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Korean Americans Making Ends Meet

The Korea Times-NY, News Report, Borah Jung Posted: Jan 05, 2009

Editor's note: Translated from Korean by Sun-yong Reinish, this story first appeared in New York Community Media Alliance's online weekly publication, Voices That Must Be Heard.

Koreans are serious about saving money. In some cases, desperation has brought consumers together to make bulk purchases, in the hope of saving even more money. Even more are exercising stricter control on their spending. And with consumers tightening their belts when it comes to spending, Korean stores and retailers, also feeling the crunch, are reacting to this economic depression by strategic marketing and deep discounts.

But saving money during winter seems counterintuitive to most Koreans, at least with regard to one tradition. The seasonal rhythms of culture and lifestyle find Koreans laying out large amounts of money for simple things. For example, this is the season where vast amounts of pickled vegetables kimchi, a Korean staple are prepared and laid up for storage. Many Koreans continue this traditional art, despite the ready availability of such foods year-round.

Ms. Mi-ja Kim, a resident of Flushing, New York, had a rewarding experience while shopping in a local Korean market the other day. She was there to purchase nappa cabbage and daikon radishes to make her winter kimchi. But she became confused when she saw the supermarket shelves. An entire case of nappa cabbage was selling for less than an individual head of cabbage. But she did not need an entire case of cabbage, or of radishes. While she was standing there lost in thought, another customer on the same mission came by. The two women were complete strangers, but with a same purpose. When they realized that they were both in the same situation, they decided on a rational and money saving course of action. Together they bought a case of cabbage and a case of radishes. Then they split up their purchase into two equal halves, thanked each other, and went on their separate ways.

Mr. Min, who lives in Fresh Meadow, Queens, was visiting a Korean bakery to buy a cake for his daughter's birthday. When he saw the price for an entire cake, he decided that it would be cheaper and just as acceptable to buy only slices of cake for the party. His family didn't mind, and in fact were happy with him for saving money while not wasting food.

While perhaps amusing, these stories are becoming very commonplace among Koreans across the United States. From families to singles, from workers to students, almost everyone is trying to cut back on unnecessary expenditures and make every penny count. Meanwhile, stores and retail outlets that support this new wave of frugality are finding a strong customer response. At the Assi Plaza, one of the better-known Korean marts in New York, customers who make large purchases are rewarded with a free discount membership card. Assi is a sort of Korean Costco. Many customers shop for their own restaurants or lodgings, while others buy bulk items for their large or extended families. Using the card for the basic 15 to 20 percent customer discount on shelf items can add up to huge savings for customers.

Mr. Hee-yong Park, Assi's managing director said, Recently, we registered 130 new members who all use the discount card. We are doing everything we can to help our customers in this difficult economic time. Our stores are offering discounts of up to 20 or even 30 percent on selected items. Other businesses, such as Home and Home, are joining this trend. They offer discount services, coupons, customer bonuses, and prices that help customers cut their living expenses.

The Korea Times and other Korean newspapers recently reported that savings of up to 20 and 30 percent are available at many Korean outlets, and that stores are intending to extend their hours during and after the Christmas season, to increase business and attract more customers. Some stores throughout the greater New York area have announced radical sales events for the post-Christmas shopping crowd, with discounts of up to an unbelievable and unbeatable 80 percent on select items.

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