In South Korea, Friends Raise Money Together for Activities

Saving Money, Korean Style: Friendship Funds Known as Gyemoims Are Common in the Country

By Summer Han

Seoul, Korea - At first glance, the Facebook group "Seoul Traveling Fam" seems like a typical travel community, with breathtaking images of trips to Jeju Island and cherished locales in Europe.

But a closer look reveals that the members aren't simply exchanging travel tips and ideas. They're also raising money for joint activities.

The group, started in 2021, now has more than 1,000 members. Everyone chips in 50,000 won (about $40) each month into a common pot, which is then used to pay for group trips, restaurants, and other social activities.

This practice is an example of a gyemoim, a savings collection involving friends or acquaintances who pool money together for a common purpose. The term is colloquial and isn't found in dictionaries, but the practice is widespread in Korea.

"We started the group because we wanted to travel so badly but also needed an affordable way to do it," said Jessica Lee, 31, the group's founder. "And I realized that many people have the same concerns about budget and wanted to do something about it."

Gyemoims are common in Korea for a variety of reasons, including saving for vacations, wedding ceremonies, and even as emergency funds. They are seen as an affordable way for people to participate in activities they might not be able to afford on their own.

This type of savings collection is also a reflection of the pervasive social pressures in Korea, where people tend to prioritize the interests of the group over individual needs.

"Koreans have a strong tendency to avoid stating their own opinions or desires when they are different from others, and they are particularly concerned with maintaining harmony in their group," said June-Young Kim, an assistant professor of sociology at Seoul National University. "Gyemoims provide a space where these cultural traits are displayed."

That's certainly been the case in the "Seoul Traveling Fam" group. What started as a way to afford travel has become a platform for members to organize diverse activities and socialize with each other.

Lee, the group's founder, said she didn't know many of the members before joining the group, but they've become close through their shared experiences.

"I've made some close friends through these trips, and I'm so glad I started the group," she said.

Not all gyemoims are successful, of course. Savings collections can fall apart when members fail to contribute regularly or if the group dynamics turn sour.

And therein lies another potential benefit of gyemoims: They provide an opportunity for members to discipline themselves in terms of saving money, said Hyun-Ah Kim, a 29-year-old physician in Seoul who is part of a gyemoim for vacations.

"At the end of the day, it's all about your personal discipline and your determination to reach a goal," she said. "Saving money is certainly a part of it, but these groups can also teach you about the importance of spending within your means and being mindful of your finances."

In a culture that heavily emphasizes harmony and social togetherness, savings collections are an innovative solution for budgeting for group activities.

And perhaps the growing popularity of gyemoims could offer a lesson in the value of community-oriented savings — even in more developed economies.

After all, budgetary pressures and the rising cost of living are concerns that resonate globally.

"I think savings collections are an interesting cultural phenomenon that highlights the intersection of social norms, financial practices, and technology in Korea," said Seoul National University's Kim. "But it also demonstrates how people adapt to budgetary pressures in unique and innovative ways."

Whether the practice of forming gyemoims will continue to grow remains to be seen. But for now, it's a potent example of how social pressures and financial constraints can spur unique — and creative — solutions.

Maybe we could all learn a thing or two from the Korean tradition of saving together.

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