In China, Spring Festival has always been the most important holiday of the year—people drop their work and reunite with beloved family members. But with the rapidly increasing cost of living in cities, and wages not rising proportionately, many are starting to find the annual trip home for the New Year a daunting task. A recent post to the Chengdu QQ user forums illustrated this, itemizing typical costs during the holiday period.
Exhibit A: A minimum of RMB18,500 for "House Slaves"
"We have just finished decorating the house, and we are 'House Slaves' with no savings." Chen, who works in a state-owned company in Changsha, Hunan, summed up his obligatory spending for this year's Spring Festival, and found the number "intimidating."
First, there's the RMB10,000 he borrowed from a friend in 2009 to buy his apartment that is now time to pay back. Then, four red envelopes with "a decent amount of money" inside them will need to be given to his and his wife's parents. Moreover, nephews, nieces and grandparents of both families are also on the list to receive red envelopes. Together with other non-cash gifts, Chen said, the presents total RMB4,000. Other than this, Chen plans to spend at least RMB3,000 on fruits, alcohol, cigarettes, snacks, etc. for his relatives. Another RMB500 of fuel cost is expended on commuting between families, and RMB1,000 is invested in playing—and losing—Mahjong. So a total amount of RMB18,500 is gone with this Spring Festival. And if the monthly mortgage of his new flat and credit-card payments are considered, Chen added, he and his wife cannot even balance the budget with their year-end bonuses.
Exhibit B: Three-month salaries insufficient for the Spring Festival
Forum user Huapi expects to squander RMB12,000 during the Spring Festival. First, there's the RMB3,300 for the trip back to her husband's home. This includes the RMB1,100 cost of highway tolls, RMB1,540 on fuel, RMB400 on hotels, and RMB260 on meals. Also, Huapi is disbursing another RMB6,100 on "maintaining relationships"—RMB2,000 for her parents-in-law and another RMB2,000 red envelope and RMB600 worth of presents to her nephew for his wedding. Moreover, red envelopes for uncles, aunts and their children amount to RMB1,500. In addition, Huapi is spending RMB2,000 on buying "high-quality" spirits for old friends, clothes for the elders and children, and many other presents. Together with RMB300 worth of local delicacies for friends and family, and RMB500 of unforeseen expenditures, the total spending sums up to RMB 12,000. "Even three months of salary is not enough for a Spring Festival!" Huapi complained.
Chen and Huapi's spending lists attract much attention from forum users. Netizen Sino ended his/her spending list asking "How can I make through a Spring Festival with a RMB2,000 monthly salary?" while poster LoveTinkling simply remarked "Best is to not celebrate the new year." Forum user Xiaojiang said the only thing he/she can bring back home is "a mouth expecting food," and another netizen even called the Spring Festival a "luxury good."
Splurge or Save?
Apart from the complaints, some are suggesting the option of a frugal festival. Web user drk928, for example, refused to spend RMB1,000 when, in his/her words, RMB500 "can do the same thing." And despite the high costs associated with the holidays, netizen Chimang still views the time spent with family the most valuable.