When Oh Subin, Department of English ’15 student, goes out for lunch with her friends, the menu is typically ramen and gimbap. The cost is generally only 4,000 won. Also, if she opts to eat off campus, she never exceeds 5,000 won on a meal. Interestingly, however, she pay graciously for a dessert; she often pay nearly twice what she does for a meal for a coffee and a slice of cake. However, she is not unique. Many people will pay the high cost for something they really want without hesitation. This called ’small indulgence,’ and it has become the new consumption in Korea.
People who Spend More on Desserts than Meals
Despite the continuing recession, young 20-year-olds are enjoying small indulgences. Nowadays, Koreans refer to these people as ‘For-me Jok.’ ‘For-me’ is a coined phrase coming from the first letters in the phrases or words: For health, One, Recreation, More convenient, and Expensive. That is to say, consumers in their twenties and thirties are willing to invest heavily into products they value even though they consider the products pricy. This group of 20 to 30-year-olds seldom purchases luxury items such as cars, clothes, bags, or accessories, but lavish money on desserts, sporting equipment, manicures, and so on. One of the easiest ways to highlight this trend for small indulgence is by looking at the consumption of luxury desserts. According to a survey from Eugene Investments and Securities of university students, university students are willing to pay up to 7,769 won for a dessert, which is about 62% of the cost of a meal. Researcher Oh Somin, said, “Paying about 7,800 won for a dessert is no longer considered a burden by university students, and this sums up the value of consumption by 20-year-olds.”1 In Korea, cafés are everywhere. Especially, in front of women universities, there are countless numbers of dessert cafés, so some people are now claiming that dessert has become part of the cuisine culture in Korea. Even though the continuing recession has resulted in a decline in most other sales, according to a survey on the growth rate of Shinsegae, Lotte, and Hyundai department stores by Asia Business Daily in 2015 indicates that 20-year-olds showed the highest sales growth rate among the different generations. One officer worker from Lotte department store, said, “Though 20-year-olds do not have as much economic power as other age groups, they are enjoying small indulgence by buying high quality confectionery from abroad.”2 The consumption of desserts clearly highlights this small indulgence trend. However, this trend is the result of what society nowadays values. Why is the trend, however, being seen most clearly among the younger generation, especially those in their twenties?
Happiness of the Moment and Personal Values
Today’s youth have a tendency to seek satisfaction of the moment rather than wait an uncertain future before. Actually, according to research conducted by Cheil Worldwide Incorporated in 2013, the rate of people who said “Present happiness is more important than distant happiness” increased from about 28 percent in 1991 to about 50 percent in 2013. Also, the rate of people who responded with “I prefer to spend money rather than save it in order to enjoy life rather than live hard.” increased from about 21 percent to about 31 percent over the same period.3 Society has become more and more competitive and the idea of a lifelong workplace has disappeared, so people are constantly suffering from anxiety. Also, even if one saves for many years, the person cannot buy a home. Hence, instead of enduring the wait, they eat the cake right under their nose. Therefore, people in their twenties are enjoying life in the moment, rather than holding off and waiting for something that may never happen. The time when unconditional saving was considered as a virtue passed. The number of consumers seeking personal satisfaction has increased, so this new small indulgence phenomenon has taking root. Although a product is somewhat expensive, people consume it without hesitation or any feeling of shame because society no longer judges them as ‘Doenjangnyeo’ which, at one time, referred to women who were obsessed with brand names and putting on airs. These people are now able to enjoy small indulgences in the name of personal gratification. Kim Byungyeon, NH Investment and Securities researcher, said, “The primary cause of small indulgence is self-compensatory, a mental state that aims to relieve stress.”4 In other words, people indulge in small extravagances for personal enjoyment.
The Black Shadow of Small Indulgence
Small indulgence allows people to enjoy a bit of luxury from smaller one-time purchases. It resolves people’s stress and gives them a sense of happiness in life. Small indulgence buying kills two birds with one stone because with relatively little money, people gain great satisfaction. However, small indulgence has caused a surge in materialistic living as it encourages overspending and hinders reasonable consumption. Small indulgences, over time, become very costly and even a burden on households, despite the rationalization that its done in the name of happiness. Also, people need to distinguish the sense of satisfaction from the act of showing off via SNS. Consumption in order to seek attention from others does not lead to happiness. As the line between these two concepts is paper thin, small indulgence purchasing is rising. Therefore, society needs to be cautious of the ill-effects of small indulgences.
Find Healthy Happiness
Hwang Hyejung, an LG economic researcher, said, “Although the recession is hitting the pockets of people hard, consumers’ still show a desire for materialistic items. Nowadays, unlike in the past, consumers increasingly desire fulfillment of their personal happiness through smaller and more frequent spending. Therefore, this new trend of consumption is going to increase.”5 If happiness were something you could get through small indulgences, the world would be perfect; however, ‘Many Drops Cause Flooding,’ so not matter how small the indulgence purchase you are making seems, each one combined can make a destructive flood. Satisfaction from fancy food and goods is worthwhile, but make sure it is done with wise spending habits. People need to understand that stress relief and happiness while momentarily will not last from materialism and consumerism. Happiness might be better found by saving money and investing it in your future.
1. Lee Chohui, “Even the Recession Dessert Market Boom... “It is okay even if three times expensive”,” Asia Business Daily, December 10, 2015
2. Kim Jaeyeon, “‘Buying it when you are young’ 20s and 30s Who Open Their Wallets Better Than Other Age Groups,” Asia Business Daily, December 28, 2015
3. Han Huira, “Annual Fee of 300,000 won, ‘Masstige Credit Card’ Are Popular,” Herald Corporation, October 12, 2015
4. Lee Chohui, “Even the Recession Dessert Market Boom... “It is okay even if three times expensive”,” Asia Business Daily, December 10, 2015
5. Lee Jaeeun, “New Trend in Long Term Recession…2030 Generation Who Enjoys ‘Small Indulgence’ Such As Dessert and Leisure,” ChosunIlbo, January 12, 2016