Living lavishly, beyond one’s means, for Tet

By Hai Hien   February 14, 2024 | 05:33 am PT
Living lavishly, beyond one’s means, for Tet
Many people like to boast about unique, expensive items to "show off their class" during Tet. Illustration photo by N.P
Every year, Tien Thanh spends all his savings during Tet because he believes the old Vietnamese saying: "You must be full for three days of Tet even if you’re poor.”

As a salaried employee used to being frugal, the 30-year-old man from the town of Que Vo in the northern province of Bac Ninh seems to turn into a different person every Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday season.

When he returns home for Tet, Thanh often spends money buying new furniture for his parents, which can cost him up thousands of dollars.

Then he gives lucky money to the neighborhood children, all in expensive notes.

There were years when Thanh saw his neighbors buy something new and decided to follow suit, be it a dehumidifier, an air conditioner, and then a grandfather clock. He confessed that he likes to hear people compliment him at holiday time. They often say things like: "Good to have a son who works in the city, and buys good gifts for his parents every Tet."

In addition to the pleasure of shopping, Thanh also often organizes parties and gatherings with friends.

Then, by the end: all the money saved throughout the year, all gone within a single holiday.

For Thanh, the amount of money he spends to save face with friends, neighbors, and relatives is never too much.

After Tet, Mai Lien's wallet is often empty. Her family in northern Vietnam’s Thai Binh province doesn’t need much, but the 36-year-old woman still fills her fridge until there is no space left. Returning to her husband's hometown, every day she prepares three grand feasts to offer to her ancestors, but because the family doesn’t have enough people to eat it all, most of the food has to be thrown away.

Every year, Lien spends at least VND40 million ($1,637) for Tet. In addition to the VND20 million divided equally between both sides of her family, the amount of lucky money given to relatives also tops VND10 million. Lien’s total spending on Tet often surpasses her and her husband’s total yearly bonuses from work.

Seeing his wife spending lavishly, her husband has repeatedly advised her to save money.

But Lien said that only by spending on Tet preparations can they ensure the luck needed for a new year’s fortune.

Psychologist Trinh Trung Hoa said that Tien Thanh and Mai Lien's notion of having to live lavishly for three days during Tet comes from ancient traditions.

In the past, when Tet came, everyone, no matter how poor they were, always tried to make ends meet so they could eat well and wear nice clothes in the hope that the whole year would continue that way.

"When Tet comes, people not only eat to fill their stomachs but also eat for good luck. Therefore, all of the year’s savings are reserved for Tet," Hoa explained. This is the main reason why many people often overspend on this occasion, according to the psychologist.

Another reason, Hoa added, is that many people like to boast about unique, expensive items to "show off their class" during Tet.

Sadly, people often become jealous upon seeing relatives and neighbors with items that they don’t have, and this situation occurs a lot in those who are single or do not have a clear financial plan, according to Hoa.

In a report by Milieu Insight company (Singapore) surveying 4,000 consumers in Southeast Asian countries last year, 52% of respondents said that their total spending for this year's Lunar New Year will possibly be higher than last year. Vietnamese and Thai respondents were more inclined to spend lavishly than Malaysians and Singaporeans.

A report by Meta (Facebook) stated that the average spending on Tet 2023 increased by more than VND700,000 VND in 58% of Vietnamese people compared the previous year.

The increase was higher among Gen Z and Millennials. In this group, 7 out of 10 Tet shoppers agreed that Tet is a time to explore different product categories that they wouldn’t normally buy during other times of the year.

According to Associate Professor. Dr. Do Minh Cuong, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Association of Business Culture Development, Vietnamese people believe that "there are only a few days for Tet" so everyone wants to renovate their houses and buy new items. Looking at it from a positive perspective, this is a driving force for economic growth. Tet shopping is therefore not necessarily a waste.

"However, how to spend to suit the family's economic conditions is something that needs to be discussed. In today's life, we should no longer use the word ‘savings,’ but should use the phrase ‘reasonable spending,’" Cuong said.

He added that without a clear financial plan, people can easily fall into a state of reckless spending, affecting life after Tet throughout the following year.

As was the case for Tien Thanh, because he was used to spending money on Tet, the last two years were financially difficult for him, forcing him to take a loan, and then after Tet, he had to rush back to work so he could pay off his debt.

As for Mai Lien, she often has arguments with her husband about money every new year because he criticizes her for not knowing how to spend it properly, over and over again.

To avoid the above situation, according to Dr. Do Minh Cuong, Tet budgets should only be limited to the "13th month's salary," which means the traditional Tet bonuses given to workers at the end of every lunar year in Vietnam. For those who have little or no salary, it is necessary to have a clear financial plan at the beginning of the year.

Cuong said no matter how high the excitement for Tet is, you must have a clear spending plan. Tet will pass, no matter what. And if spending exceeds one’s budget, then debt will remain. Regardless of its form, debt will create financial pressure for the new year.

"To have a perfect Tet, it doesn't necessarily matter how much you have to spend, but the arrangement must suit each person's ability," he concluded.

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