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Wedding Essentials

The problem lies in how much hongbao money to give

Here's the tricky question - who picks up the tab when it's all over?
The New Paper - November 14, 2012
By: Eugene Wee
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The problem lies in how much hongbao money to give



So it's your big day.

The day when you celebrate your union with your soulmate.

Everyone you know is invited to the big party, the wedding bash to end all bashes.

But here's the tricky question - who picks up the tab when it's all over? Is it you, or your guests?

As is customary at most wedding celebrations here, invited guests are expected to give the happy couple a hongbao. Most guests have no problem with that.

The problem lies in how much to give.

There are those who stick with the "market rate" concept - give according to where the wedding dinner is being hosted.

If it's at a non-hotel restaurant and is buffet-style, you give less. If you have a blowout celebration at a six-star hotel with a celebrity chef, a 10-piece jazz band and an ice sculpture so big it makes ship captains sweat, then you are expected to give more to "help cover cost".

But why should we? And if we don't, should we be labelled cheapskates?

In September, one bride-to-be posted a list of "market rates" for different hotels on her Facebook page as a guide for her wedding guests.

And last week, a bride posted on one of her guests' Facebook wall questioning why he didn't give a hongbao at her wedding.

Someone apparently took a screenshot of the post and tweeted it. The picture went viral.

Both incidents were also posted on citizen journalism website Stomp.

The post sparked a discussion on how mercenary wedding couples seem to have become when it comes to those red packets.

Here's my two cents on the matter.

Yes, we are happy for you. And we are more than happy to share in your joy. But less so the cost.

I have no doubt that this is one of the most important events in your life, and you want to make it as grand as possible.

But I don't think it is fair to expect your guests to subsidise your dream wedding.

Some may be able to afford the $150-$200 "market rate" for your bash. (So if you can afford it, don't be cheap.)

But others - those who may not earn that much - may find the rate hard to swallow.

I think too many couples these days see the wedding dinner as a party their guests are expected to pay for, instead of one where the newly-weds are buying dinner and drinks for loved ones to celebrate their love.

Financial burden

The financial burden of the party should lay squarely on the hosts who, unlike the guests, get to choose the venue and the menu.

How much guests put in the hongbao should not be dictated by how expensive the meal is, but by how much they can afford and how close they are to the couple.

I have no problems giving double the "market rate" if the couple mean a lot to me.

But when I get invited by couples I am not particularly close to for a wedding at an expensive venue, I just decline the invite and give a token hongbao for good luck.

So if you are planning a wedding and are worried that the red packets you receive may not cover the expenses of a dream bash, consider two options.

You either go into it with the attitude that you will be buying dinner for 400 guests in honour of your big day, or dream a little smaller.

Smaller hotel, smaller menu, smaller ice sculptures.

Because when the lights go down and the guests go home, the big question on your mind should be how you plan to "celebrate" in your hotel room with your new spouse.

Not if you managed to break even.


How much is enough?