7 Ways to Burn Your Money during Celebrations

28th June 2017
money during celebrations image of fireworks in kuwait

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all our Muslim readers!

It is indeed a time for celebration for many who have once again gone through the fasting month of Ramadhan. Now it’s time to kick back and enjoy the festivities and be thankful that there is a 3-day public holiday since Monday!

With celebrations, regardless if it was Hari Raya, Chinese New Year or Christmas, there’s always people rushing everywhere to buy things and get things done. I’ve also met countless people who complained that their funds weren’t enough for festivities! Usually in Brunei, paychecks for the festive months will come out earlier to help people in preparation. But is it a good idea to splurge your money during celebrations?

Even His Majesty, the Sultan of Brunei, touched on this in his titah on Sunday evening. He mentioned to not splurge unnecessarily and keep to moderation. Are Bruneians aware of the sheer amount finances that go into creating an “ideal” celebration for their family and friends? This article will refer to all types of celebrations and not just big festivities.

1. Clothes

I’m personally guilty of splurging on clothes for festivities. We always justify that it’s “tradition” to buy new clothes for a celebration. The Chinese believe that new clothes during CNY signify a fresh start to the year and I think the reasons regarding clothing for other celebrations are not far off.

Every month we strive to maintain and meet our budget set and suddenly, the budget explodes by hundreds of dollars to accommodate for new clothes. And usually we don’t just get one set; we buy enough for the first few days when the celebrations are at the peak. Double and triple the whammy if you needed to pay for your spouse and children too!

Is there a better option?

  1. You could opt to get just one set of clothes. At least this way you are able to limit your spending while still having the “new clothes” feel.
  2. Depending on how much you value these traditions, you could just wear the old clothes altogether! Honestly, the only people who notice new clothes are my wife and family so wearing something older wouldn’t affect the views of your guests much. Recently, a friend told me “I haven’t made any new cara Melayu (traditional Malay clothes) for Raya for the past 4 years” and all I could think was “Wow, how much has he saved on that alone!”

2. Food

For me, a celebration isn’t a celebration unless there’s good food around! Let’s be honest, how would Raya feel if you were eating the same rice and fried fish you’ve been having as a normal meal daily? Nothing special right? While main meals can be justified, there’s one subset of food that burns a hole in our pockets: snacks.

Every house will prepare cakes and treats to offer their guests when they visit. And honestly speaking, celebration-themed food have become a money grab. The most recent one I’ve seen is a cake roll sold on Instagram that has very pretty batik patterns on it. My wife bought it as a gift for her good friend and it costed about $25 for one roll of no more than 20cm! I personally could not justify that but she was adamant that it looked great. So great in fact, that her friend’s mother-in-law did not want to cut and serve it!

Is there a better option?

Unfortunately, if you buy snacks a while before the festivities it could go stale. This has become one of our acceptances that celebrations will gut our wallets. The only real alternative is to:

  1. Make it yourself. If you’re gifted for baking, it may be cheaper to make the cakes yourself and even earn a small side income by selling them. Bear in mind you need to take the time to actually do it.
  2. Cheaper alternatives. Instead of going for artisan cake rolls, maybe choose the normal ones from Mum’s Bakery?

3. Gifts

Gifts are inescapable during celebrations; whether it is ang pao (red envelopes filled with money) during CNY, green packets (green ang paos) during Raya or presents during Christmas. Even birthdays, weddings and housewarmings involve gifts. So it goes without saying that you really have to be mindful of your money during celebrations.

Whilst money envelopes are easy to manage such as putting $2 for the masses and more for close relatives and friends’ kids, actual gifts are a bit harder. Ever tried buying flowers for Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day? These flowers costing around $15 would shoot up to $45 just because of an additional word or two! Here’s a relevant video of what I’m talking about and hope you see where my frustrations come from:

Is there a better option?

The easiest option for smallish celebrations is no presents! Save 100%; woohoo! What we opt for usually for, let’s say Mother’s Day, is we get a cake from the local bakery (still at the same price!).

For bigger celebrations, we usually budget a set amount for example $300 for ang pao and split the denominations: $2 x 50, $5 x 20, $10 x 10. Highly recommended to plan ahead and that way you would be able to save up the required amount over time.

4. Parties

One of the things I look forward to during celebrations are the parties! (Honestly, it’s for the food but in this case they can tie for first place.) Frankly, Brunei doesn’t have many outlets for entertainment and these are one of the few times between months to actually throw a big bash. During Raya and CNY there’s open houses where hosts invite family and friends to come over for a meal-cum-visit. It’s also very likely that as a guest, you will have to strategise how to go to 3 or more open houses in a day!

