Young people are struggling with the cost of going on a date as cinema and restaurant chains have recently hiked prices citing rising rents and the minimum wage hike.
University students, graduates seeking jobs, and the newly employed, who tend to be on a tight budget, are most affected as those are their preferred destinations on a night out.
One cinema chain with a multiplex in Sinchon, Seoul raised the price of a peak-time ticket by W1,000 on April 11 (US$1=W1,081). Tickets for seats, which has a better view of the screen, are more expensive than standard tickets. "We were excited about our part-time wages going up with the rise in the minimum wage, but ticket prices went up more than our earnings," said one couple who came to watch a movie.
The cost of eating out has also increased, as many restaurants in university areas and busy districts like Gangnam Station and Hongik University Station hiked their prices blaming the minimum wage.
According to a survey by the Korea Food Service Industry Research Institute in March, 24.2 percent of 300 restaurants polled raised the price of dishes on the menu by around 10 percent from a year ago, and 78.6 percent were considering a hike.
One 27-year-old jobseeker who works part-time in a cafe earned W900,000 a month by working seven hours a day. But now the owner has cut his hours to five a day and he earns W150,000 less per month. Yet dates with his girlfriend cost W60,000 more than the W300,000 per month he used to spend. "Prices rose a lot everywhere, including the restaurant we often go to," he said. "W50,000-60,000 a month is not a small amount of money for a jobseeker like me."
Young people are especially vulnerable to inflation as fixed monthly outgoings account for the vast proportion of their monthly income. Many live alone and pay rent. In the 2016 Census, those in their 20s and 30s accounted for 35 percent of single households. If they have to make monthly repayments on debts like student loans, inflation hits them particularly hard.
Another 27-year-old man who is in his second year working for a large company used to spend W500,000 a month on going out with his girlfriend, but that has gone up by W100,000.
He lives in a rented studio in Seoul, and has fixed monthly outgoings of W1.4 million per month, which includes repayment of a loan from his company, housing and other bills. "About half of my salary goes to repaying my debts," he said. "In this situation, even a W1,000 hike on meals feels like a lot. I don't even go to expensive restaurants, but it's hard to keep up with rising prices."
Many opt for a more Spartan existence. One 29-year-old jobseeker with surname Park has given up on eating out and instead cooks his own meals in his rented room to eat with his girlfriend. He no longer goes to the cinema to watch the latest releases but watches them on IPTV.
Some give up on romance altogether. "Even if I live frugally, the rate my salary increases can't catch up with price inflation," he said. "The number of things I have to cut down on goes up, and romance has become one of them."