5 Ways to Cut Costs During Chinese New Year

Joanne Poh


If you’re one of those people who actually like Chinese New Year, good for you. But for many others in Singapore, CNY is a tiresome occasion where you are forced to answer nosy aunties’probing questions into your love life, or a public holiday on which you try desperately to escape Singapore before realising that air tickets are too expensive.

Worst of all, Chinese New Year has the potential to cost a ton of money. If you’re forced to participate in the whole shebang, from hosting a costly reunion dinner to handing out ang baos like Halloween candy, be prepared to shell out huge wads of cash. In fact, one of my previous employers used to pay out employees’ February salaries a few weeks early because some staff members would run into cash flow issues during CNY.

Here’s how to make this year’s lunar new year a frugal one.


1. Don’t buy new clothes or get them online

The “out with the old, in with the new” mentality that Chinese New Year fosters can be incredibly wasteful. People are encouraged to buy new clothes because—get this—it’s bad luck to keep the old. This kind of reasoning is akin to the sort of logic that dictates people should throw lavish weddings for fear of losing face.

Of course, the easiest way to get around this is simply to refuse to buy anything new during the Chinese New Year season. But if you’re adamant about wearing something new, here’s one thing you can do that has a 90% chance of helping you find a new outfit: reorganise your existing wardrobe. Remove every item and then rearrange your entire collection. There’s a high chance you will find never-worn-before clothing items you forgot about, or new-looking outfits you forgot existed. Otherwise, you can simply fool people into thinking you have something new by wearing existing clothes in different combinations.

If you really must buy something new, never ever buy at retail stores, or else you’re looking at a minimum of $50 to $60 for something that isn’t of pasar malam quality. One of my friends bought some very nice cheongsams on Qoo10 for less than $30, while you can get discounted brand new designer items on the cheap on eBay.

You should also make sure if you are shopping online, or shopping in general for that matter, that you have the right credit card to take advantage of any additional rewards or rebates you might be able to get. MoneySmart’s simple Credit Card Comparison Tool will help you with the information you need to get the most suitable card for your lifestyle needs.


2. Be the banker

Most of my friends who actually like Chinese New Year feel that way for one reason—the gambling. If your friends’ and relatives’ homes transform into gambling dens once night falls, have fun, but don’t forget that the potential to lose all your ang bao money is ever-present.

As a general rule, if you are the banker you run a higher risk but also have the highest chance of walking away with more money in your pocket. The odds of regular casino games are already very, very slightly in favour of the banker, but the special rules which apply during Chinese New Year for games like blackjack or “ban luck” skew the odds much more greatly in the banker’s favour. At almost every Chinese New Year gambling session I’ve attended, the guys who dared to risk their money and be the bankers walked away flush with cash.

On the other hand, if you’re not brave, rich or foolhardy enough to be the banker, set a limit for yourself for the night. Promise yourself you’ll walk away if you lose more than, say, $50, and then show up at the gambling table with only that amount and no more.

On the other hand, if you just want to play for as long as possible, set yourself a maximum bet amount. For instance, you might allow yourself to bet only a maximum of $1 on each round, so even if your luck stinks, you’re unlikely to leave that much poorer.


3. Make decorations out of corporate red packets

If your home looks more like a scene out of the hungry ghost festival than Chinese New Year, you might want to stick up a few bright red decorations in preparation for the season, lest your relatives flee without dropping off their ang baos.

Before you go overboard by buying new furniture, hanging up fake firecrackers and growing pussy willow, know that you already have one necessary ingredient for decorating your house for CNY absolutely free of charge.

You or one of your family members probably has a drawer filled with ang baos from banks, insurance companies and retail stores. These are pretty much all you need to decorate the home. With a few stacks of ang baos you can make lanterns, fans, fake fish and so on. Check out these links to tutorials. If you have kids, they can probably do a better job than you at making decorations.


4. Drive to Malaysia when it’s cheaper

If you are visiting relatives in Malaysia, it’s worth noting that you can benefit from highway concessions by travelling on certain dates, which can help offset the increased toll charges you now have to pay on the Causeway. Click here to read more.

If you’re planning to go further for the holidays and still haven’t booked tickets, to be honest there’s not much hope unless you’re prepared to take leave a few days before and return after to avoid flying too close to the CNY dates. Otherwise, the only affordable options are going to be bus trips up to Malaysia, which don’t increase in price–if you can get tickets that is.


5. Have a steamboat reunion dinner at home

Unless you have a family so big they can’t all fit under one roof, you should obviously hold reunion dinner at home, because Chinese restaurants are going to mark up their prices. But cooking for a whole bunch of relatives, including demanding aunties, can be stressful.

There is one way to make this easy and relatively stress-free, though. And that way is steamboat. Little preparation is needed, and your guests will technically be cooking their own food, which means you can just buy and marinate ingredients the night before, and then prepare everything an hour or two before dinner.

It’s also the cheapest option because unconsumed food that hasn’t been popped into the steamboat can just be popped back into the fridge instead of going to waste. Plus, the communal nature suits the whole family-get-together theme of reunion dinner.

How do you save money during Chinese New Year? Let us know 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.