Holiday tipping isn't about going down a list and rewarding everyone on it with an amount dictated by an etiquette expert. Holiday spending in any form is supposed to be about showing your heartfelt appreciation for the people you care about and the people who make your life better in some way. If you do want to show your appreciation with special tips this holiday season, here is a guide to the people in your life you might consider tipping and how much you should give them.
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During the holidays, it's fairly standard practice to give something extra to someone who works for you on a regular basis but isn't normally tipped. If you have a housekeeper, he or she probably visits your home regularly. You might consider giving him or her a bonus worth one or two weeks of salary. Think about how you would feel if your boss didn't give you a holiday bonus. The housekeeper situation is similar. The same guidelines apply to a nanny. You might consider giving your favorite regular babysitter a bonus of one to two nights pay. (For related reading, see 5 Ways To Save On Child Care Costs.)
Pet Sitter or Dog Walker
If the same person regularly cares for your pet, you may wish to give him or her a tip worth somewhere between the cost of one visit and pay for one week. This depends on how often you use the sitter and whether you tip him or her throughout the year.
If you frequently visit the same person for a manicure, haircut or massage, consider tipping them at the holidays. You probably already tip this person each time you see them, so your holiday tip need not be any larger than the cost of one session. Another good guideline is to double your usual tip.
If you live in a building with doormen, maintenance men, bellhops or parking attendants, you might consider tipping the ones who assist you on a regular basis. Since you don't normally pay them, there are no guidelines for these workers. Think about how helpful they are to you and how often you use the services offered when calculating your tip. (To learn more, check out Pass On Wealth To Spread Holiday Cheer.)
Jodi R. R. Smith, author of "The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners" and owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Mass., advises giving $20-$50 to custodians, $25-$200 to doormen, $15-$50 to handymen, $25-$100 to superintendents and $20-$50 to parking attendants.
Miscellaneous Service People
Yes, your favorite fitness instructor already gets paid out of your gym dues, but if you really appreciate him or her, why not let her know with a small gift card? If you're friendly with a particular checker at the grocery store, or if that's a person you feel moved to thank for scanning all your coupons, you can tip him or her. Tipping is a way to show people who otherwise might not know it that they've made a positive difference in your life during the year.
When Tipping Is Impractical
Many of the people we're commonly advised to tip have job descriptions that make it impractical or unrealistic for us to give them a little something extra. It's impossible to tip the mailman when you've seen at least 10 different carriers at your house during the year. The same is often true of our UPS and FedEx people. As for tipping the garbage man, you might have at least three: one who picks up your trash, one for recycling and another for yard waste. It's also likely that you're either sleeping or at work when they stop by, so you have no idea who these people are.
If you do indeed have a regular provider for one of these services, you may want to tip them, but don't beat yourself up over it if you can't. Also, be aware that the U.S. Postal Service has a number of joy-killing regulations about what you can gift to your favorite postal worker.
Is Holiday Tipping a Media Myth?
If you're not in the habit of tipping at the holidays, you might wonder if anyone else actually does it. Consumer Reports has some answers to this question in its December 2011 issue. About half of the magazine's survey respondents tipped their cleaning person, while one third tipped their newspaper carriers, hairdressers/barbers or manicurists. About one quarter tipped their gardener or pet care provider. A smaller percentage of respondents gave gifts instead of tips. In every category except cleaning, more than half of respondents gave nothing. Most tips and gifts were worth $10-$25. (For related reading, see Tips For Avoiding A Holiday Spending Hangover.)
Another Reason to Tip
Tipping can help to build a stronger long-term relationship with service providers you expect to be in your life for a number of years. If you're going to interact with someone regularly, your relationship will be more pleasant if he or she feels that you value and appreciate his or her efforts. Holiday tipping is one way to express that sentiment.
The Bottom Line
Don't consider these holiday tipping guidelines to be hard and fast rules. They're meant to form a framework that you can apply to your own situation and adjust as you see fit. When it comes to how much to give, trust your gut, you know when you're being cheap, when you're being reasonable and when you're being extra generous. If money is tight, skip the tips. You can always give a card with a thoughtful, handwritten note and provide a more generous tip in the future when you can afford it.