5 Ways to Cut Costs During Chinese New Year 2023

If you’re one of those people who actually like Chinese New Year (CNY), 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. Let’s redefine what ‘new clothes’ really mean.

The CNY mantra “out with the old, in with the new” isn’t just for fun and actually bears important historical significance. In the past, when China was an agrarian society, people scrimped and saved throughout the year. It was only during CNY when people could finally splurge and treat themselves. New threads thus signified new beginnings and good luck.

But in this day and age where overconsumption reigns supreme, this practice can be incredibly wasteful. So how can we uphold tradition while remaining practical and prudent?

For starters, here’s one thing you can do that has a 90% chance of helping you find a new outfit.

Remove every item from your wardrobe and lay them out.
Rearrange your entire collection. The goal? To find never-worn-before clothing items you forgot about, or new-looking outfits you forgot existed.
Revitalise old pieces by upcycling them or styling them in new combinations.

And the best part is that you end up killing two birds with one stone as this activity would help you achieve some spring cleaning too.

Image: Giphy

If you really must buy something new, try shopping online or thrifting. While thrifting or vintage shopping might spark some debate of what constitutes ‘new clothes’, we’d say that giving pre-loved clothes a new lease of life is incredibly meaningful and still upholds the spirit of CNY.

Whether you’re shopping in stores or online, make sure 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.

Or else, check out our analysis of the 8 Best Credit Cards in Singapore for Online Shopping.

2. Seasonal gamblers, get a grip. 

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 fellas who dared to risk their money and be the bankers walked away flushed with cash.

Image: Giphy

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. Making decorations out of free red packets isn’t just for kindergarteners 

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.

Image: Giphy

4. Malaysia boleh!

In a long forgotten past, many of us could drive or take a SBS bus from Kranji or Jurong East interchange 1 to 2 months before CNY to pick up supplies from AEON or Tesco and ready ourselves for the celebrations.

From household decorations to CNY goodies, everything was cheaper in Malaysia. For the ladies who were planning to get their hair and nails done, they could do it across the causeway too. From experience, the prices were about 3X cheaper, which is significant. For example, a haircut + dye job could cost you $200 in Singapore, but 200RM (S$69) in Malaysia. And that’s at the fancy salons.

Image: Giphy

5. It’s a reunion dinner, not a wedding dinner. 

Unless you have a family so big they can’t all fit under one roof, consider holding this year’s CNY reunion dinner at home. Markups are common during CNY at our favourite Chinese restaurants.

To keep things stress-free, steamboats are our favourite option.

Image: Giphy

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.

But if coordinating a reunion dinner at home is tricky, relax, we got you. Here are 14 Chinese restaurants where you can dine for under S$60 per pax.


Don’t forget to get a cashback credit card to get some rebates on your CNY expenditure!

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Any more tips to save money during Chinese New Year? Let us know in the comments!

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