Lunar New Year, that wonderful time of year when a sizeable part of the planet’s population – from all walks of life go visiting one another decked in their finest apparel, wishing one another prosperity and good health.
Then there’s the small matter of those tiny red envelopes that are customarily given as an auspicious gift – to children, whether related or not, unmarried relatives and senior members of the family and relatives. Yes, hongbao. Or ang pow, as they are probably more commonly called in Singapore.
Quite obviously, they contain cash. Which leads to the question facing many a married Chinese couple here as we welcome the Year of the Rat – how much to give?
We’ll start by saying – as a reminder or for those completely new to this game – that it is inauspicious to give any odd number. So don’t give ang pows in amounts of $3, $5, $7 or $9 to anyone unless you’re a well-known comedian known for your really silly behaviour.
There are those who are given to the impression that it is really bad luck to give an ang pow containing $4 because four sounds like death or dying in Mandarin and Chinese dialects, but it’s entirely up to you. However, giving a $2 ang pow could be worse because you’ll be judged a scrooge by recipients, especially if they’re children.
A good basic amount to start with – meaning, the smallest of your ang pows – is $6. However, if you want even the most basic of your ang pows to look very auspicious and if you can afford it or don’t have a million child relatives or children of friends to bestow this blessing upon, go for $8 as “eight” sounds like “luck” or “fortune” in the vernacular.
Now that these have been resolved, let’s start from the top.
Personal finance platform seedly.sg recommends $250 to $800, while moneysmart.sg recommends anything between $88 and $288. We’re good with $88 for a start, but as our parents and grandparents have been there from the very beginning of our existence, we’d suggest not having a cap on how much you’d like to give, especially if you have the means. But don’t be mean and give only $8, as it’d be insulting and a very good reason for your parents to disown you.
This would be more relevant if your spouse is not working. Seedly.sg recommends $200 to $500, though we would suggest a blank cheque. This would be an indication of your true love, your willingness to sacrifice everything for your spouse, including your money. And if your spouse is going to spend all your money, then your spouse will spend all your money, whether it’s part of an ang pow or not.
Unmarried and/or younger siblings
The recommended range is from $50 to $200. While it is customary for ang pows to be given only to unmarried relatives of age, you can, by all means, continue to give ang pows to your younger siblings even after marriage. But this can be substantially reduced, thus retaining the symbolism without any financial drain.
Again, $50 to $200 appears to be the going rate. However, giving ang pows to your own children is an extremely private matter (though you can’t really stop the actual value of your ang pows being known through Instagram or WhatsApp among your children and their cousins and friends). Most parents give according to the values they want to instil in their children – mostly as a start to the habit of saving rather than as a means of spurging. If you intend to give anything more than the recommended amount, we’d recommend you put it into a bank account instead.
The recommended range is between $10 and $30, but this is, of course, a very rough guide. Depending on your closeness to the relative (it could be the children of your favourite sibling or a first cousin once removed), you are, again, at liberty to give more or less, accordingly.
Unrelated children, random or otherwise
This is quite often the most complicated though it is the closest to your baseline. Would it be $2? $6? Or $8? Moneysmart.sg recommends $6 to $8 for children who aren’t related to you, seedly.sg is slightly less generous at $2 to $8, while singaporemotherhood.com has different tiers for different children: $6 to $12 for neighbours’ children, children’s classmates and children you see at the church, temple or mosque, $8 to $20 for the children of colleagues, and $16 to $20 for children of your best friends. In other words, anything between $2 and $20 is a decent amount to give without scaring the parents of the children.
Ang pows are a symbol of the passing of good fortune. The recipients should always be thankful for what is given no matter the contents, and the amounts within should never be used to judge the giver. Also, an ang pow should never be opened in the presence of anyone except when at home and only if visitors are no longer present. If you are the person giving the ang pow, give generously, and give cheerfully, or don’t give at all. Give within your means, as it is supposed to be the sharing of prosperity, not losing your fortune. Remember always that the Lunar New Year is a happy occasion and that the celebrations are meant for everyone’s happiness, so, in advance, we’d like to wish you gong xi fa cai!
You might also like to read:
How to read your Zodiac forecast, and what the Year of the Rat will bring for you