Hongbao inflation - what's the going rate this year?

-- PHOTO: ST FILE
-- PHOTO: ST FILE

Recent survey shows many Singaporeans will give an average of $8 this year, up from $4 to $6 last year

Be prepared to dig deeper into your pockets this Chinese New Year.

The going rate this year is $8 per packet, up from $4 to $6 last year, according to an online survey by the United Overseas Bank of 500 people and an informal poll by SundayLife!.

Civil servant Lee Li Theng, 36, is among those who will give a fatter hongbao for the Year of the Goat. She plans to give $8 to her friends' children this year, up from the $6 she handed out last year.

"It's a slight increase, mainly because our financial situation has improved," says Ms Lee, who has been married for five years to an urban planner and has no children.

Red packets, also known as hongbao in Mandarin and angpow in Hokkien, are traditionally handed out by married couples to their parents, single adults and children during the Chinese New Year celebrations as tokens of good luck and blessing.

The first day of Chinese New Year falls on Feb 19 this year.

Like Ms Lee, some cite increased earning power for giving more, while others say the higher costs of living and inflation have prompted them to top up their red packets.

Mr Marcus Loh, 31, an associate director at a public relations firm, also favours the $8 sum as it is deemed "lucky and auspicious".

In Mandarin, the number eight, ba, sounds like fa or prosperity.

Manager Lau Su How, 36, says $8 is a decent amount that allows the recipient to buy "a small treat".

As red packets get fatter, kids have been reaping a windfall over the years, going by OCBC bank's analysis of deposit trends in its children accounts over the past five years.

The bank looked at accounts that showed a substantial spike in deposits during the Chinese New Year month and compared them to transaction patterns in other months.

It found that the average amount children received in hongbao from 2010 to last year has gone up by 3 to 18 per cent every year, from $522 (2010) to $589 (2011) to $606 (2012) and then to $715 (2013).

Last year, the amount hit $743. Going by the trend, the bank estimates that the likely average amount of hongbao takings this year will be $800 - an increase of about 8 per cent from last year.

It is no wonder then that some people now sniff at $2 red packets.

Interior designer Samuel Teo, 31, who finds the amount "not acceptable", says: "I would be embarrassed to give such a stingy amount."

He is handing out red packets for the first time this year and says they will contain at least $18 each.

But others say it is the thought that counts.

This is why Mr Alfred Wong, managing director of hamper company Noel Gifts International, says a $2 hongbao is "absolutely acceptable".

"We should not set a standard to the value of hongbao because it depends on the individual's financial situation. Giving hongbao reflects the generosity and one's station in life," he says.

"We should give according to what we can afford."

Ms Marion Teo, 47, a trainer and consultant in emotional intelligence, agrees. The former Miss Singapore Universe recalls a period in the early 2000s when she was struggling to make ends meet as a single mother.

"During that time, I gave out $2 hongbao," she says, but adds that she no longer deems that sum sufficient as her financial situation has since improved.

Assistant professor Helena Gao from the Nanyang Technological University's division of Chinese in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences says a $2 hongbao is fine as long as there is "a common understanding between giver and recipient that it is just an expression of good luck".

She doubts, however, that giving a hongbao with an odd-numbered sum would go down well with most people.

"Giving a hongbao is part of the Chinese tradition, and odd numbers to most Chinese do not represent good luck," she explains.

That is not stopping some people from doing so, though.

Associate account manager Steffi Wong, who will give her first red packets this year, is planning to stuff them with sums ranging from $5 to $20.

"The $5 is purely out of convenience - one note inside each hongbao," says the 27-year-old.

Whatever the amount may be, all who spoke to SundayLife! agree it is the thought that counts.

Says recruiter Jasmine Seah, 32: "My teachers used to give out gold chocolate coins in their hongbao when I was a student, and that was awesome."

brynasim@sph.com.sg

Do you think $8 is too much for a hongbao? Write to stlife@sph.com.sg