A Brief Guide to Holiday Tipping

I'm getting more requests this year for holiday tipping info than ever before. For example, Nina wrote: “Can you provide some guidelines for Holiday Tipping Etiquette for the holiday season? I'm at a complete loss…”

To be honest, I don't know much about holiday tipping. It's not something I was raised with. I covered it briefly in my guide to how much to tip, but I'm basically as in the dark as Nina is. To learn more about the subject, I did a little research. I learned that in some places and for some jobs, holiday tipping is customary.

The December 2009 issue of Consumer Reports includes a survey on holiday tipping habits. Housekeepers are by far the most commonly tipped profession. A full 75% of folks tip their cleaning person — and no wonder. More than half tip their child's teacher. Other than that, holiday tipping is more sporadic. (Only 8% tip the trash collector.)

Here are some general holiday tipping guidelines:

  • Holiday tipping is never required. Even when it's the social norm, you shouldn't tip if you can't afford it or you don't feel the person deserves it.
  • Tipping tends to be more common (and on a larger scale) in big cities than in small towns. The best way to determine the etiquette in your area is to ask around.
  • In general, you should consider giving a holiday tip to the folks who take care of your home and family, especially those you see often. The more often you see someone and the longer you've known them, the more you should tip. (Someone who works in your home regularly — such as a housekeeper — usually expects a tip.)
  • For personal services like manicures, massages, pet grooming, and fitness training, tip up to the cost of one session, but only if you see the same person regularly. For example, if you get a $60 massage every six weeks, your holiday tip should be about $60.
  • Public servants are not allowed to accept cash tips in the U.S., but it's acceptable to give a non-cash gift of up to $20. You might give a plate of cookies to your mail carrier, for example, or a book or a gift certificate to your child's teacher.
  • When you give a tip, include a card or a hand-written note thanking the person for their service.
  • If you tip cash, crisp new bills make a better impression than old wrinkly ones.

Here's a list of people who often receive holiday tips and what they typically receive:

  • Babysitter: one week's pay
  • Nanny: one week's pay
  • Housekeeper: one week's pay
  • Gardener: one week's pay
  • Doorman: $10 to $100, depending on what they do for you
  • Garbage collector: $15 to $25
  • Janitor: $15 to $25
  • Newspaper delivery person: $15 to $25
  • Parking attendant: $15 to $25

This is just a list of people who commonly receive holiday tips. Tipping service people with whom you have regular contact can build goodwill. Everyone likes to feel appreciated; we tend to remember the little gestures others make on our behalf. If you want to tip the bus driver, go ahead. Use your best judgment.

Further reading: The New York Times Bucks blog recently ran a series on holiday gift-giving and tipping etiquette. You can read part one, part two, and part three.

What's your experience with holiday tipping? Is it customary in your area? Who gets tipped and how much?

Photo by mysza831.

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