Koreans Stress Over How Much Money to Give on New Year

korean children receiving new years money elders

Lunar New Year, or (설날 Seollal), is one of the most important holidays in Korea. Companies give their employees almost a whole week off from work, and many people go home to visit family and celebrate together the official beginning of the year. While New Years is a happy, restful occasion, it is causing stress for many Koreans this year. Part of the New Year’s tradition is bowing to one’s elders, and receiving New Year’s money, or “lucky money.” This money is given by parents to their younger children and relatives, from older children to their parents and relatives, and from grandparents to their grandsons and granddaughters. It’s a cycle of giving and receiving that promotes the spread of luck throughout the new year, but has turned into an economic burden and source of stress as people worry about being able to afford giving money to their large families, the amount of money that is appropriate to give relatives based on their age, and how the bad economy will affect their giving this year.

Article from Newsis:

“How Much Money Should I Give?” Stress Over “New Year’s Money”

“It’s been a while since I’ve been back to visit my hometown so I’m excited, but I’ve already begun worrying about how much new year’s money to give my family members.”

48 year old Kang Hong-won, who works at an automobile part supplier, has been anxious since the start of his Lunar New Year holiday about the money he will be giving his family.

Giving new year’s money to more than 10 family members and relatives is quite a burden for Mr. Kang.

I feel proud of being able to give new year’s money to my nephews and nieces, but on the other hand, it’s actually kind of a burden.” He confessed, “My wallet is thinner than last year, so I’m worried about how much money to give my family.”

The number of people who go to the bank the day before the all-important New Year holiday to get crisp bills to give their family members has increased. The number of people who worry about the appropriate amount of money to give has also increased.

At a bank in Seoul’s Apgujeong one to two days before the New Year’s holiday. The counters were packed with people looking to get new bills to give to relatives for New Years.

new year's money korea worried

As the bank tellers neatly stacked wads of bills in a pile, and put them in an electronic counting machine, the machine dispensed crisp new bills.

The most popular denomination for New Year’s money is of course, 10,000 won and 50,000 won bills. However, banks quickly ran out of the bills allocated per branch by about 30,000,000 ~ 50,000,000 won.

Beads of sweat rolled down worker’s faces as they showed people older bills that were still in good shape, and counted them when they ran out of crisp new bills.

The majority of people that we met at the bank are planning to decrease the amount of money they give relatives for new years because of the bad economy.

43 year old worker Park Hu-seon says, “I have to give money to my nieces and nephews, but because of the bad economy, my bonus is smaller than last year, so it’s an opportunity for me to decrease the amount from last year.” “The New Year’s holiday [where workers get almost a week off] is great, but to monthly salary earners, having to give New Year’s money is stressful.”

37 year old Ms. Hwan Bo-kyung exchanged a 10,000 won bill for 10 bills, and said “It’s normal for my nieces and nephews to anticipate new year’s money, but I have to decrease the amount I give out because of the bad economy.” “I’ve decided to give 30,000 won to relatives who are in middle or high school, and 10,000 won to those in elementary school.”

There are also people who are giving digital products or gift cards instead of new year’s cash because of the economic burden.

31 year old worker Kim Gwang-soo says “I’m thinking of giving my nieces and nephews digital products that I bought at a discounted price instead of cash.” He also said, “I think my relatives should understand that their uncle is trying to save up money for wedding expenses.”

Most workers give out 200,000 worth of New Year’s cash.

The employment portal Job Korea recently conducted a survey of 728 male and female workers about New Year’s money, and the average amount of money they were planning to give as New Year’s cash was 201,456 won.

Married workers (36.8% of the sample) will give an average of 240,932 won, and non-married workers (63.2% of the sample) will give an average of 161,021 won. Married workers will give about 80,000 won more than unmarried workers in New Year’s cash.

The majority of respondents (46.4%) said they will give the same amount of money as last year. 44.4% said they would give less money, and only 9.5% said they would give more than last year.

The most popular reason for decreasing the amount of money given is because “Besides New Year’s money, there are a lot of expenses to pay” (38.4%). The second most popular answer was “Because it’s hard to eat and live.” (36.8%)

The amounts of money workers think are appropriate for new year’s money is: college students and people who are job hunting: 50,000 won, middle and high school students: 30,000 won, elementary and younger: 10,000 won.

Experts said it’s important to think about the meaning and usage of new year’s money.

from Jung Yeon-hak, from the National Folklore Museum’s Arts and Sciences research division says, “Originally new year’s money was “money that would bring luck” that you would gift and receive, and “to the recipient, even if the amount of money is small, the meaning was important.”

“Nowadays, new year’s cash has taken on very economics-based value, and the value that it carries is fading.” He added, “It’s good to give and receive money, but it’s important to remember its meaning and usage.”

Comments from Naver:


Give money in accordance with your financial situation. Don’t go overboard, and just think of it as giving pocket money to your parents and relatives. Give and receive in equal amounts. It would be great if everyone lived in plenty and was happy this New Year, but because of the bad economy, everyone will have a difficult New Years. As your family members greet you with New Year’s bows and well-wishes, don’t talk about topics like university, getting a job, marriage, or giving birth. It will be hurtful and stressful. Tell them things like “Happy New Year” and “Best wishes for your health.” Happy New Year to everyone, and I hope you all remain in the best of health.


