I Want To Die, But I Want To Eat Tteokbokki
December 10, 2019 1:14 PM   Subscribe

But in 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. Loosely translated to “fuck-it expense,” the term is a compound noun combining shibal (a swearword for frustration) and biyong (expense). posted by storytam (37 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think what's new about this is the fact that it's middle class people or upper working class people doing it. Poor people have always been berated for spending money on fun stuff, and the economic rationale has always been just as it is here - why not have a meal out or a small purchase if you have the cash, when there's no way that saving the cash is going to be enough to make a real difference in your life? And you can't repossess a sandwich. I clearly remember an essay in the Baffler on just this topic in the late nineties.
posted by Frowner at 1:24 PM on December 10, 2019 [61 favorites]


That gives me a great dystopian business idea: sandwich repo.
posted by rikschell at 1:28 PM on December 10, 2019 [24 favorites]


"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."

I vaguely remember the topic being covered in some other book. Why bother to save for anything when you really can't save for anything? It really explained why my ex would blow his entire paycheck on imaginary furniture for the Sims, I guess....
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:29 PM on December 10, 2019 [11 favorites]


Eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow, we die.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:32 PM on December 10, 2019 [45 favorites]


I vaguely remember the topic being covered in some other book. Why bother to save for anything when you really can't save for anything? It really explained why my ex would blow his entire paycheck on imaginary furniture for the Sims, I guess....

Some years back, a MeFite posted about going on a big trip, despite not having money to pay for it. Their thought was that they'd never be without credit card debt, so what's more debt? Enjoy life now when you're healthy and mobile, because worrying about your debt isn't enjoyable.

I felt awful for that person, and anyone else for whom debt seems like constant and never-ending presence in their lives, but I appreciated and understood their outlook.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:41 PM on December 10, 2019 [15 favorites]


Some years back, a MeFite posted about going on a big trip, despite not having money to pay for it. Their thought was that they'd never be without credit card debt, so what's more debt? Enjoy life now when you're healthy and mobile, because worrying about your debt isn't enjoyable.

When my friend bought a house (at the end of the earth because that's the only place one can afford to buy a house), I remember her feeling like she had no money and couldn't spend a penny. She was also hoping to take a trip to Italy, but hadn't yet planned it.

Anyway, I said to her, based on my own getting-a-mortgage-experience (condo, because I don't want ot live at the end of the earth): For a while -- maybe a few weeks or months -- you're going to stay up at night thinking about you owe hundreds of thousands of dollars and thinking you can't possibly responsibly spend another penny after you've already spent $600-700K (and haven't actually paid most of it yet). Do not plan your trip right now. This will pass. Soon, you feel like "I'm already 600-700K in debt, what's another 5k or 10K at this point?" That's when you should plan your vacation.

And that's what she did. When her reckless spending stage arrived, she planned her vacation and had a fabulous time.

Obviously this is not at all the same experience as being poor, but it still felt on-point.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:51 PM on December 10, 2019 [15 favorites]


I think what's new about this is the fact that it's middle class people or upper working class people doing it. Poor people have always been berated for spending money on fun stuff, and the economic rationale has always been just as it is here - why not have a meal out or a small purchase if you have the cash, when there's no way that saving the cash is going to be enough to make a real difference in your life?

"...Dance and drink and screw
Because there's nothing else to do"

posted by lunasol at 1:52 PM on December 10, 2019 [23 favorites]


I, too, want to eat tteokbokki, but I'll have to settle for the kim chi I have at home.

It occurs to me that this state of semi-precarity is really quite ideal for capitalists to exploit. Only the upper class can afford durable wealth, so the rest of us literally have no option but to consume.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:01 PM on December 10, 2019 [49 favorites]


Doesn't sound like that loose of a translation tbh.
I just thought of something, "Let them eat avocado toast", is that anything?
posted by bleep at 2:08 PM on December 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


During the economic doldrums of the early 1990s, I read articles that called this "paté poverty"--splurge on little expenses to make up for the feeling that you'll never afford the big ones.

