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Stretching your Dollar: Enjoying the Dragon Chinese New Year on a Budget

As we usher in the Year of the Dragon, the festivities of Chinese New Year (CNY) may seemed overshadowed by dark clouds and rolling thunder, given higher inflation rates, news of retrenchments and weaker economic conditions.

 Can we still enjoy the dragon spirit of this lunar new year without  adding extra burden to our overstretched wallets?

Here are ideas to consider, balancing indulgence in traditional festivities with frugality and resourcefulness like the Rat (the Zodiac rat is renowned for its be resourceful and versatile):

     1. Frugal Feasting - DIY Reunion Dinner at Home

It is common to expect most businesses, including restaurants, to raise prices just before and until CNY. Are the higher prices for reunion dinner sets at restaurants in Singapore affordable? Or would we be better off financially prudent if we choose to cookat home?

If one chooses to have a professional kitchen prepare our family's meal, we can enjoy our dinner without bothering about the preparations, cooking, and serving. The primary task, then, simply lies in securing a table reservation at your preferred restaurant and time.

Alternatively, you can consider a more budget-friendly and likely cozier alternative. That would be to host your loved ones for a  relaxed steamboat reunion dinner at home. To lessen the effort required for preparation and the clean-up later,  you can opt to use disposable cutlery, buy pre-portioned frozen ingredients for convenience, and place a disposable table cloth (or newspaper) on the dining table for easy disposal of any food spillages.

     2. “Play Play only” – Controlling your inner God of Gambler

After the initial giving out of “ang baos”, some CNY gatherings can evolve into impromptu “gambling sessions” of sorts. The exchange of warm CNY greetings give way to a cacophony of mahjong tiles, shaking of dice and shuffling of poker cards.

While it’s perfectly fine to join in the fun of the festivities, it’s is important to set yourself a limit. No matter what game you’re playing or whether you’re the banker or just a player, tell yourself that if your losses hit a certain figure, you are done for the night. Decide on a amount that you can afford to lose without losing sleep over it, but once decided, stick to it. Otherwise, you risk losing all your “ang bao” money.

     3. Giving "Ang Bao” – It is the thought that counts

If you’re Chinese and have tied the knot, it’s customary to give “ang baos” to children and unmarried, younger relatives. However, you don’t have to feel pressured to follow “norms” of giving out a certain amount based on your parents’ advice or the “market rates” as shared on social media.

Traditionally, “ang bao” money symbolises love, care and appreciation to the recipients, rather than a competition or comparison of wealth or success.

To prepare the “ang baos”, start by setting a total budget. After a total budget has been decided, divide the budgeted amount into 3 categories:

    > Immediate family members, such as parents, siblings, and children.

    > Extended family members, such as cousins, nieces or nephews.

    > Children of friends or colleagues.

Allocate the budget for the “ang baos” accordingly, prioritising for immediate family members.

2024 marks the Year of the Wood Dragon. The year promises to be a good year to build a solid foundation for something new, a year worth welcoming and celebrating.

However, the celebrations don’t have add unnecessary strain on your finances.

Consider the tips shared, such as having the reunion dinner at home, setting limits on causal gambling with friends and relatives, and establishing a budget for giving out “ang baos”.

Credit Counselling Singapore

Published 9 February 2024.