11 Pointers About Holiday Tipping

gift box drawn on chalkboardThe holidays are a great opportunity to show the people in your life you appreciate them—this includes the caregivers, building staff, and other workers who make your life easier year-round. Tipping etiquette is tricky territory to begin with, and figuring out how to tip several people at once might leave you feeling overwhelmed. Here are some pointers on navigating the season of giving with success.

  1. Make a list.

When sitting down to figure out who you should be tipping this holiday season the names will start to pile up fast. Making a list is an easy way to stay organized while ensuring no one gets overlooked. And if you’re working with a limited budget, having all the candidates in front of you helps you decide who gets top priority.

  1. Tip sooner rather than later.

Your gift exchange with your family may still be a while’s off, but when it comes to tipping service workers any time after Thanksgiving is fair game. Remember that they’re likely buying gifts for loved ones this time of year as well, so getting them their tip as early as possible can supplement their holiday shopping budget later in the month.

  1. Always include a note.

It doesn’t have to be a novel—just a brief message expressing your gratitude and wishing them a happy holiday. If you don’t want to spend the extra money on a flashy greeting card, just jot your down thoughts on a piece of paper and slip into an envelope along with the cash.

  1. Cash isn’t always appropriate.

While tipping with cash is completely acceptable with some professional relationships, it may raise eyebrows with others. Accountants, therapists, and nursing home staff members may take it the wrong way if you give them extra money at the end of the year. In those cases, a more personal gift like homemade cookies or a card is perfectly fine. There are other situations where tipping may not be appropriate that aren’t quite as clear. Mail carriers, for example, are prohibited from accepting cash, checks, and gifts valued at over $20. Modest tokens of appreciation like hand warmers, flowers, or simple thank you cards are all solid options in this scenario.

  1. Protocol varies depending on who you’re tipping.

Confused about whether to gift cash or a present? That depends on the recipient. Generally speaking, there’s no need to tip salaried professionals or business owners. (But feel free to give them a small token of your appreciation if they’re someone you interact with regularly.) When it comes time to make your list, prioritize the people with whom you interact most often, and consider supplementing your cash gift with a non-monetary present. It doesn’t have to be lavish—a box of chocolate or a plate of homemade cookies will do the trick.

  1. Adjust the amount for groups.

For anyone still in the dark about what constitutes a decent tip, $20 is a safe bet in a variety of situations. But if you’re tipping for a service that’s completed by a team, like trash collection, don’t feel the need to set aside that much for each individual. A tip of $10 per person should suffice.

  1. Tips should reflect the quality of the service.

This is one tipping rule of thumb that should be followed year-round. If there’s someone who regularly goes above and beyond with their job duties—the doorman who has to deal with your online shopping habit; the babysitter who comes back from vacation with gifts for your kids—feel free to be extra generous if your budget allows it. The opposite goes for workers who provided less than stellar services. If your superintendent waited months to call an exterminator after hearing about your mouse problem, you shouldn’t necessarily skip tipping them all together (you may regret it next time you need something fixed), but don’t feel guilty about giving them the bare minimum.

  1. Don’t forget those who provide a personal service.

Our go-to masseuses, hair stylists, manicurists, and personal trainers provide us with intimate services we can’t give ourselves, and those efforts shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’s customary to tip some of these people after each appointment, but a bonus tip equivalent to the amount spent on one visit is also appreciated around the holidays. Even someone like your regular barista who knows your name and starts making your usual the moment your walk in deserves something special for adding a personal touch to your experience.

  1. Or those who provide a service to your loved ones.

If you have a dog walker that brightens your pet’s day or a nanny that acts as your kid’s reliable playmate, it’s up to you to show some appreciation on their behalf. Annual tips are generally welcomed by babysitters, nannies, pet walkers, and groomers. For employees at your child’s school, cash is best avoided. Find a reasonably-priced gift you can give from your entire family instead.

  1. A letter to their supervisor is a cheap alternative.

Tipping around the holidays is a thoughtful gesture, but after exhausting your budget on gifts for your friends and family you may not have the money to do so. Fortunately, there are other ways to express your gratitude that don’t cost a thing. In place of cash, consider sending a letter praising their performance to their supervisor. Even a homemade card wishing them a happy holiday is better than ignoring them all together.

  1. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

There are plenty of guides online that offer suggestions for how much to tip around the holidays, but even the so-called experts are guessing most of the time. What’s appropriate varies depending on where you live, how much disposable income you have, and your relationship to the person you’re tipping. If you’re unsure of what the proper protocol is, it helps to ask someone in the same boat. Check in with people in your building for what to tip your doorman and superintendent. If you live in the suburbs, ask your neighbors how they show their appreciation for the postal workers and garbage collectors each year. For workers who provide a more personal service like hair dressers or yoga instructors, it might be best to inquire with the company directly.

Gift-giving putting a strain on your wallet? Here’s how to set (and stick to) a holiday budget.

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