At the time, it was framed as an attribute of newly arrived Gen Xers and their supposed existential malaise. The concept is probably even older.
posted by gimonca at 2:15 PM on December 10, 2019 [15 favorites]


I remember a money article about spending that referenced a 20 something who spent 1k a month on "going out". I know that means drinking and eating. I was facing starting a new (very taxing) job recently and I went out with friends to celebrate both the job, and to enjoy my freedom...and boy did I go out hard. I was balancing my budget and realized I'd spent a lot more than I realized and have been beating myself up about it ever since. Thing is, I had fun. I LIVED and LAUGHED and we adventured and it's not the end of the world. When the end of the world comes, some of those days and moments will soothe me as death washes over. Anybody want to go get a drink and tell each other stories?
posted by lextex at 2:15 PM on December 10, 2019 [32 favorites]


My solution to this was to marry an obsessive saver. I treasure him.

orders grubhub ramen
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 3:02 PM on December 10, 2019 [5 favorites]


This article perfectly sums up my thoughts on that every stupid piece of advice on the r/personalfinance subreddit: frugality at the cost of enjoying every single aspect of life.
posted by Delia at 3:38 PM on December 10, 2019 [12 favorites]


The Road To Wigan Pier (1937):
And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll all have a nice cup of tea!
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:43 PM on December 10, 2019 [53 favorites]


> "...Dance and drink and screw
Because there's nothing else to do"


alternately, there’s the hopeful version:

laugh, love, fuck and drink liquor
and help the damn revolution come quicker

posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:58 PM on December 10, 2019 [19 favorites]


Only when measures are taken to make them believe that affluence is attainable will saving for the future make sense.

Heck of a closing sentence, and I hear (in essence) the equivalent from friends and colleagues all the time. Can’t speak for South Korean millennials, but for many people I know, it’s not the occasional splurge or luxury... it’s conspicuous consumption on the regular. It is an unarticulated expectation that the party will last forever, and that planning for tomorrow is for suckers. And then, of course, tomorrow comes.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:12 PM on December 10, 2019 [3 favorites]


The last three or four years have been like this for me, a kind of dread of making any purchase, or spending any money at all, and then moments of “fuck it” spending that lifts me up a bit, nearly always spent on experiences, or choosing to go out with friends rather than stay at home. I can’t imagine a point where I’ll ever be able to save up the money I’d need for retirement, and that $30 or $40 every month or so isn’t going to magically create a comfortable old age for me.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:59 PM on December 10, 2019 [11 favorites]


ctrl+F: treat yo self

Whelp, I'm slightly disappointed but also likely missing the point a bit.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:21 PM on December 10, 2019 [5 favorites]


Yes, Tobasco da Gama, I think we're moving back to a world of landlords and serfs -- only the upper 1% will actually own property, because it will cost 10 million dollars for a 400 sq ft condo, and the rest of us, no matter how well paid in plebeian terms, will have to pay whatever rent they deign to charge.

I see a future where we all die in debt to the lords, because they will charge us just slightly more for a night in the dormitory bunk bed than we make working 12 hours on the shop floor.
posted by jrochest at 5:23 PM on December 10, 2019 [14 favorites]


i commute from the suburbs to the city, and i'm generally looking at about three hours out of my life per day, depending on late trains, snow, what have you. part of that is walking a mile and a half a day from house to station and from station to work. generally, this is my favorite part of the commute, except when it's icy -- which it is, typically, for five months a year -- or when it's pouring rain -- which it does randomly, all year.

i got home today, and i thought: wow, i put in a good day at work, and i don't feel burnt-out like i normally do. then the reason hit me: i splurged and took a rideshare to/from work. i lost my umbrella yesterday, and it's pouring rain going in and going out; that was my justification. but, really, what made the difference was A) having an extra two hours in my day, and B) not having to put up with the train.

A) is obvious enough. i actually had enough time to take care of myself.

B) is more complex. public transit in america is typically a nightmare -- packed like sardines, late trains, rude people. friends and cow orkers said, "oh, you'll get used to it," but, frankly, familiarity breeds contempt, and the more i take the train, the more i freaking hate it. meanwhile, there is debate about increased highway fares, rideshare fees, to "encourage" people to opt for the shitshow that is public transportation in this state.

bottom line: there is a point where it is more than "shibal biyong." what's korean for "mental health?" because i feel like my admitted splurge today was a shibal [mental health]. it wasn't because of nihilism about my future (there is some, sure, but my job pays decent) but it was because the economic realities of my living situation demand i deal with a commute that takes a full star or two out of my mental health's rideshare rating.
posted by RTQP at 5:49 PM on December 10, 2019 [10 favorites]


> , I think we're moving back to a world of landlords and serfs -- only the upper 1% will actually own property, because it will cost 10 million dollars for a 400 sq ft condo, and the rest of us, no matter how well paid in plebeian terms, will have to pay whatever rent they deign to charge.


