Yongson residents feeling pinch as dollar drops 'like a block' vs. won
January 31, 2005
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — It only takes a quick glance at an ATM receipt to realize just how weak the U.S. dollar is getting: On Friday, $1 equaled 1,001 won.
“It’s one-to-one,” said Spc. Joseph Sia, shaking his head Friday afternoon while standing outside the Community Bank branch on Main Post.
The value of the dollar has been plummeting around the globe, and its exchange rate against the won is no exception. On Thursday, the dollar hit a seven-year low against the won, South Korean media reported. The U.S. Federal Reserve Board put Thursday’s exchange rate at 1,027.85 won per dollar, meaning it would take 97 cents to buy a 1,000-won note. A year ago, a dollar bought 1,180 won, according to the Federal Reserve.
But the military rates used at on-base ATMs offer less generous exchange rates. Commercial rates typically reflect the rate for exchanging millions of dollars in a single transaction rather than $60 withdrawn from an ATM. For bank customers, Friday’s rate meant it takes 99 cents to buy 1,000 won.
“I remember when I got here, it was 1,100” won to a dollar, said Pfc. Daniel Schremser, 19, of Warsaw, Mo., who arrived in South Korea in May to serve with the 1-2 Aviation Battalion at Camp Page. “It’s started dropping like a block.”
Military officials have increased the cost-of-living allowance for soldiers like Sia and Schremser three times in recent months to soften the blow. The most recent change put the rate at 32 cents, meaning a portion of every servicemember’s paycheck increases by nearly a third.
That COLA rate likely will be reviewed in the coming weeks, especially as results become available from the current financial survey among servicemembers. The survey, conducted by the 175th Finance Command, is an online list of questions that measure how servicemembers spend money, both on- and off-base, on things like food, phone calls and other personal items.
The survey is at http://175fincom.korea.army.mil and will be available until Feb. 7.
Every little bit counts, said Staff Sgt. Kyle Anderson, 34, of San Antonio, who works at the Yongsan Health Clinic in medical supplies.
“Any adjustment is always a help,” he said Friday after checking his bank balance at the ATM inside the Dragon Hill Lodge at Yongsan. “But is the adjustment meeting up with the loss? I don’t know.”
Anderson said he uses an additional method for reducing the impact of a weak exchange rate: bargaining with vendors off-base to get a better deal.
But Sia, 20, of Daly City, Calif., said he rarely has time to seek out better exchange rates and prices outside of Yongsan.
“I just don’t have the time to go off-post,” he said Friday afternoon after getting dollars from the ATM. He already had stocked up on won earlier in the day. “It’s easier for me to take it out of Community Bank.”