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The Hows and Whys of Holiday Tipping

Christmas Comes But Once a Year by Charles GreenHoliday tips have been controversial since they were introduced into the U.S. in the 1930s and 40s. While you should never feel obliged to give a gift, holiday tipping is an important way to show your appreciation to the people in your life who work hard to make your days a little bit easier. After all, a holiday tip is really a “thank you” for a year of good service. Experimental Wifery explains who to tip, what to tip, and how to tip if your budget isn’t up to the expense.


A Few Ground Rules

Here are some important guidelines to keep in mind while you’re planning your giving.

  • Even if you choose not to tip, take the time to thank everyone in a professional capacity who has helped you during the year.
  • Include a card of thanks with any give. Handing someone cash is tacky, plus you miss the chance to express the sentiment behind the tip—gratitude!
  • Use your best judgment. If you feel like someone would be embarrassed or offended by a tip, consider a thoughtful gift instead. For example, our sitter is a close personal friend, so we chose to give her a nice gift basket in lieu of a cash tip.
  • You shouldn’t tip teachers, doctors and other professionals, although you can consider a small gift. (As a teacher, I can vouch that Amazon.com or office supply gift cards almost always go back into the classroom.) Generally, you don’t tip have to tip providers like hair-dressers who receive a per-visit tip either.
  • Never use gift-giving to suck up or to compete with others. That’s why it’s a good idea to think carefully about giving your boss a present.
  • If you’re on a limited budget, start with the people who most improve your quality of life, such as a babysitter or housekeeper.
  • Set a total amount you’re willing and able to spend on holiday tipping. Then divvy out what you have to those on your list.
  • Never feel obligated to tip more than you can afford. If you give a small tip, include a note about how much you appreciate the service.

Suggested Holiday Tips

Want to avoid the awkward guessing game when you’re tipping? Here are the most common tip amounts.

  • Babysitter: A night’s pay and, if your child is old enough, a gift handmade by him or her
  • Day care provider: $20-70 for each staff member who works directly with your child, and if your child is old enough, a gift handmade by him or her
  • Garbage collector: $10-30 each (If you live in a suburban or rural neighborhood, tape the tip to the trashcan. Otherwise, only tip if you can catch the garbage collector and give a gift personally.)
  • Housekeepers or house cleaners: A week’s pay or a small gift
  • Mail carrier: By law, no more than a small gift of less than $20 value such as snack foods, mugs, etc. (You can leave a gift in your mail box so long as it’s clearly marked.)
  • Package carrier: A small gift, such as a gift card
  • Superintendent of your building: $20-80 or a gift

While more than 60% of Americans tip or give gifts to their housekeepers or their children’s teachers, only 10% tip their trash collectors. Tipping is never required, you may want to consider showing gratitude to those who do the dirty work with very little thanks.


What If Tipping Just Isn’t in Your Budget?

Being low on funds doesn’t get you off the hook for showing your gratitude. Here are some ideas for low- or no-cost Christmas “thank yous.”

  • Give those who serve you a note of thanks. It is okay to say, “This was a tough year, but I really appreciate your work”—or to say nothing at all about your finances. The idea is to convey gratitude without making anyone feel like you don’t think they’ve earned a tip.
  • While a $5 seems stingy, a $5 gift card for coffee does not. Thank about little, useful gifts.
  • Consider something handmade. For teachers, babysitters, or other people who work with your child, something handmade by your child is appropriate. Focus practical or perishable gifts over items with your child’s picture that the giftee may feel obligated to keep after your child is no longer in her care. (Here are some kid-friendly thank you gift ideas to get you started.)
  • Edible gifts are almost always a good idea if you know someone well enough to know about special dietary preferences.

How do you feel about holiday tips? Let us know in the comments.

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