Will his nephews and nieces understand the uncle’s [reasoning]? keke


Ah…I miss the days when I used to get New Year’s money.


I gave and received New Year’s money as “lucky money.”


That’s too bad…but the relatives don’t care about the uncle’s financial situation.


My niece (or nephew) didn’t come back to their hometown with the excuse that they were studying. They Kakao messaged me saying “Happy New Year,” and asked for money. I took a picture of a 50,000 won bill and sent it to them keke


Why would you give money to university students? They’re of the age when they can work part-time jobs to get money.


Kids are supposed to be thankful at getting any money at all, but their expressions fall when you give them 10,000 won. Kids nowadays don’t seem to understand the value of money. Nowadays, even elementary school students will dislike it if you just give them 10,000 won keke Oh man, holidays are bothersome as I get older.


Erase the picture of the 50,000 won bill…


If you really get married, you don’t amass money, but gain debt.


Give elementary school students 10,000 won, and middle and high school students 20,000 won. If they’re college students, 30,000 won is enough. Are they going to invest the money? Be thankful when you receive the money. When did New Years become a day where people bow their precious heads and received money? It’s enough to wish each other a good year as an expression of your heart.


My uncle passed away two years ago on New Year’s Day in a car accident…It’s okay not to give a lot of New Year’s money, so drive safely, and I hope everyone has no accidents this year, and has a happy New Year’s!


Please don’t forget the meaning of bowing to your elders on New Year’s…Do you bow to get money? Are you not going to bow if you don’t get money? Happy New Year’s everyone.


New Year’s is not just a day to get money, you thoughtless teens.

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  • Dario Sanchez

    200,000 Won doesn’t seem like too much money. It’s sad to hear that this amount is a burden for a lot of people. I wish them the best and hope they had a happy 설날.

  • Ken Morgan

    Ha they introduced 50K notes. When I was there in 2008 £500 needed for shipping costs filled a carrier bag.

  • bigmamat

    Sounds a lot like Americans trying to figure out how to pay for Christmas.

  • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

    Pretty sure there needs to be deference to the elders as well, not treating them like a cash machine. That red envelope they give you is a ‘you better not send me to a home’ investment.

    • bumfromkorea

      I don’t think Koreans do red envelope. I know Vietnamese do it, not sure about other countries.

      • Balkan

        Chinese do it as well

        • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

          Well seeing how it was a Chinese thing…I’m sure Chinese would do it.

      • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

        It’s still keeping the spirit of the red envelope. Elders giving young money, young show deference, then everyone stuffs their face.

      • history lesson

        Japan still does too, but on western new years since they changed from the lunar calendar to gregorian (interestingly, they often still refer to it as ‘Spring Festival’ on greeting cards). The envelope can be various colors however.

  • vonskippy

    All that whining over a few hundred dollars. Somehow I doubt those whiners were worried about it when they were young and on the receiving end.

    • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

      I think when they were young, they got a fraction of that amount.

  • That’s marvelous

    Gave 100k each to father and mother-in-law, we then as couple got 100k from them, which we were later told to give to grandma. :-P

    • Balkan

      They gave you the money and then told you to give it to someone else?

  • commander

    The long-standing practice of giving luck-wishing monetary gifts to under-age relatives who kneel and bow to adults relatives is the convention that should keep going along with heart-warming family unions on holidays.

    But the problem is that as family unions take place a couple of times a year, closer kinship is hard to be fostered among families, making minors more concerned with money from adult relatives than with getting united with other families and having a quality time together.

    Though the conduct of children as to the monetary gifts varies according to parental discipline and education, toasty emotions that are supposed to be felt at family gatherings seems to lose its temperature much these days.

  • Markus P

    I stress about this as well. Ended up putting about 200-400rmb in red pockets for all the kids. Adding up to a total cost of a headache. Some family members I only ever see for 10 mins on Chinese new year… Just for the red envelopes, darn this tradition, I want to give to those I care about and those that want to see me not just for the money… Things may change for next year.

    • Dagfari

      200 per!? What are you, a billionaire?

      I think 10-25 rmb is more normal.

  • UserID01

    Or how about fuck ’em, you don’t get my hard earned money just because it’s a new year?

    I know there can be a lot of social, even cultural pressure to give money in certain amounts to show or solidify your status. But on a very personal level, I stopped giving money and expensive items as gifts as soon as my relatives were 14 years old: the age when they can start part time work (if you have your working card). After that, you’re too old to expect people to give shit to you for free. You want something, get a job and buy it yourself. I did it for a while, then cut it off completely. My sisters have a budget of $50 each for Christmas and their birthdays. You can get a gift so long as it’s $50 or less.

    • jgs

      So… I guess your parents didn’t give you any birthday / christmas presents saying that you didn’t earn them?

  • Dagfari

    There’s no reason to stress so much over something that shouldn’t really be about the amount of money anyway. The purpose of the red envelope is to conceal exactly how much money you’re giving.

  • JoyBells

    I’m the youngest ,so i receive money from all the elder relatives in New year.They all give according to what they can manage that year.Its just a tradition and its not like i expect them to give above a certain cut-off.
    Although in a few years time,i’ll be blessed with lots of niece/nephews from these relatives and i will have to continue the tradition.My wallet!!! :P

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