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Monday, March 4, 2024

Geojibang makes saving fun, accessible for young adults

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Anonymous "open" chatrooms on KakaoTalk called "Geojibang" have emerged as a unique virtual community where individuals openly discuss daily expenses, critique spending habits, and embrace frugality amidst a challenging economic climate. . [SHUTTERSTOCK]
Anonymous “open” chatrooms on KakaoTalk called “Geojibang” have emerged as a unique virtual community where individuals openly discuss daily expenses, critique spending habits, and embrace frugality amidst a challenging economic climate. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

In the bustling chatrooms nicknamed geojibang on Korea’s popular mobile messenger KakaoTalk, anonymous individuals proudly embrace the identity of modern-day Scrooges and engage in real-time discussions about their daily expenses while offering candid critiques of each other’s spending habits.

Geojibang, which translates to “chatroom of beggars” in Korean, brings together individuals who practice frugality and minimalist spending amidst the harsh realities of today’s economy with a unique blend of humor and resourcefulness.

The chatrooms have hundreds — and occasionally more than a thousand — of participants engaging in extensive message exchanges, most of them anonymous.

They operate under simple yet intriguing rules: even the most mundane purchases, such as a cup of coffee or ice cream, require approval from fellow participants.

During a morning commute on May 8, the Korea JoongAng Daily reporter shared one such mundane purchase with one group chat of 400 members with a simple message: “an iced Americano coffee, priced at 3,500 won ($2.64).”

Almost instantaneously, a flurry of responses flooded in.

Some jokingly remarked, “You might get kicked out of this group if it’s Starbucks, but a convenience store purchase might be acceptable,” while others whimsically commented, “Considering it will end up as urine anyway, it’s an extravagant indulgence.”

Amidst these playful exchanges, some members kindly offered practical advice, such as, “Add water when your coffee is halfway finished,” and, “Remember, there’s always free instant coffee in the office pantry.”

Discussions in a geojibang span a wide range of topics, from choosing Parents’ Day gifts to fear of falling prey to housing rental scams. When individuals share their inner struggles anonymously, they receive a compassionate outpouring of advice and guidance from more experienced geoji sunbaes, or “senior beggars.”

Many responses prioritize humor over practical information. For instance, when someone expressed their desire to buy lipstick, a reply suggested they “bite their lips” instead. When someone sought recommendations for summer vacation destinations, they received a response advising them to “satisfy themselves with the street view map.”

In the chatrooms, individuals, mostly anonymous, share expenditure details and seek feedback and guidance from fellow participants in the chatroom. Some amusing discussions became memes, such as when someone mentioned purchasing bubble tea, one response suggested attaching bubble-shaped stickers to a plastic cup. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
In the chatrooms, individuals, mostly anonymous, share expenditure details and seek feedback and guidance from fellow participants in the chatroom. Some amusing discussions became memes, such as when someone mentioned purchasing bubble tea, one response suggested attaching bubble-shaped stickers to a plastic cup. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Jeong, who joined a geojibang on April 7, has been engaging in discussions for longer than a month.

“I initially joined out of curiosity and a desire for entertaining conversations rather than solely focusing on saving money,” the 25-year-old jobseeker said.

She, however, has seen tangible results in terms of actual savings.

“I started using a cash book and began cutting back on my regular consumption of high-priced, sweet drinks that I used to buy every morning,” Jeong said. “The chatroom raised awareness of the money I used to spend unconsciously, and I found it beneficial to reduce those expenses.”

The once enthusiastic cries of “YOLO (You Only Live Once)” and “flexing” among young people have waned as the focus now shifts toward belt-tightening in response to rising prices in the post-Covid era. Geojibang first began appearing earlier this year, and dozens were active on KakaoTalk as of Friday. Some chat rooms even reached their maximum capacity of 1,500 participants, leaving aspiring members unable to join the conversations.

The impact of the rooms is particularly evident in the cost of popular food items that consumers often enjoy.

Data from the Korea Consumer Agency reveals a notable 10.4 percent increase in the average prices of eight representative dining-out items in Seoul during the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period last year. Everyday staples like naengmyeon (cold noodles) now carry an average price of 16,920 won, while bibimbap is priced at 11,920 won.

When confronted with elevated prices and increased interest rates, the younger demographic, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, significantly reduces spending. This trend is observable across different age groups.

According to a report from the Korea Development Institute, a 1 percentage point increase in the base interest rate resulted in a consumption decrease of 36,000 won (0.2 percent) among individuals aged 60 and above. In stark contrast, individuals in their 20s experienced a staggering reduction of 299,000 won (1.3 percent), making their annual decrease in consumption 8.4 times higher than that of individuals in their 60s.

During the first quarter of 2023, convenience store chains like GS25 and CU experienced a significant surge in the sales of their cost-effective lunchboxes, priced at around 4,000 won. It is estimated that these sales have increased by approximately 40 percent compared to the same period in the previous year. Notably, sales have seen a substantial boost, particularly in areas near universities and office districts.

Recently, the government’s “1,000-won breakfast” program, offering university students a morning meal for 1,000 won ($0.77) at the school cafeteria, has gained remarkable popularity among undergraduates.

This trend aligns with the viral phenomenon of the “zero-spending challenge” that emerged last year, where individuals challenged themselves to see how long they could go without spending any money.

Experts say the popularity of geojibangs represents a distinctive approach of the younger generation in dealing with economic recession and the high cost of living in a cheerful and enjoyable manner.

“In real life, individuals may hesitate to reveal their own vulnerabilities,” Lee Soo-jin, a researcher at Seoul National University’s Consumer Trend Center, said.

“The Generation Z, who are accustomed to social media communication, are experiencing a sense of empathy and solidarity where they realize that the difficulties they face are not unique to themselves but shared by others in the anonymous chatroom Geojibang,” Lee said. “The incorporation of playful elements further enhances this phenomenon.”

“Geojibang is a unique phenomenon where individuals playfully confront the challenges of rising prices and the decline in the value of stocks, cryptocurrencies, and other favored investments by the younger generation as if it were a game,” Lee Eun-hee, a professor of consumer science at Inha University, said.

Experts have expressed positive views on individuals encouraging responsible financial management.

“The development of a mindset that promotes responsible financial management among individuals can be seen in a positive light,” Lee said. “However, caution should be exercised regarding scams and fraudulent activities in anonymous chat rooms where unidentified individuals gather.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun1@joongang.co.kr]