The holiday season is all about giving thanks, particularly to the people in your life who provide the services you depend on all year. Enter yet another line item on your holiday budget: Tips. It’s especially important this year, when we know that many people who help us out year-round may now be struggling to make end’s meet.
Figuring out who to tip and how much to give without over- or under-tipping is its own stressful holiday tradition, says etiquette expert and author Thomas P. Farley, also known as Mister Manners. (For background, the average cash tip in 2019 was $45, according to a Consumer Reports’ survey, with housekeepers receiving the highest median gratuity ($60) and trash collectors at the other end of the spectrum ($20).)
Farley recommends keeping a running list or spreadsheet of all the service professionals you interact with throughout the year. “When you are already stressed about the holidays, thoughts of missing someone can add even more pressure,” he says. Having a holiday tipping log as a reference from year to year is a simple way to track who you’ve tipped, and prevent missing anyone.
Putting a price on gratitude
Tips should reflect the relationship that you share, and how much you value the person throughout the year, says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.
We know your relationship with your hairdresser is priceless. Still, you need to come up with an appropriate cash value before you hit the ATM.
Where you live, the cost of services, and your budget play a role in determining the exact dollar amount you should (and can) give in holiday gratuities. The following holiday tipping guidelines serve as a starting point for your calculations.
Barista or Bartender
Do you have a favorite barista or bartender? A person who every time you go in asks you questions about your vacation and knows that you like extra olives in your martini or soy milk in your latte? Let them know you appreciate their superior service.
Holiday Tipping Guideline: Tip $20 if they consistently go above and beyond, Gottsman says, and tuck it in a handwritten thank-you note.
During your November or December appointment present your stylist with a personal card and cash gratuity for making your locks look lovely.
Holiday Tipping Guideline: Give the cash equivalent to one visit, Gottsman says. “If your visit costs $80, then you’ll want to enclose $80 in cash in the card.” You can certainly give more, especially if your hair stylist has performed miracles with your hair this year.
A cash tip with a note is a thoughtful way to recognize your manicurist if you go to the same person all year, Gottsman says. If the staff rotates and you don’t have a regular, a special holiday tip is not necessary.
Holiday Tipping Guideline: Tip the cost of one appointment.
This person has kept your toilets sparkling, counters gleaming and furniture fur-free. Tip accordingly. A handwritten note of thanks is the best addition to a cash tip.
Holiday Tipping Guideline: Tip the cost of one visit or one week’s service, Farley advises.
Service professionals like landscapers and lawn maintenance people who keep your yard looking lovely throughout the year are easy to remember during the holidays. But don’t forget seasonal helpers — like pool cleaners. You want to remember that person in December, too.
Holiday Tipping Guideline: Tip the cost of one visit (whether the service fee is paid weekly or monthly).
Tipping depends on a wide range of factors, including your city and the frequency of your tips throughout the year. If you hand your doorman cash for every hailed cab, then your year-end tip can be more modest. If you’ve given nothing all year, then you definitely need to be generous in December, Farley says.
Holiday Tipping Guideline: You’ll want to tip all the doormen (don’t forget those on the graveyard shift!) $20 to $100 (and more if they provide heavily for you throughout the year), suggests Gottsman.
Nanny or Child Care Provider
For a nice touch, have your child play a role in picking out a small gift (or writing a note, if they’re old enough) to include with your cash tip, Farley says.
Holiday Tipping Guideline: The tip — in cash — should be the equivalent of one or two weeks’ pay. For a regular babysitter, tip the equivalent to one babysitting session. No extra tip is required for a babysitter you’ve only used a couple of times.
Be sure to check the local regulations for public service employees. If there are no restrictions and you see your trash or recycling collector on a regular basis (and they never let the lid go flying down the street), Gottsman says it’s OK to give a cash tip.
Holiday Tipping Guideline: A cash gift of $10 to $25 per person is acceptable. For obvious reasons, don’t tape the cash to the top of a trash can lid. Set aside some time to give it to them in person, or take it to the collection service’s corporate office.
Mail and Package Deliverer
You may love your mail carrier, but there are rules about what they can and cannot accept. Find information on the delivery provider’s website.
Holiday Tipping Guideline: USPS employees may accept a gift valued up to $20 but cannot accept cash gifts or cash equivalents. UPS drivers can accept a small gift or nominal gratuity. FedEx employees can accept a gift valued at up to $75, but again, no cash or gift cards.
Can’t Afford to Tip This Year?
Remember that tipping is personal and discretionary. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not able to give as much as you’d like to. If your holiday budget is too tight this year, there are other ways to show your gratitude. “If cash isn’t an option, consider baking a beautiful tray of cookies and include a thoughtful note and card,” says Farley. (Here are more ways to stretch your holiday dollars.) The important thing is that you are acknowledging these individuals and thanking them for their services from throughout the year.
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