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Tue, Sep 29, 2009
The Straits Times
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Hongbao headache
by Cheryl Tan

You have the wedding dinner invite. But the bride is not the only one with jitters on her big day. You, the guest, are fretting over what to wear or how to make conversation with a table of strangers.

The knotty issue is rearing its head as the wedding season gets underway following the end of the Hungry Ghost Festival.

How much hongbao money is enough?

The going rate seems to be around $80 to $120 a person, although it can go as high as $174 at swanky hotels.

Most people usually take into account which hotel the dinner is held and add a little more based on their relationship with the person, says executive consultant of wedding consulting firm Wedding Acts, Jonathan Goh, 38.

'You don't want to 'under-give' as that would be impolite and you should at least cover the cost of your seat at the table,' he says. He always makes sure to give at least 30 to 50 per cent more than the cost of his dinner.

'It also depends on my relationship with the couple and how generous I'm feeling at the moment,' he adds.

His generosity when it comes to wedding hongbaos stems from a bad experience during his own wedding eight years ago at Grand Hyatt hotel.

He recalled receiving a hongbao of $40 from a long-time friend and former classmate who also brought his girlfriend to the dinner, which cost $80 a head.

'He even had the audacity to write his name on the hongbao,' he says with a chuckle.

The two friends have since lost contact with each other, although Mr Goh insists it has nothing to do with the measly hongbao at his dinner, which had 45 tables.

He had to cough up $15,000 due to his lacklustre hongbao collection and now advises his clients to set aside at least $10,000 just in case.

'Don't try to make money from your wedding. You never know when you might find yourself in a situation like mine,' he says.

Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner Norfery Ngoh, who had to hold two wedding dinners - one here and another in Harbin, China, his wife Zhao Jing's native country - was lucky. He collected a profit of 90,000 yuan (S$18,599). The banquet in China cost him 110,000 yuan for 30 tables.

The 27-year-old says people in China are very worried about losing face as their names are on the hongbao and the red packets are immediately ripped apart and their amounts recorded.

The generous hongbao, he adds, were from his father-in-law's friends, business partners or clients who gave between 2,000 and 10,000 yuan.

For his second wedding dinner here last Thursday, he was ready to top up an additional $8,000 to $12,000 to pay for his $30,300 banquet.

Speaking before the dinner, he told LifeStyle: 'I'm confident that my relatives and close friends will at least match the $83.80 price per head at the dinner.'

Afterwards, he said he had made a profit of $3,124.

Mr Alex Lim, 27, an executive in an engineering company who got married this year, advises couples to 'be realistic with how much they can afford and estimate how much your friends and family members will give'.

'You can then choose a hotel that is within your means,' he says.

To play it safe, he and his wife Candy Lee, 29, held their wedding banquet in February at the four-star York Hotel which cost them $778 per table. He had 35 tables and made a profit of $8,000 from the hongbao.

He said: 'I knew my friends and relatives would pay between $80 and $100. So I knew I was safe.'

As for how much hongbao money to give at friends' future weddings, he intends to reciprocate with whatever amount they gave him.

But making money from a wedding should not be a couple's priority, says ship broker Bonfurt Sim.

'The people you invite should be those whom you want to share your happiness with. But people do take advantage and invite business clients who tend to give big sums of money,' says the 50-year-old.

He usually gives about $100 or more, depending on his relationship with the couple. He also multiplies the amount by five if he takes his wife and three children along.

Engineer David Tan, 40, and his wife usually give 20 to 30 per cent more in case they underestimate the cost.

He says: 'It is not so much a case of saving face. We just want to give a cash gift to the couple on top of helping them cover the cost of their dinner.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

readers' comments
$80~$110 per person is usually reasonable. However I do know of people who bring the who family and gave amount for one person. So word of advice is to budget wisely.
Posted by dontbsmee on Thu, 1 Oct 2009 at 13:23 PM
If ever I get and invitation from people like Jonathan Goh or lchink, I will definitely RSVP them to say I won't be able to make it. Let them find some other suckers to finance their show. Be real - do not burden invitees to pay for the "grand affair". Put on a big show but can't afford it and expect to shame other people into paying for it. Sheesh.

