Spring Festival Season Has China's Young Anxious About Post-Holiday Debt

on February 19 2013 10:52 AM
Millions Prepare To Welcome Chinese New Year
People walk past a Chinese decorative drum with a paper-cutting of a snake ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations at Ditan Park (the Temple of Earth) in Beijing on Feb. 6, 2013 REUTERS

On paper, China's Spring Festival season is great: Great food, great company and great time off work. But the reality for many of China’s young holiday celebrants is a lot of overeating, awkward family confrontations about settling down or money, and racking up bills that can barely be paid off by China’s younger workforce demographic.

As the Spring Festival (or Lunar New Year) begins to wind down, the ugly hangover of facing a drained bank account has triggered post-holiday anxiety in many Chinese. One man, Gu Jun, who works in the Internet industry in Beijing, uploaded his bill on Weibo, China’s social media platform similar to Twitter, to show others just how out of control holiday spending has become for him.

“I had made a budget for the red envelopes, or cash gifts, before the Spring Festival. It was about one month’s salary for me, which was 5,000 yuan, or about 800 U.S. dollars. But the actual costs far exceeded my budget up to twice the original estimate,” he said in an interview with China Radio International.

And aside from gifts, there are many other expenses that pile up. New clothes, decorations, fireworks, entertainment and food all make a major dent in the bank account. Gu’s total bill, which he detailed online, ended up being 10,000 yuan, or $1,600, twice his monthly income, which according to other netizens seems to be the new standard of holiday spending.

According to CRI, spending beyond one's means is a habit across classes.

“Looking through their Spring Festival expenses, you’ll see that although the total amounts are different, most of the costs are more than twice each poster’s monthly salary,” the report said.

And while some of China’s young working class already dread the long journey home for the holidays because of the inevitable family prodding about marriage and the future, many find even more reasons to join the “home-fearing group.”

Expectations to return with money and gifts are at an all-time high, and while Gu, along with his home-fearing peers, is excited to return home, it comes with an added burden.

“Relatives and friends back home might think we live a better and more exciting life in the outside world. They hope we can bring back some fashionable or flashy stuff and more money every year. But actually our lives may not be that wonderful. We don’t want to lose face. On the other hand, we don’t want to disappoint them either,” Gu explained.

And though the government has been on a new austerity campaign, reducing extravagant or unnecessary spending seems to be a step in the right direction, especially during the holiday season. But spendthrift traditions die hard.

Even with the calls for cuts on lavish spending both in the government and among citizens, Business Insider reported that this year’s holiday retail sales during the height of Chinese New Year, Feb. 9 to 15, climbed by 14.7 percent over last year.

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