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Shibal Biyong and Tangjinjaem August 9, 2019

Posted by nrhatch in Happiness, Life Balance, Mindfulness, People.

What’s Shibal Biyong?

It’s a “fuck it expense” ~ an unnecessary indulgence that keeps you from giving up entirely.  The expression originated in South Korea in 2016:

[I]n South Korea, a generation of frustrated young people is reclaiming the idea of frivolous expenses—from cab rides to expensive sushi—as a psychological survival tool dubbed shibal biyong.

* * *

A shibal biyong is an expense that might seem unnecessary but that helps you get through a bad day. It’s the $20 you splurge for a cab home instead of taking the subway after you’ve been denied a promotion or the comforting but expensive sushi you buy after you’ve been berated by your boss. The term implies that you might as well make yourself happy right now because your prospects in the long term seem bleak. Buy that nice coat, because you’ll never get on the housing ladder. Eat that steak, because you’ll never save up enough to retire.

* * *

Inequality and a sense of economic despair have taken a fierce toll on South Koreans’ mental health. Nearly half of all deaths among South Koreans in their 20s are due to suicide, compared with just under 1 in 5 Americans of the same age. The country’s overall suicide rate was the highest among OECD countries from 2003 to 2016.

The title of a recent South Korean bestselling book, I Want to Die, but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), captures the essence of shibal biyong.

* * *

If South Korean millennials are squandering their money, it’s not because they’ve lost touch with reality. Quite the opposite: For many of them, short-term consumption has become a rational choice maximizing the utility of money based on a realistic assessment of the future.

* * *

“Shibal biyong and tangjinjaem [squandering fun] are symbolic endeavors responding to social problems via individual consumption,” said Alex Taek-Gwang Lee, a professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “As saving cannot guarantee the future, unlike in the past, the idea of investing in the present rather than the future gains strength.”

* * *

Koreans have begun blowing their money not out of ignorance but out of common sense. A small pleasure now is better than a promised future contentment that will never come.

To read more:  Why Young Koreans Love to Splurge (Foreign Policy)

Aah . . . that’s better!


1. Tippy Gnu - August 9, 2019

Other than all that suicide, this seems to be what young Americans do today. Few people save for retirement, and their excuse is that they think the future is bleak, and investing will do them no good. And then, when they reach retirement age, they have nothing, and have to keep working. This pattern has been repeating for generations.

nrhatch - August 9, 2019

I expect these young South Koreans feel a bit like Wall Street Investors did on the brink of the Great Depression. You know, when they decided the future looked so bleak that their “only choice” was to dive into mid-town traffic.

Faced with a choice between jumping from the 13th story OR splurging on something that will encourage me to keep trucking for a few more days ~> I’d choose the splurge. 😀

But, being who I am, I’d try to bring some balance to the situation. I’d create a “Hedge Your Bets” fund to save something for future splurges/investments and a “Carpe Diem” fund to live BIG today.

2. Jill Weatherholt - August 9, 2019

Nothing wrong with a frivilous expense now and then, but securing our future should be a priority.

nrhatch - August 9, 2019

I don’t know enough about South Korean economics to understand whether their pessimism about the future is warranted, but it does sound as if economic inequality is the name of the game over there. (As it is here.) Nevertheless, I expect I’d try to find a middle ground. Maybe say, “I’ll never be able to buy my own house . . . but maybe I can save up enough for a van down by the river.”

Since nothing in life is certain, their logic is not irrational. If the Earth gets hit by a giant meteor tomorrow . . . I’m going to wish I splurged on something today! 😛

3. joannereedauthor - August 9, 2019

Thank for that, I live in South Korea and I’ve never heard that expression!

nrhatch - August 9, 2019

Welcome to SLTW, Joanne!

A link to this article landed in my in-box yesterday and the concept intrigued me. I expected that the article would describe a bunch of “spoiled brats” who wanted instant gratification. And, when their fairy godmother didn’t appear with EVERYTHING on their wish list, they decided “Fuck It.”

But, by the end of the article, I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as a generation who sees that the playing field is NOT level. That those in power and with money have created a status quo where the rich get richer and the poor get downtrodden.