there’s a coup track for that situation as well
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 6:14 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


Back in the day, when I was young, we didn't have credit, and we spent everything that we had on beer.
posted by ovvl at 6:44 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


I Want To Die, But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki the Rich
posted by Reyturner at 7:08 PM on December 10, 2019 [4 favorites]


If you are VERY poor there is no point saving. No job pays enough to actually afford all your needs. At some point you are going to need public assistance , in the form of SNAP or cash assistance . Your savings won’t be enough to get out of that rough patch. They will be enough to disqualify you from any help. So you may as well spend that money. You can’t save, invest or work your way out of poverty. Even trying to may even worsen your situation.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:14 PM on December 10, 2019 [38 favorites]


Unless my fortunes change drastically, I probably will never be able to retire and might not live long enough for it to matter anyway.

I’m coming to accept that this is just how it’s going to be.
posted by drivingmenuts at 11:47 PM on December 10, 2019 [3 favorites]


Marx was right. Capitalism has eaten itself. The bourgeoisie aren't the bourgeoisie any more.

But, while the old proletariat would squat, the new proletariat actually pays to live in derelict buildings. (They call it 'property guardianship'.)
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:06 AM on December 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


George Orwell talked about this with regards to the working class a long time ago. Yes, you can eat vegetable stews day after day and live frugally and wisely, but sometimes you just want something tastier, even if less nutritious and more expensive. Few people have the willpower to live a boring life of monotony even if it's optimal in other ways.
posted by treblekicker at 5:29 AM on December 11, 2019 [2 favorites]


I now understand why I refuse to be guilty about my daily $5+ Joe Coffee habit. If it helps get me through a 6-day workweek and the realization that I am only ever home to get a little sleep before the next day starts, please let me enjoy my coffee on the train ride to work without judgment.
posted by theappleonatree at 6:26 AM on December 11, 2019 [5 favorites]


Few people have the willpower to live a boring life of monotony even if it's optimal in other ways.

We are a long way from being poor (somewhere in that nebulous middle area where you aren't poor but also will never access the land of the rich), but we've been keeping our finances relatively locked down for the past few years in order to try and be entirely debt free. This isn't even rice and beans level of restrictions (we are mostly just not eating out, not going on any trips, not buying fun things, living in a cheaper place we don't like, etc.), and it is still really draining and honestly kind of depressing. It's doable for a temporary period with an end date, but anyone who says it is viable for a lifetime is dreaming.

Whatever the level of your income, it is the small (and sometimes large) pleasures that bring joy to life. Sometimes those are free (time with your family) but often there is a cost, and as long as that treat -- the fancy latte or whatever -- brings more joy than it does financial stress, that is a smart thing to do.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:20 AM on December 11, 2019 [5 favorites]


I think we're moving back to a world of landlords and serfs -- only the upper 1% will actually own property, because it will cost 10 million dollars for a 400 sq ft condo, and the rest of us, no matter how well paid in plebeian terms, will have to pay whatever rent they deign to charge.

When I was working in city government in a booming metro area, we were working with a developer (read: giving the company the land) who was pioneering rent-only neighborhoods. In this scheme the developer would not sell the land - they would build out this huge area with identical houses and lease them. The idea was that the land was going to appreciate too fast to make selling the lots make sense.

The kicker? The land was a just about a giveaway because they managed to qualify the project as expanding affordable housing.
posted by FakeFreyja at 7:36 AM on December 11, 2019 [3 favorites]


Few people have the willpower to live a boring life of monotony even if it's optimal in other ways.

I realize that many people enjoy the fun of spending more than seems prudent given their circumstances, but as I learn more and realize that everything is politics, almost nothing gives me more pleasure than the subtle fuck you of spending less than seems prudent - finding good deals, cheaping out and fixing things myself, using ad blockers, alternative media acquisition (I haven't forgotten the DCMA, you Mickey-slinging bastards), using secondhand things, etc., and teaching others how to do the same.

It is a time luxury, make no mistake, but dear lordy it's satisfying. Beyond the banal pleasure of learning and mastering stuff, the real fun is knowing I beat these schmucks who deliberately immiserate the world. Doubling up 20 year-old hand-me-down sweaters denies profits to coal extractors, clothing companies, and landlords. Grubhub? Hell, that delivery fee is what I pay for a week of celery, and I make pesto out of the leaves, and I walk to the wet market to get it, where I also get my VAT-free parmesan and lemons and dry chickpeas/sesame seeds and garlic (pesto day is also hummus day, because those stalks need dipping sauce; symbiosis, you see), because fuck you, Grubhub (or my local equivalent who are also gross). Game of Thrones? Now that it's over and all the merchandising and advertising is done, I might have to just go ahead and watch that. People told me it's good. Endlessly. Now it's my turn to torture them by demanding they not mention spoilers.

