What kind of clothes do they want to buy for you?

They’ve bought dresses, a shirt, jean shorts, hiking shoes, sandals, a wallet, a purse, a winter coat, etc. in the past for me. At the store, I refuse to look or choose anything, but they pick things out and make me try it on.

Do they wait for your sign-off before purchasing?

Not really, they decide if they like it or not. A few times I tried things on and when I came out of the dressing room, they decided they wanted it and told the salesman. He cut off the tag and put my old clothes in a bag. But if I said I hated it, they wouldn’t buy. I did like what they chose, though. The most recent time I was more adamant that I didn’t want any clothes, and they understood.

When would you say you stopped caring so much about material items?

I’ve always been frugal, but I did have a lot more than I do now when I lived in the US. I suppose I became more of a minimalist when I first backpacked in Thailand after college and realized that I don’t need much to survive. Then in Korea, I lived in a teeny place with little storage. And knowing that living there was temporary, I knew I didn’t want to accumulate things and have to deal with them when I left. I started [a group called] Gwangju Freecycle to get the community involved in reducing waste and sharing with each other.

Secondhand is not a popular thing in Korea. My co-teacher came to one event and was amazed that everything was free. I hope other Korean people enjoyed it and became more open to secondhand items.