Parties always take some planning and a budget. Food is usually ordered through catering from restaurants and decorations are set up. Catering sometimes could be quite expensive and I’ve tried a $15 per pax catering before. To be honest, you do get what you pay for when it comes to food and you would have to consider if cheaper alternatives would be good enough.

Is there a better option?

  1. Like snacks, if you’re able to cook dishes to be served yourself, it may be cheaper. But considering the amount of effort and time taken, I personally would delegate it to the restaurants.
  2. Fortunately, a lot of decors are very cheap and if you’re creative, you could create your own using the red or green packets and other materials.
  3. Keep your decors to use the next year; it’s not going to make a big difference if you used new decors every year. For CNY, we usually buy generic decors and only buy a few themed ones every year as CNY follows the 12 animal zodiacs of the Chinese calendar.

5. Furniture

With our current economic downturn, we are seeing less of people changing furnitures during celebrations. I honestly couldn’t believe myself as a child when I see families literally buying new sofas every year! I never understood this practice and don’t know what they do with the “older” furniture. Buying and replacing perfectly good furniture is a oneway bullet train trip to an empty pocket.

I do believe that having-guests-coming-over syndrome is what makes many spring into action to do cleaning and possibly replace old, worn out furniture. The justification is that it’s a once in a long while thing so it’s fine. It really is fine if your sofa has a hole in it where crumbs from last week’s Double Tuesday deal fall in.

Is there a better option?

Don’t replace furniture unless necessary. It could be more worthwhile to pay a little more for ones that are comfortable and can last years and possibly a decade down the road.

6. Showing off

I recently drove past the newly opened Mobile World shop (old Proton showroom) at Gadong Central. It was scary to see the sheer number of people there. The whole shop was packed with little room to move around. It got me thinking how, even without celebrations, many are willing to spend on smartphones every few months when one can last at least 2 years.

The culture of showing people how well-off we are is still prevalent. I think it is much more so now that advertising are extremely targeted and social media play a role. They have many ways to get people to buy things such as with paying by installments. We have been programmed to see things such as the latest gadgets and cars as a show of wealth. And while you do need a certain level of wealth to do this, many have opted for pseudo wealth.

People readily go into debt for this purpose it’s no wonder that many are living from paycheck to paycheck. All to fuel a false reality.

Is there a better option?

Yes! Don’t finance your dream life using debt or you will soon find that it becomes a nightmare. It is much better to buy assets and invest so that you may build a sustainable dream.

7. Carelessness

While I could have easily attributed this to “Misfortunes”, I think there is an element of control we have in the following situations. In the midst of the festivities, we are often caught up by the excitement of the moment. This leads to a lack of mindfulness resulting in unfortunate events which usually require you to pay out of your pocket.

i. Road accidents

For some reason, car accidents are more frequent around holiday times. I can only guess it may be due to tiredness from rushing to prepare for celebrations. It could also be lack of awareness of the surroundings when our minds are occupied by plans and to-dos.

It’s very sad to read about these things in the newspaper during the times leading to festivities. Here is someone who was supposed to have a good time with their family but ended up needing to use their money to pay for repairs. Worst case scenario is when it involves a loss of life; that price is too high by any standards.


  1. Defensive driving is a good habit to have even in normal times. Always using your signals and be wary of other drivers on the road. This will be your best bet to react to sudden events.
  2. Remember just because you’re a safe driver doesn’t mean you’re immune to the idiocy of others.

ii. Break-ins

Thieves and burglars target houses that gives them easier loot. Celebration periods are the perfect times because people will be out visiting friends and relatives. There’s higher chances of them succeeding if the houses remain dark after hours too. A break-in could easily incur losses in the hundreds to thousands from repairing broken entryways to replacing the items stolen. They usually go for things that are easy to pocket and sell such as phones and electronics.


  1. Always make sure your doors and windows are locked.
  2. It is a plus if you have security bars over your windows and CCTV.
  3. Store your valuables properly and not leave them laying about.
  4. You may also ask your neighbours to help watch out for you too.
  5. Having at least the exterior of the house lit up during the night is a good deterrent as well.


Festivities are one of the few fun things we have in Brunei and many would not want to miss out. But without taking control ourselves, we could fall into the trap of doing too much. This leads to us becoming that much poorer just because we wanted to go “all out” for a celebration. Knowing how our money get used up during celebrations is the first step to finding alternatives to possibly save a shiny penny.

“If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.”

—Edmund Burke

Wishing everyone a great celebration this year and a toast to richer and wiser time to come!

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