A long time ago, my then colleague invited our then boss (German) to her wedding reception and he gave her a coffee percolator(no angpao). When she got back to work she was fuming mad. Where he came from, a gift was optional and angpao was definitely not heard of.
Posted by codivamu on Thu, 1 Oct 2009 at 01:17 AM
Hong Baos are supposedly be given sincerely and according to the affordability of the guest. If you have a wedding dinner spread of 100 tables then hope/expect your guests to match the cost of the dinner, that means you can't affor it. You better tell them to buy their own food at the local kopitiam. I had my wedding dinner and told my guests upfront I will accept only gifts that means something to them and not cash. I want to treat my guests to dinner and join me in my celebration. I do not want them to pay for their own dinner at my wedding dinner.
Posted by raffielaffendy on Wed, 30 Sep 2009 at 21:22 PM
i once had this friend (actually a colleague) who attended my wedding. he gave an angbao that was not even sufficient to cover the cost. I didnt really bother abt it and had actually forgotten abt it, since the cost per head wasn't alot either. But the worst part was, a few days later after i returned back to office, he told me "i'm sorry abt that angbao, i think i gave too little, can i pay you back to make up the shortage?" (sthg in that context).... OMG, i was thinking, you aren't expecting me to say 'Yes' right? such a low EQ person.
Posted by lchink on Wed, 30 Sep 2009 at 19:12 PM
Exactly. if one cannot afford to throw a wedding dinner to celebrate the event, don't bother doing it at all. There is no point in organising a dinner and expect the invited guest to cover the cost.
Posted by mambobee on Wed, 30 Sep 2009 at 18:50 PM
Oops.. sorry, the funny letter is in chinese. Trying to say " he xi jiu"
Posted by devillishleo on Wed, 30 Sep 2009 at 16:59 PM
Chinese say "请喝喜酒" meaning invitating someone to drink their happiness wine, as good as inviting someone to share their happiness.(forgive me simple explanation) so when one say invitation, how can he expect to be paid? How can he expect to make a profit out of something? If that's the case, close door and just have a wedding for 2 person, don't bother to invite anyone, don't trouble your friends and relative! A colleague of mine and the same mindset, when he invites me, but my own niece is also getting married on that day, i told him i might not turn up, but just give me the card,in my heart i already wanted to give him an ang bao, even if i can make it on that day. Yet he say " if that's the case then i won't give you the card, i don't want you to owe me .....
Posted by devillishleo on Wed, 30 Sep 2009 at 16:58 PM
I wouldn't want to be friends with this Jonathan Goh.
Posted by fastcivic on Wed, 30 Sep 2009 at 10:53 AM
Agreed! A wedding should not be viewed as a money making venture. You should invite only the people you want to share it with. 300 guests is a money making opportunity, not a wedding. My friend had 50 people(!) at her wedding. Only the closest friends and relatives, she paid for everything, no money or ang pows were given. It was a beautiful day to share in a beautiful ceremony. The whole hongbao thing just cheapens your one big special day and the people you want to share it with. Couples should just say NO. If their parents demand it, then the parents should pay. Right?
Posted by jawbrekka on Wed, 30 Sep 2009 at 10:32 AM
hotel banquets is like our ministers pay, it is going up and up, i think some 5 star hotel is asking for $2000 a table. the prices will keep rising with opening our integrated resorts.

holding at 5 star hotel is like your own dream and personal decision. if you cannot afford, dont do it. i had people having the audacity to tell their guests how much per table. to me, if you want face, you need to be able to live it up. dont count on guests to give you the numbers. if you get the numbers, fine. if you dont, never mind, dont grumble cause its your choice.

there are all types of people, some good friends are misers and some are sneaky. for some ang pows, you can find $50 or even $10 dollars inside, are you going to fret?
Posted by EnigmaE on Wed, 30 Sep 2009 at 09:48 AM

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