In that context, what they are doing makes sense. Far better to sit down to enjoy a small splurge of spicy rice cakes than to go home and OD on opiates.

Who knows? Maybe one day the tide will turn . . .

4. Ally Bean - August 9, 2019

Huh? Enjoy now because there might not be a later? Sounds like a depressing philosophy verging on nihilism to me. But then I’m a saver, not a spender.

nrhatch - August 9, 2019

That’s the point of the article as a whole. The situation they are facing (to them) is dismal and depressing. Instead of giving up and killing themselves (like the financiers who flung themselves off balconies in Manhattan in October 1929), they go eat sushi.

In that context, it makes sense to me. But (as I said above):

Being who I am, I’d try to bring some balance to the situation. I’d create a “Hedge Your Bets” fund to save something for future splurges/investments and a “Carpe Diem” fund to live BIG today.

5. Kate Crimmins - August 9, 2019

Guess I’ll order two mocha lattes tomorrow! Damn the cost!

nrhatch - August 9, 2019

Go for it, Kate!

Life is short. Eat dessert today!

Val Boyko - August 9, 2019

Get them delivered Kate!!

Kate Crimmins - August 9, 2019

Dang! I should do that!

6. Becky - August 9, 2019

I get it. I have those days where I do that. And other days, I recognize if I save, I can have an even bigger splurge.

nrhatch - August 9, 2019

At first, the concept seemed foreign to me (due to the training I had when young to SAVE for the future today).

But these days, the future looks bleak (even to me) ~ there’s economic inequality, global warning, terrorism, mass shootings, etc., and the politicians watching the pot are helping themselves instead of us.

So, now I think it makes sense:


7. L. Marie - August 9, 2019

My older brother is a financial planner. I asked him why he never tried to advise college students and other young adults about saving. He said, “Because they won’t listen to me.” I find that sad. But remembering back to my young adult days, I had the same mentality.

nrhatch - August 9, 2019

But, when we were young adults (just starting out), the future looked a whole lot rosier than the landscape does today. Even the kids at Woodstock believed that they could change the world through Peace, Love, and Understanding. It was the Age of Aquarius . . when Peace would guide the planets and Love would steer the stars. That optimism seems like a crazy dream (or LSD hallucination) given the present state of the world where every few days we hear of another Mass Shooting or natural disaster.

So, I say, “Here’s to Shibal Biyong and Tangjinjaem!” It makes sense to me . . . especially if they feel that their only other option is to kill themselves.

8. Alien Resort - August 9, 2019

This is inability to see the big picture due to lack of experience.

nrhatch - August 9, 2019

I’m not sure I agree with you, AR. I think they are SEEING the big picture with some degree of clarity. The playing field is no longer level and those in power are determined to keep it that way. So their response seems reasonable to me:

“The future looks bleak and uncertain, so I might as well enjoy myself today. Carpe Diem!”

9. Val Boyko - August 9, 2019

Such a fascinating article Nancy! What comes to my mind is how this impacts the ability for strategic thinking. Its already happening in the younger generation here and in the UK. South Korea’s added pessimism about the future makes me feel sad for them. I can imagine the though process…
“When we don’t have something to work towards, what’s the point. Lets get distracted with entertainment and acquiring cool stuff instead. Maybe I won’t feel so alone and disconnected from life …”

nrhatch - August 9, 2019

Without hope ~> despair! And I can see why they are not optimistic about their future or the future of the world at the moment.

Too much anger. Too much violence. Too much greed. And too many stupid “leaders.”

10. Debra - August 13, 2019

I’ve had an attitude for several years that tells me not to judge others’ coping mechanisms. We just never know what another person needs to “get by” or maybe with a little more emphasis, “get through life.” I really found this fascinating, Nancy. There’s a lot here to think about!

nrhatch - August 14, 2019

I found it fascinating too . . . especially because I’m a “saver” and rarely engage in frivolous spending. I started reading the article with the belief that I would conclude thinking, “spoiled brats.” But I didn’t. The article convinced me that their actions are quite rational given the present lay of the land:

“As saving cannot guarantee the future, unlike in the past, the idea of investing in the present rather than the future gains strength.”


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