Monday, February 10, 2014

How Much Money to Give for Cash Gift?

Dear Korean,

My brother's Korean father-in-law passed away. I would like to give money but I am not sure how much. Could you please advise me on how much is customary or appropriate to give?

Chinese Relative

A lot of people now know that it is customary for Koreans to simply give money as gifts in major events, such as a wedding or a funeral. So the natural follow-up question is:  how much money is appropriate?

Standard envelop format
for Korean funeral

The Chinese Relative inadvertently stumbled onto a question that stumps a lot of Koreans as well. The appropriate amount is not set in stone, nor is it self-evident. Instead, it takes an awkward process to glean the appropriate amount, as if one is trying to figure out the appropriate gift from the wedding registry. (You don't want to be known as the person who give the newlyweds a single towel now, do you?) It is art, not science.

The appropriate amount will depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • How close are you to the people involved? Are you family? Distant relative? Close friend? Work colleague? 
  • Do you "owe" the people involved in some way? (Namely, did they or their family previously contribute to your event?)
  • How wealthy are you? Are you significantly wealthier than everyone else at the event? Significantly less well-off?
  • Are you actually attending the event? How many people are in your party?

Having these factors in mind, the best thing to do is to discreetly ask people who are in the similar situation as you are. For those who are completely at a loss: if the event is in Korea, the bare minimum is between KRW 30,000 to 50,000. You are good for the bare minimum if you are: (a) pretty far in relation to the people involved (e.g., your boss's child, whom you do not personally know); (b) a student or otherwise in a position that does not earn much money, and/or; (c) not attending the event.

But again, the acceptable range can be huge. By way of example, for the Korean's own wedding in the U.S., which had mostly middle-to-upper-middle class family and guests, the cash gift ranged from $100 (mostly from friends) to $1,000 (close relatives and family). Best of luck.

Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I recently found out that in a Chinese funeral, I had to give an odd number amount, never even numbers. But even then, that's a bit fuzzy what is considered odd or even is not clear cut. Even my Korean hisband would have to ask around because he didn't know either. Also, at the Chinese-American funeral, if donations specifically state that it will go to a church instead, my family would give less. Also, some churches have online websites that have links set up for the family so giving in person is not necessary. I don't think Koreans do these things though.

  2. I mean when my Korean husband wouldn't know how much to give at a Korean funeral either so he'd ask his family for advice.

  3. An American colleague of mine is getting married soon. He immigrated from eastern Europe when he was a young child. He is marrying a nice girl from the midwest - who is American through and through. They've decided that cash gifts are the way to go, but he knows many of her friends will only be giving gifts of around $50. Since it's going to cost $150 per guest, he told her not to invite friends who won't give at least $150, but his fiance is putting her foot down and saying she won't do that.

    I told him about how straight forward it works in Korea - where literally the first thing you do upon entering the wedding hall is fork over a white envelope - and someone immediately opens the envelope and records into a register how much you gave.

    He said it's similar in many eastern European countries - although it's handled a little more discreetly. He said he wished Americans handled the matter the same way Koreans do ...

  4. @guitard: I'm not sure if you're trying to say that guests should pay for the wedding reception, but that's one of my peeves: people who throw parties and expect their guests to foot the bill. If your friend wants to spend $150/guest, good for him. But for him to only want to invite people who'll pony up at least that same amount of money says more about him than a guest who may gift the couple with $50 or whatever they choose to. Weddings aren't that exciting, except for the couple getting married and their families. I was grateful that my friends chose to spend their day off with us. Their presence literally was the best present they could've given us.

    That said, when my father passed away, my mother received very nice cards and cards filled money. She had nothing but kind words for each person who remembered my dad.

    1. I wasn't trying to say anything based on what I thought - I was simply reiterating what a colleague said. I actually told him that for the sake of getting his marriage started off on the right foot, he should just accept that fact that Americans don't handle these matter the same way he was accustomed to doing it based on eastern European ways. And since he earns a comfortable 6-figure income, he should just bite the bullet.

    2. I agree with this. Thought guitard was merely reporting on his friend's case, not trying to make any point, as it seems. I understand parties, especially marriages, are bloody expensive and a little financial help is always appreciated, but to expect a certain gift, I mean, literally expect, not hope for one, in which case, the certain amount of money (which is even quite high), that's.... weird. Actually, I went to a couple of marriages here in Korea too, and giving money looked to me like not a present, but paying the tickets, or something like that. And btw, the style might differ amongst wedding offices, but what I saw wasn't an attendant opening the envelope right away, it was the guest him/herself to write their name down with the amount of money they gave. The envelope was also to be picked right there. Just for details.

      Also, in Croatia giving money as a wedding gift being a neccessary thing isn't the tradition either. Of course, money or present, it is an untold expectation always, but it is really more of a free choice for the guest. As GAWJ said, their very presence is the important thing. Yes, the married couple, at the end, is the one to sacrifice their wallets and bank accounts, but that's the only real thing they do count with.

      Actually that is one of the many things that worry me if my boyfriend (Korean) and I (Croatian) get married. This isn't really a cultural difference, it is also about the economical situation. I don't want my Croatian family to look rude or to be unable to attend the party because of this tradition, but I personally find it rude too to tell my family "you're invited to our party, but you must pay". On the other hand, I can't ask my boyfriend for the two of us alone to carry all of the expenses of a such a costly wedding as ours would be. The flight ticket only is aproximately a thousand Euro and we've both got big families...


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