So I'm saying, I have my shibal expenses, but I also have my fuck-you not-expenses. I fully support anyone's need for little luxuries, but, there is also a universe of very satisfying alternatives. There is no threshold for how much or little of them you include in your life, and I'm sure there are already ways you save money, so remember to take pleasure in the conscious act of not spending too, because really, fuck those fuckers.
posted by saysthis at 8:00 AM on December 11, 2019 [13 favorites]


Oh hey! I’m the mefite who went on the trip, and I definitely am “more” in debt than before, but I have the 5 weeks of taking trains and buses and rental scooters around the EU, meeting people and learning gutter Italian and dancing in a couchette to show for it. I’m 36 years old now, and I will never be out of debt. The $5k+ on credit that I transformed into 5 weeks of delight (plus 3+ months of anticipation) didn’t even change the leading number on my debt, but it gave me a break from “brown bread and drippings” and the feeling of “fuck it, I’m going to just live” that my weekly budgeting, my shame and fear at the grocery store, my avoidance of medical expenses, my pushing and pulling with second jobs or SNAP or unemployment or credit council services which all maintain this persistent dull anxiety was stealing from me—I was reminded that I can be a person too, like establishing a boundary in a toxic relationship.
I spend more precious money on precious things, like nice coffee, now. Because fuck it.
posted by zinful at 9:51 AM on December 11, 2019 [26 favorites]


it's not for nothing south korean director bong joon-ho quipped that we all live in the same country, capitalism.
posted by anem0ne at 11:48 AM on December 11, 2019 [2 favorites]


@Dip Flash: I've spent the entirety of my 20's living a boom-bust cycle of splurge-austerity. It's pretty miserable and uncomfortable. I wouldn't even really call the "boom" periods splurging. I'm an intermittently employed, ragingly mentally ill, friendless loser who lives on his own. My only real solace is my hobby (film photography, specifically large format). Since it is, along with living solo in a big city, very expensive, I cut all available corners to be able to pay for it. It's not a sustainable life, and it's pretty shit, but it's all I got and it keeps me more sane than I used to be. Back when I was living even more frugally, and didn't put as much effort into my hobby, it felt like I was saving for nothing. In the end, the best I could do was stack up a few extra thousand dollars, only to lose it when my shifts dipped in frequency, or when I got injured and couldn't work.
posted by constantinescharity at 1:58 PM on December 11, 2019 [3 favorites]


This is why Elizabeth Warren's personal finance book from 12 odd years ago speaks to me. She explicitly states you should spend 30% of your money on fun (With 50% going to needs and 20% to savings).
posted by COD at 2:02 PM on December 11, 2019 [3 favorites]


“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats, and if some of these can be inexpensive and quickly procured so much the better.”
--Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea
posted by exceptinsects at 4:44 PM on December 11, 2019 [3 favorites]


Late to this, but footnote on shibal:

"shibal" derives from 씹 (sship; loosely, "cunt") and 하다 (hada; "to do"); 씹 sship + 할 hal (future tense for 하다) = 씨팔 sshipal when you run them together. 씨팔, in turn, when you say it when you're drunk, turns into a slightly softer, slurrier, 씨발 sshibal, which softens further, in this article, into a positively demure shibal 시발 for reasons unknown. 시 is a homophone for both “poem” and “city,” while발 is homophone for foot and departure, so 시발, to me—probably nobody else, not even other Korean/English double-tongued folk—feels like trochee town, let's go, march!

But anyway, what's interesting to me is that future tense bit. In English, when we say that somebody's a fucker, there's a conflation between the action and the person: the habit of fucking comes to define the person who fucks. And the fucking's in the present tense; it's an ongoing fuck.

In Korean, though, the potential for action becomes a quality that modifies the person, but doesn't merge with them; the closest analogue to “fucker” is 씨발놈 (놈 nohm being a coarse way to refer to a man, while also implying that they're of low status—think “varlet” or “villein,” or “knave,” but contemporary/colloquial), which, in English, would have to be something more like “asshole who looks like he would fuck.”
posted by what does it eat, light? at 11:12 AM on December 13, 2019 [5 favorites]


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