Singapore has all the romance of a CBD office building. Marriage proposals happen like clockwork sometime after successfully balloting for a flat and the ROM is timed to coincide with collection of the keys. Not exactly the stuff of fairytales.
To make matters worse, the standard wedding banquet not only takes place in a 1990s Hong Kong drama-like setting but also mandates an extortionate ang bao donation.
Whether you’re rolling your eyes or think it is only fair that you chip in, it’s a cultural practice that’s here to stay.
I have no issue with couples who spend millions on their weddings. It’s their choice after all. But the prospect of spending $100+++ on an ang bao has forced me to very selective about which weddings I attend.
Sure, there are people who attend every wedding they are invited to. Take 30-year-old recruitment agent Eunice, for instance, who says she attends up to 4 weddings a month and gives $100-$200 in ang bao money each time.
Is there any way to handle the delicate issue of being invited to a wedding without going broke? We examine your options.
1. Be selective
If you’re at the age where the single people around you suddenly start dropping like flies into the world of marriage, don’t be surprised if you receive so many invitations that you no longer need to make weekend plans for the next 3 years.
The sooner you accept the fact that you cannot afford the time or money to attend every single wedding you’re invited to, the sooner you can start deciding which ones you actually do want to attend.
When I was a student, I naively attended my first wedding, that of a colleague at some temp job I was working in who invited the entire team. And guess what? I have not seen or spoken to that person since the wedding.
These days, I try to only attend the weddings of people I would consider close friends. This means there has been a concerted effort on both sides to keep up with what’s going on in each other’s lives (reading Facebook posts doesn’t count) and meet at least a few times a year if we live in the same country.
Often you receive invitations from people who aren’t exactly friends, but aren’t strangers either. That former schoolmate whose face you can’t recall until you check Facebook and discover he or she now goes by a new English name; that slightly hostile coworker who felt obliged to invite the whole office.
In general, people do not take offence if you don’t attend their weddings so long as you inform them politely.
If you aren’t sincerely willing to shoulder the cost of celebrating this person’s wedding day with them, don’t be too shy to decline the invitation.
2. Substitute the red packet with a gift (but ask the couple first)
When you do attend the wedding of a close friend, you’re often put in a double bind. If you’re so close to the person their parents secretly wish they were marrying you instead, a standard ang bao might seem too weak to express your well wishes.
If you balk at the thought of spending half a month’s salary on an ang bao, it might be time to have a chat with the couple.
Explain that you really want to give them something in celebration of the wedding but are genuinely unable to afford an extravagant ang bao. Then ask if they’ll accept a gift instead and have them name something that they’ll need in their new home.
Pairing a modest ang bao with something useful feels a lot more personal and can also save you some money at the same time, especially as you can comparison shop, look out for sales and use a credit card with a good benefits programme to help to bring down the cost.
Alternatively, you could offer to help out with the wedding. Offer to create a welcome board to place at the reception, design the wedding invites or take pictures at the dinner.
3. Celebrate with the couple after the wedding instead
If you are so broke that treating yourself means ordering a meat dish at the economy rice stall, that wedding banquet might be your last meal for the month.
Even if you have prudently made up your mind to reject a wedding invitation, nothing’s stopping you from celebrating the couple’s nuptials in a more economical environment.
Make dinner for the couple at their new home, host a pot luck picnic for them or treat them to a round of cocktails at a nice bar to make up for not attending the wedding.
This has the added bonus of strengthening your relationship with them, making it less likely that it’s going to turn out to be one of those quasi-friendships that just drop back into obscurity after the fanfare of the wedding.
4. Lunch and buffet weddings are cheaper to attend
Some weddings are so expensive you’ll have to sell one of your children or siblings into slavery to raise money for the ang bao.
But not everyone gets married at hotels so fancy you’ve entered them only so you could use their toilets.
Wedding lunches and buffet-style dinners are much cheaper to attend than sit-down wedding banquets, which also means you won’t be served shark’s fin soup laced with arsenic if you show up with an ang bao that doesn’t mean their standards.
Weddings and receptions at churches, temples or mosques are also inexpensive. Opt to show up for the ceremony earlier in the day if there is one and then skip the costly banquet at night.
How do you decide what to do when you receive a wedding invitation? Let us know in the comments!