$88: Thoughts about Hong Bao giving at Weddings

By HungryGoWhere July 11, 2021
$88: Thoughts about Hong Bao giving at Weddings
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Dear Newly-weds,

I was going to get you one of those rectangular metal contraptions with which when you depress a lever it turns your bread brown, or one of those cylindrical gadgets which fluffs rice grains. But the man in the shop shook his head – nobody gifts toasters and rice cookers, everybody wants money.


So here is $88 instead – so you can choose what colour you want in frying pans, cutlery or Nespresso capsules.

While there is no rule of thumb which can’t be bent when gifting money, I did consult some wedding flow chart about how much to give in wedding hongbaos (Mandarin for ‘red packets’): the range starts from $80 (venue: Changi Village Hotel) to $250 (venue: Capella, Sentosa). But here is what I think: family or friend, BFF or nodding acquaintance, rich or poor, Chinese, Eurasian, Indian or Malay – the dollar bills should not vary.

I gift $88. No need to return me the eight dollars – 88 is a full-figured number, and in few of Chinese dialects their pronunciations allude to “prosper”. What more could a just-wed pair want?

A heftier hongbao? Sorry lah, not anymore from me. I’ve done my sums:

You see, as a senior singleton, I am a six-time loser in the cash gift stakes: there’s the bridal shower, then the wedding. Next the baby shower, then baby’s one-month. It’ll soon be the baby’s first birthday, and then a grandparent passes on (ok, choi!). Multiply this by the number of friends and colleagues, and one may have to take in the washing or apply for an overdraft.


I thought you invited me to share in your joy, not in the cost of your nuptials. “It seems the flowers alone cost $20,000,” someone commented at a wedding I attended. No, the groom wasn’t marrying Elton John. A-choo! (Sorry it’s the pollen).

Really, we’re all thrilled for you, but do we have to chip in for that Michelin-starred menu served at the St Regis ballroom (also $250 per hongbao) which was transformed into another Gardens by the Bay? Your Dior dress was beautiful, as the air-flown Michael Buble crooning the Hawaiian Wedding Song was charming. Not to be carping – we weren’t asked if we wanted the lilies or the geraniums.

Certainly at weddings such as these, the couple and their families are not going to notice too much who gave how much, not when you can pick up such a fab tab. If you can afford to spare nothing to celebrate the big day, better donate the hongbaos to a deserving cause (which some have done).

Young couples who have just collected the keys to their heartland estate flat could use some help in footing the wedding cost. In which case, you can’t go wrong with a minimum of $100 in the red packet. If you can, boost it to $120. Good friend – oh go on, give $150. Alternatively – just a suggestion – large groups of mates can share and spring for a set of designer chairs or aircon system or kitchen unit as wedding present.

Wedding luncheons and tea receptions can be skimmed at $80 before you slink away. Try not to scoff $40 worth in sausage rolls and teh tarik (‘pulled’ milk tea) though.

The choice of restaurant and hotel is the other guide: a five-star joint means the couple can afford it, are willing to go into hock for it, or are counting on guests’ generosity. The recommendation is still $120 to $150. If you can really toss back on the drinks, bump it up to $180.

You don’t need to know the couple well to know if they need help with the final bill: observe, then, depending on your own budget, anything from $150 to $200 would be very decent. Unless they’ve told you they are going round the world on honeymoon – then, $88 should do the token trick. Let them pay for half of the dinner you’re eating, why not?

Similarly, don’t feel the pressure to match bigger hong baos given by guests who attend wedding dinners at which families pay for everything – the kids get to keep all the hongbaos.

As for the couple whose wedding I attended and have since divorced, any chance of getting half the money back?

Good wishes,
Nearly Broke


Sylvia Toh Paik Choo is not as crabby as she sounds; she only looks that way. She stands by her $88 hong baos because “it looks like two fat ladies” – she’s one of them.



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