Saying 'I do' giving that hongbao

How do I love thee? Let me count the bills.

The total sum might just sweep you off your feet.

As you can probably tell, I have recently discovered precisely how expensive weddings in Singapore are.

Seeing as weddings - Chinese ones in particular - are probably the earliest known form of crowdfunding, this doesn't apply only to the lucky newlyweds.

Guests, too, have an obligation not to leave their friends in crippling debt, especially if they aim to retain those friends afterwards.

I suppose I must have already known about the rising costs of getting hitched, in theory, since we write about surging business rents and Singapore's persistent labour crunch practically every day.

But reality only truly hit me when I decided to attend my very first wedding dinner earlier this year.

Prior to that, I successfully managed to avoid most acquaintances' wedding dos through an artful combination of pretending to be busy, actually being overseas and a general aura of misanthropy that allows me to forestall invites before people think of sending them to me, sort of like the pre-crime unit in Minority Report, except not really.

In my defence, those were mostly for people I didn't know very well so I don't feel particularly bad about it.

The wedding of this friend, however, I absolutely didn't want to miss. I hadn't seen her for years and wanted to be there to wish her well.

Besides, she had to put up with endless amounts of nonsense as my seatmate back in secondary school, so this was the very least I could do to show my gratitude.

Since nothing beats being prepared, I happily clicked on "going" and decided to venture online to look up the market rates for the wedding hongbao to make sure I would be giving enough money.

As it turns out, there are at least two entire websites plus multiple ongoing forum threads dedicated to this sole topic, which goes to show its weighty importance in the national collective consciousness.

According to the 2014 rate table on one site, the minimum hongbao contribution for a weekend wedding dinner starts at $60 and goes up to a mind-boggling $200 per person.

The $60 dinners were mostly at Chinese restaurants that aren't attached to fancy hotels, like LingZhi Vegetarian at Novena Square, Tung Lok Seafood Upper Jurong and Yunnan Garden @ one-north.

The award for charging a cool $200 per head, at the other end, goes to the St Regis Singapore hotel in Tanglin, narrowly beating six-star Capella Singapore's $188 per head in a nail-biting contest of capitalism.

Those were just the break-even amounts, as the website helpfully noted, so I added a little extra on top as a small gesture of goodwill.

But what all this essentially means is, if you hold a wedding dinner at a fancy hotel on a Saturday night, say, for 20 tables of 10 people each, the minimum price you would have to pay for that fleeting moment in time would be roughly equivalent to how much I earned in my entire first year of work.

If you want to rent the huge green lawn at the top of Marina Barrage, like what a former classmate apparently did, I can't even begin to imagine how much it would cost.

What's worse, these prices have shot up over the past few years, as I found out when I called a contact who used to be in the hotel industry. After checking with a few of his friends who are still in the business, he told me wedding banquet prices have been climbing 5 per cent to 10 per cent every year.

"The whole market is charging like that because of demand and supply, and nobody makes noise because they have no choice! So better get married sooner rather than later," my contact helpfully added.

He revealed that hotels tend to make a shockingly fat profit margin of up to 50 per cent on such affairs.

At that, I briefly entertained the thought of setting up a real estate investment trust (Reit) for wedding venues, before remembering that under new rules being proposed, Reit managers can now be sent to jail and prison is probably nothing like Orange Is The New Black.

One thing I might have going for the state of my finances, I suppose, is that my alma mater tends to produce capable, independent-minded women with high standards who may or may not feel any need to take a trip down the aisle.

As a lawyer friend half-seriously declared in between the abalone and the vegetables courses at the recent wedding dinner, at least a third of us will probably never get married.

For my friends who will, though, I've worked out the sums and already mentally set aside a budget. So please don't uninvite me after reading this and we can all live happily ever after.

This article was first published on Nov 23, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.