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CNY Ang Bao Guide 2024: Rates, Etiquette And Everything You Need To Know

Alevin Chan

Alevin Chan

Last updated 16 January, 2024

Lunar New Year is here again, which means it’s time for angbaos! Here’s our concise guide to how much to give, etiquette to observe and things to look out for around the time-honoured tradition.

Of the many symbols and practices associated with the Lunar New Year, the tradition of giving ang baos (red packets filled with cash) is perhaps the most popular. It is practically a core part of the experience, and endures despite repeated calls to switch to e-angbaos in an effort to reduce waste. 

We’ll leave it up to you to decide how green (or not) you should be for LNY. But for everything else – rates, do’s and don’ts, and tips and trivia – we’ve got you covered with this complete guide.

Table of contents


How much to give for LNY ang baos?

Let’s get the most burning question out of the way. How much should you put into your red packets? What’s the “going rate”? And how quickly will you get cancelled for packing a single, measly S$2 note?

Ok, let’s be reasonable. How much to give in your ang baos is entirely up to you. It’s your money after all, and you should be comfortable with the expense (yes, expense, no matter how deeply steeped in tradition the practice is) you’re taking on. It makes no sense to blow half your year-end bonus just to seem generous or well-to-do in front of your relatives. 

Also, you may be blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with a larger-than-average family with prodigious amounts of offspring, which means having to give out more ang baos than others. You’ll need to make adjustments as befits your unique circumstances. 

Having said that, is there a “going rate”, for those of us who prefer not to risk public censure during a time when face must be saved at all costs? Why, yes there is, as a quick Google search will tell you. 

And here’s our contribution to the ongoing conversation. 

2024 LNY ang bao recommended rates

Relationship
How much to give
Parents, spouse
S$188 to S$2,888
Grandparents, parents-in-law, own children
S$88 to S$888
Siblings, siblings-in-law, cousins
S$68 to S$288
Nieces and nephews, children of friends, colleagues, neighbours, etc.
S$18 to S$58
Acquaintances and other informal relations
S$6 to S$18

These are, of course, mere guidelines, so feel free to tweak them as you wish. But generally, it is customary to reserve higher amounts for closer/more important family members, while preparing smaller amounts for those lower in the hierarchy.

There’s a practical reason for this too: You likely have fewer VIPs in your life than, say, colleagues and acquaintances, so stacking your ang bao amounts this way will also help you rein in your budget. 

Notice that the lowest amount recommended in our list is S$6. We aren’t saying you can’t give S$2 ang baos. You can, but given the high cost of living these days, it might be better to refrain if that’s all you can afford. That way you won’t inadvertently come across as a cheapskate.


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Do’s and don’ts when giving and receiving ang baos

A lot of what follows is going to be a matter of common sense, but we’re putting them out there as a reminder just in case. 

Ang bao do’s 

  • Amounts containing the number 8 are particularly auspicious, but round or even numbers will do as well.
  • Give and receive ang baos in person, and use both hands to signify respect.
  • It’s customary to utter some auspicious-sounding phrases, but otherwise, a simple Xin Nian Kuai Le (Happy New Year) or Gong Xi Fa Cai will do.
  • When giving ang baos to elders, include a pair of tangerines as a token of abundance. 
  • Unless you’re in a hurry, allow some time after arrival before offering ang baos.
  • Recycle your used red packets, instead of throwing them away in the thrash. 
  • Elders or those more seniors should receive a higher amount than those junior to them. This signifies your wish for the elder’s longevity and prosperity, according to some feng shui practitioners.

Ang bao don’ts 

  • Avoid coins and odd numbers in your ang baos
  • In particular, ang bao amounts should not contain the number 4 for its inauspicious-sounding pronunciation in Mandarin. 
  • Don’t return ang baos too hastily. It’s ok to wait for an opportune moment.
  • If reusing red packets, avoid using any that bears someone’s name.
  • Never open an ang bao in front of the giver. 
  • Don’t pester your elders for ang baos. Instead, wait patiently to be offered. 
  • Don’t use ang baos with the wrong zodiac animal, or featuring greetings for birthdays or other occasions.

LNY ang bao etiquette, tips and trivia 

Who should give out ang baos?

Tradition dictates that only adults who are married should give out ang baos. This means that besides your parents and grandparents, you can also expect angbaos from married aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins.

Today, however, the requirement to be married is less strictly enforced. Once an adult reaches the age of 30 and beyond, they may also choose to give out ang baos. For such individuals, the practice is more discretionary.  

Who should you give ang baos to? 

Strictly speaking, you’re bound by tradition only to give ang baos to your immediate family, i.e., your parents and unmarried siblings. However, it is also common to give ang baos to grandparents and other elderly folk.

Extended family members are also often included, but here ang baos follow a descending trajectory. That’s to say, juniors receive ang baos from their elders, such as from elder brother to younger sister, and not the other way around. 

Besides tradition, ang baos may also be given for practical reasons. For instance, there’s no requirement for you and your spouse to provide an ang bao for your poor, spinster aunt, but you might want to do so anyway as a face-saving way to help them out if they are in dire straits. 

In any case, you won’t go wrong giving angbaos to children and young adults. This applies to casual relationships too.

How did the practice of giving ang baos come about anyway?

Two fascinating Chinese legends that speak to the origin of the practice. In one, the Eight Immortals transformed themselves into coins to help a mortal child. The coins were wrapped in red envelopes and placed under the child’s pillow to ward off a demon named Sui. From then onwards, parents started giving money wrapped in red envelopes to children during the new year to suppress the demon Sui. This is also why ang baos are traditionally known as Ya Sui Qian (lit., money to suppress the demon Sui).

In another legend, after the birth of his son, the Emperor Xuanzhong gave gold and silver coins to his concubine to be used as charms to protect the newborn. This practice was adopted by parents who started giving money to their children to ward off evil. 

No matter which legend you choose to believe in (or not), the colour red has historically been regarded as a powerful symbol of good luck and fortune. Thus, it is not surprising that in ancient China, the practice of giving money wrapped in red paper or cloth took root and became a popular custom that has endured through the ages.  

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In the age of climate change, should ang baos be considered wasteful and abandoned altogether?

It’s undeniable that the production of new banknotes and red packets uses up valuable resources, and the short-term nature of their use may make the custom seem particularly wasteful. 

Indeed, the Monetary Authority of Singapore estimates that carbon emissions equivalent to powering 430 4-room HDB flats annually are produced every year, and the majority of new banknotes issued are used only once before being returned, resulting in their destruction well before the end of their useful life cycle. 

So yes, there is certainly room for improvement. 

While there’s nothing that quite compares to the visceral joy of receiving and tearing open yet another ang bao, it is also up to us to nudge things towards a more sustainable future. 

One way to do so is to switch to e-hongbaos and encourage all your relatives to do the same. Make a pact with your family, and create a new family tradition!

Another way is to stop being so obsessed with the appearance of your banknotes. Yes, you should avoid anything that is too soiled, crumpled or unsightly, but even banknotes that are a little worn are perfectly fine for your ang baos. The less demand there is for new banknotes, the more resources we can save together. 

Also, do recycle your red packets via proper channels, such as the collection drives held by various banks around the island. Choosing red packets with generic designs will also allow you to use them for several years, instead of having to switch to a new batch every time.

 


An ex-Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.

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