4 Unavoidable Costs Singaporeans Incur During CNY

Joanne Poh



So you’ve refused to buy any bak kwa during CNY in order to cleverly avoid having to pay jacked up prices. You refuse to display any of that pussy willow crap in your home, and you’re going to be wearing the same crappy clothes you wear every day during CNY, thank you very much.

But even the most fervent CNY-hater often can’t avoid losing some money in ways. You might not be like the psycho next door who hires a lion dance troupe to wake up the neighbourhood at 7 in the morning, but that doesn’t mean you’re not still obliged to visit relatives and participate in the yearly ang bao exchange. Here are some costs you might still be forced to fork out for.


Ang baos

If you’re married and some young whippersnapper comes up to you with two Mandarin oranges in hand, not giving him an ang bao is akin to slapping him in the face and then telling him he’s going to fail his PSLE.

And if you’ve got zillions of cousins and a few siblings who’ve all decided to bear children, we’re looking at an outlay of anything between $100+ to way more, depending on how generous you are. Then there are your subordinates at work, your maid, your aged parents and the auntie who sells you kopi each morning, all of whom you will gracing with a red packet.

The days when you could get away with giving $2 are long gone. $10 seems to be the bare minimum these days, so get ready to feel the pinch.


Gambling and Toto

Despite the fact that Singaporeans complain like crazy about what a bother CNY is, how troublesome it is to have to visit relatives and how expensive it is to give ang baos to thieving little kids, they’ll readily throw wads of cash at a heated ban-luck gambling session at a relative’s house, or decide in advance which Ferrari to buy when they win the Toto Hongbao draw.

If that sounds like you, or you simply have no other options over CNY because all your friends and family will be busy trying to win money from each other or Singapore Pools, we can only hope you have some self-control and don’t end up losing your kid’s university fund to Aunty Margaret and Uncle Tony.

Then there’s the office Toto pool, just about the only time all your colleagues genuinely start enthusiastically working towards a cause. If they do win and you’re the only who refused to participate, everyone will quit their job and you’ll be saddled with the work of fifty people.


Reunion dinner

If you’re an ethnic Chinese Singaporean, there’s a 99% chance you’re expected to show up for reunion dinner with whatever relatives you still have in the country. This can range from an entire restaurant filled with people you barely recognise, or just your parents and/or kids.

Still, this is one dinner at which you won’t get away with ordering pizza, or buying your usual prawn mee from the hawker centre.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a mother or grandmother who’s a whizz in the kitchen, the easiest, most inexpensive and least disaster-inducing option is to get hold of a steamboat set and basically have your guests cook their own food.

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Commuting to relatives’ homes

If you think our weekday traffic jams or taking the MRT to work are a pain, you’d better brace yourself for a whole lot more of that over CNY. If you’re obliged to visit relatives, expect to find yourself on the road a lot.

Whether you’re repeatedly climbing into your car that’s been baked under the sun in your relative’s HDB carpark, enduring interminable bus and train rides or trying desperately to hail a cab, expect to spend more than your fair share on transport fares and petrol this CNY.

A bit of advance planning can save you some grief. Text your relatives who you anticipate will be visiting the same homes as you, and see if you can come up with a car sharing arrangement or share taxis, which can save you quite a bit of money and quite a bit of discomfort.

What else are you spending money on this CNY? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.