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How much sebae money is enough?

Children at a kindergarten perform sebae. (Yonhap)
Children at a kindergarten perform sebae. (Yonhap)

One of the biggest traditions of the Korean Seollal holiday is sebae, or the act of bowing to your elders and wishing them a happy new year, after which older relatives share cash gifts. This long-held tradition has gone on in Korean households for generations.

However, times are changing.

The question of how much money it is appropriate to give or receive -- or whether anything should be given or received at all -- is a hard one to reach a consensus on.

In a survey conducted by SK Communications, out of 6044 adults in their 20s to 60s, 43 percent said that 50,000 won ($40) was an appropriate amount.

Almost 30 percent advocated for not participating in any money exchange at all since both sides can feel pressured. They also cited other reasons, such as the growing number of childless couples. Just providing for your own kids is enough, they said.

A smaller group of 15 percent answered, “Not participating at all would feel a bit too empty, so 10,000 won is fine." In their view, sentiment and following tradition matter more than the actual amount.

On the other hand, 10 percent believe the amount of money reflects the sincerity of the gift. “100,000 won is a good number,” they said. Notably, 25 percent of people in their 20s were part of this minority -- a higher number than any other age group.

The debate delves even deeper, with the amount of sebae money divided by age group. The results of another survey, conducted among 2,096 employees by Hanwha Life Insurance, showed that 30,000 won was thought to be suitable for elementary school students, followed by 50,000 won for middle school students and 100,000 won for high school and university students. This is a big leap from 10 years ago.

In addition, with the rapid modernization and advancement of financial operations in Korea, there are new sebae money management methods.

Among teens, who usually receive holiday money gifts in the form of cash instead of direct bank transfers, cash charging services for mobile cards and barcodes at convenience stores are gaining popularity. A Samsung Securities survey also revealed that 6 in 10 teens prefer investing their sebae money in stocks rather than depositing it into a savings account.

This is a fairly recent development stemming from a growing interest in investing and monetary independence.

By Yu Ji-soo (
catch table
Korea Herald daum