How now, hongbao?

How much of your hard-earned money should you hand out, and to whom? Here’s your at-a-glance Gong Xi Fa Cai guide.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

How much of your hard-earned money should you hand out, and to whom? Here’s your at-a-glance Gong Xi Fa Cai guide.

Text Christa Choo
Text Christa Choo

Facing CNY angst? So were we.

A quick discussion among our Chinese Singaporean married staff threw up diff erent hongbao-giving practices, depending on which dialect group we belong to, how “old-school” our family is, the number of children we have, how much we earn, and so on.

But what we did agree on was:

  • The total amount you give out should not exceed your monthly salary
  • There are minimum “socially acceptable” amounts based on the receivers’ relationship (or lack thereof) with you, and Singapore’s cost of living.
  • To be safe, double-check with your parents to ensure your proposed amounts don’t cause off ence or dishonour your family name.

Having got all that out of the way, here’s your fuss-free guide to padding those red packets.


Random children you’ve never met before, at friends’ or relatives’ open houses.

Service staff you encounter while out and about during the festive season.

Friends’/relatives’ domestic helpers.

Neighbours’ kids who greet you in the lift lobby or common corridor.

Unmarried distant relatives you don’t even recognise. Like third aunt’s nephew from her husband’s side of the family.


Work subordinates. Factor in their years of service, and how closely you work with them. For example, $50 or $100 is more appropriate for your trusted secretary of 15 years.

Cousins’ kids, and other single relatives you see once or twice a year.

Condo/office security guards and general cleaners.


Good friends’ children. Boss’ kids. Children of whoever is hosting you to a meal. Nieces and nephews. The fewer you have, the more you give. For example, you might shell out $100 for your only sibling’s only child.


Best friends' kid, godchildren, unmarried siblings.


Your l ive-in domestic helper, grandparents.


Parents and parents-in-law. This is the absolute barest minimum, even if you’re unemployed. If your parents or in-laws rely on you for financial support or if they mind your kids while you’re at work, a four-figure sum might be in order.

Information provided by Teo Ser Lee, founder and director of Protocol Academy Pte Ltd, and Her World staff with more than 10 years each of hongbao-giving experience.