Christmas and New Years may be over, but the festivities aren’t. With Chinese New Year just around the corner, it’s time to gather the family, eat till you drop, and indulge in some friendly lo hei over reunion dinners.
A glorious 15 day celebration, Chinese New Year officially starts on 12 February (Friday), and ends on 26 February (Friday). Apart from the delicious feasts and gatherings with loved ones, Chinese New Year is also about giving and receiving lucky red packets that we affectionately call hong baos or ang baos (红包).
A symbol of good luck and happiness, these red packets are exchanged during this festive season between close family and relatives. But just how much should you bao (pack) in an ang bao? Here’s a rough estimate based on a regular Singaporean’s income and not a Crazy Rich Asian’s.
Note: The following rates are estimates and serve as a guide for those wondering how much to give during Chinese New Year. After all, it is more important to give what you're financially comfortable with than giving more in order to keep up with appearances and falling into debt.
Amount: $88 to $288
Well, they brought you up and gave you everything till you became financially independent, so they deserve to be given the most. In addition, it is also considered a sign of respect that receive the highest ang bao in the pecking order.
Grandparents and in-laws
Amount: $88 to $188
After your parents, the next in the line will definitely be grandparents or in-laws.
Here’s where lines get blurry. Not everyone practices this anymore considering that many come from a dual-income household. However, if you decide to, this amount could range from just a token of appreciation to however much your bank account allows (just remember, ‘happy spouse, happy life!’).
Amount: $50 to $188
Unless they understand the value of money, we suggest a sizeable amount, just enough to purchase something they like and put some into the piggy bank. However, if they do not, consider giving them a smaller red packet and deposit the rest directly into their savings account.
Amount: $8 to $28
The amount varies depending on how close you are with your cousins and what has been the common practice.
Nieces and nephews
Amount: $10 to $20
This might be the biggest group you would have to give out the red packets to. So you may want to be a little conservative about the amount and allocate accordingly.
Amount: $5 to $10
Not exactly relatives, and unless you meet them often or are a godparent to them, there’s no real need to give a larger amount.
Amount: $5 to $10
Security guards, cleaners, pantry aunties, a relative’s domestic helper or your children’s classmates. Essentially, everyone else that does not exactly fall into the above categories.
Who gives ang baos?
Well, all married couples and (some) singles.
Married couples, like your parents, married aunties and uncles, and grandparents will have to give red packets. That said, newly-weds have an ‘unofficial hall pass’ for the first year of marriage and would only need to start giving red packets in their second year of marriage. Don’t believe us? Ask your mom or grandma!
Although there isn’t a particular cut-off age for singles to start giving out red packets, a rough estimate is when one hits their mid- to late-30s. Apart from parents and younger siblings, it is solely up to them to decide who else they want to give red packets to.
Other unwritten rules for ang baos
Married couples have the option to either give red packets as an individual or as a couple. Some give their parents, in-laws, grandparents and children individually, but give red packets as a couple for the rest. Others combine all red packets regardless of recipient — which makes total financial sense if you ask us.
Since Chinese New Year is a time when superstitions reign supreme, make a note to never give red packets with amounts starting or ending with the number 4. In Chinese and in some dialects, it sounds similar to 'death' (死, si). Whenever in doubt, always go with lucky number 8 instead.
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