Looking for a handy guide to hongbao etiquette for newlyweds this Chinese New Year?
By: Kel Tan
The time-honoured tradition of giving and receiving hongbaos is synonymous with the Lunar New Year. In Chinese societies, it is customary for married individuals to give red packets filled with money to their parents, single adults and children as a symbol of good luck.
However, if you’re a newlywed, it can be daunting to figure out the mechanics of hongbao-giving – how much to pack inside each red envelope, and how to budget for your total hongbao expenditure.
Psst…if you’re currently in your first year of marriage, you’re exempt from giving out hongbaos, as there’s traditionally a one-year grace period of sorts. We can hear some of you are breathing a sigh of relief right now! Otherwise, here are six useful tips to observe.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to preparing hongbaos. However, in Singapore, the basic sum of S$2 is increasingly considered low. In fact, according to a survey by United Overseas Bank1, the average sum that Singaporeans gift their parents comes up to S$389.
Meanwhile, a separate street poll conducted by The Straits Times suggests that the “market rate” for hongbaos for more distant relatives and other acquaintances in 2016 falls between S$8 and S$102.
Ultimately, though, you should be giving within your means instead of trying to impress. As such, it’s important to budget accordingly. Discuss with your spouse about the total sum of money to allocate to hongbao giving, and how much to pack for each recipient.
Other things to consider include whether you should both combine funds, or if each person should finance the hongbaos for his or her own side of the family.
“We pool our money and try to make the amounts in the hongbaos consistent for both sides of the family,” says 30-year-old Iz Chua, a newlywed who will be giving hongbaos for the second time this Chinese New Year.
But this isn’t the case for 26-year-old Amanda Lee, another newlywed. “My husband and I will each be giving separate hongbaos to our parents,” she shares. Amanda will be giving hongbaos for the first time this year.
However, don’t be too hung up about the value inside each hongbao. At the end of the day, remember that fundamentally, hongbaos are a symbol of goodwill, not a financial transaction.
Of course, it also depends on whom you’re packing the hongbao for. The closer your ties to the recipient, the larger the hongbao should be. Typically, parents and other immediate family members warrant heftier hongbaos; in contrast, acquaintances and the children of friends usually receive smaller sums.
For instance, some families place a lot of emphasis on hongbaos; in contrast, others prefer gifting token sums and demonstrating their goodwill through food instead.
Other traditions also persist. “Between me and my husband, I’ll actually be footing the bulk of the hongbao expenses. I grew up with the women in the family managing the money for Chinese New Year, and it hasn’t changed for me,” Amanda shares.
Chinese custom dictates that the sum in each hongbao should not contain the number four, as this is supposedly inauspicious. In spite of this, even numbers are considered better than odd ones, with eight being particularly favoured.
Do also refrain from packing dirty and crumpled notes in your hongbaos, and never use coins. You can exchange your old notes for fresh, crisp ones at the bank.
Furthermore, when giving out your hongbaos, approach the most senior person present at the gathering first; this is a sign of respect. Do also remember to gift your hongbao with two hands.
“Be sure to make a comprehensive list of all of your relatives to avoid missing anyone out,” advises Iz. “Also, remember to carry spare red packets, as well as extra cash in the right denominations,” adds Amanda. These will come in handy if you meet a relative or acquaintance whom you’ve forgotten to prepare a hongbao for.
As extra precaution, if you have many nephews, nieces or friends’ children, write their names on the back of each packet so that you’ll not miss anyone.
If hongbaos are going to pose a considerable financial strain, you can try to cut costs in other ways. For example, gambling is a popular pastime during Chinese New Year, but try to keep the stakes low and limit your losses.
Also, if you’re planning to hold an open house, you can save money by buying snacks and drinks in bulk, or by whipping up your own refreshments.
Additionally, according to Moneysmart.sg, steamboats are especially cost-effective for reunion meals, as unconsumed ingredients can be saved for another day instead of being consigned to the trash bin. Every dollar counts!
I Love Children wishes all a Prosperous Chinese New Year!