Ang baos or red packets are a Chinese New Year tradition meant as a token of good fortune and blessings (watch our video below). So, there’s no official “minimum” amount that you should give, as long as it is an even number.
But as many Chinese Singaporeans can attest, there is the “face” aspect of giving ang bao, too. After all, you may feel “pai seh” (Hokkien for embarrassed) giving a $10 ang bao to a child when your kid receives $20 in return from the child’s mother.
So, here’s a rough guide to the ang bao rate for 2019, according to Moneysmart.
What is the minimum amount to give?
This is the golden question and one that is foremost on everyone’s mind. Let’s begin first by saying that most seniors will tell you it is not good practice to give odd number amounts like $5 or $7 as Chinese traditions do not consider these odd numerals to be auspicious.
Amounts for ang baos should always be in pairs or even numbers, so you are going to be in good shape this Chinese New Year if you are “bao-ing” amounts like $2 or $8 or $20.
The $4 amount is debatable because although it is an even number, the “4” in Chinese sounds like “death”, inferring bad luck, so some couples stay clear of this just because they don’t want to send out a bad signal. (We know it’s tempting as it’s a nice low amount to give kids that you don’t really know very well.) This does depend sometimes on your dialect group; it has been said that Teochews do not see “4” as inauspicious.
CNY ang bao rates by hierarchy
Of course, there is no fixed minimum amount for each level of recipient as it should be dependent on your financial situation and how much you feel you can afford. Rich folk are possibly giving out ang baos with thousands of dollars but we’ll focus on us regular Singaporeans here.
The following are approximations we gathered from speaking with seasoned couples with some years of ang bao giving under their belts, and in accordance with family hierarchy.
Something to note is that peers do not usually give ang baos to each other, or rather it is less expected. So, if you meet an old classmate at a CNY gathering who isn’t married yet, it would not be weird if you did not give one to this person.
Is there an age limit to receiving ang baos?
The tradition mostly points to the fact that once you are married, you do not receive ang baos anymore and become the giver of them. Assuming you are not married, most people we spoke to believe that receiving ang baos when you are in your late 30s becomes awkward and many will meet such kind gestures with “Wah, so old already – no need lah uncle / auntie”!
Giving ang baos to adults who are already earning a living on their own isn’t always necessary. However, you should ultimately go with giving according to your comfort level, and according to your family practices.
Should ang baos be opened in public or in front of the giver?
Most will attest to having been scolded as young children for opening ang baos in the living room for the world to see. It is made worse if the giver of the ang bao is in your presence! So, brief your young kids about not opening it publicly.
Watch the Straits Times video below for more on ang bao do’s and don’ts.
A version of this article first appeared in Moneysmart.