Despite the bleak economic outlook, Singaporeans are not planning to cut back on spending this Chinese New Year.
A street poll of 60 people by The Straits Times yesterday found that the going rate for hongbao this year seems to be between $8 and $10, especially among the younger crowd.
Civil servant Joel Lim, 36, intends to hand out fatter hongbao for the Year of the Monkey, following a pay rise last year. He plans to give $10 to relatives and his friends' children, up from $8 last year.
"I am giving $2 more because, financially, I am able to give more," said Mr Lim. "I am also opening my new house at Punggol to my relatives for the first time this year so I think it's appropriate to give more."
It is tradition for married couples to give out red packets - usually containing new notes - to their parents, single adults and children during Chinese New Year as a token of good luck and blessing.
The first day of Chinese New Year falls on Feb 8 this year.
Some, especially the older generation, are sticking to auspicious-sounding amounts.
Leow Kian Huay, 69, a retiree, plans to give $12 to her grandchildren and $168 to her children.
"Twelve dollars is for good luck and to wish for them to have a long life, while $168 is to wish for them to strike it rich this year," she said.
In Cantonese, the number 168 sounds like "prosper all the way".
Store manager Alan Lee, 67, will hand out $6 red packets. "Two dollars is too little and four is a bad number so six is perfect," he said. In Mandarin, the number four sounds like "death".
Most balked when asked if they will consider giving $2 hongbao.
"Two dollars - might as well not give. It's not enough to buy anything, just tea or coffee," said Alex Tay, 60, a real estate agent.
Johnson Lin, a logistics manager who intends to follow the "market rate" and give between $8 and $18 per hongbao, said: "Two dollars was OK 30 years ago but, now, it's really too little."
But the 45-year-old added that the amount should depend on a person's financial ability.
"I understand that for those who are not well-to-do, $2 is just a token of their well wishes."
Almost all those polled said they will not consider giving electronic hongbao. The trend, where money is sent and received through smartphones, is becoming more popular in China and sparked off a digital battle between the country's Web giants last year.
Civil servant Janet Tan, 32, who is giving at least $8 per packet this year, said she will not take up this option even if it saves her the hassle of having to queue up and exchange for new notes at the bank.
"The act of giving red packets to the young is quite a symbolic gesture," she said. "I remember the joy of opening red packets after Chinese New Year.
"And, sometimes, the young adults use the cash they get to gamble a little (during house visits)."
Meanwhile, a separate survey by United Overseas Bank found that consumers here intend to spend an average of $2,805 each this festive season, 20 per cent more than last year's budget of $2,345.
The increase was due to more respondents planning to travel over the festive period - 39 per cent this year, compared with 32 per cent last year.
Market research firm Ipsos interviewed 503 people aged between 25 and 55 last month for the survey.
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