CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Servicemembers are about to gather data that will play a large part in setting cost of living allowances for Defense Department personnel in South Korea.

In April and May, small groups headed by a servicemember will compile the 2008 Retail Price Schedule by visiting merchants in Seoul, Daegu, Pyongtaek and Chinhae, and near Osan Air Base.

The teams will compare prices of 120 goods and services at off-post merchants.

Cities in bases north of Seoul aren’t surveyed; finance officials say that’s probably because the majority of tours in those cities are one year, and soldiers are not accompanied by family.

The survey focuses on the spending habits of older soldiers with families, not those of young, unaccompanied soldiers.

“The teams are shopping by putting themselves in the shoes of an E-6 or O-3 with 10 years in the Army, with children,” said Maj. Lawrence Seward, 175th Financial Management Center chief of policy. “This is the typical shopper focus.”

Pricing results will be announced in July and take effect in October, he said.

The pricing teams of two or three people usually are headed by an officer or noncommissioned officer but can include spouses and native speakers.

Teams choose stores based on the 2006 USFK Living Pattern Survey’s results on what servicemembers buy off-post.

The 2006 survey included E-Mart, Lotte Department Store, Costco and Family Mart for groceries and household goods; Yongsan Electronics Market and Namdaemun Market for electronics and recreational goods; and Outback Steakhouse and TGI Friday’s as off-post restaurants.

Once officials confirm the price results, they’ll be compared to U.S. prices for the same goods and services, which do not include housing and some other categories that do not fall under “spendable income.”

When goods and services — along with inflation — are higher in South Korea than in the States, the annual COLA rate increases.

The rate is re-examined every two weeks by the Defense Department’s Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee to adjust for currency fluctuation.

COLA dropped on March 31 because of the South Korean won’s nosedive down to late 2005 levels against the dollar, though the won has gained slightly since last month.

For information on COLA, go to the 175th FMC Web site at

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