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A holiday tipping guide

These guidelines will help, but it's really about how much you can afford.

By Karen Datko Nov 3, 2009 11:07AM

This post comes from Jim Wang at partner blog Bargaineering.


The holidays are about spending time with family and friends, being thankful for the things we’ve accomplished and the lives we’ve led, and showing appreciation to everyone who has made the year possible. Sometimes the year ends on a high note, as we celebrate the achievements. Sometimes we simply want to turn the page on a difficult 12 months.

For many, this year will seem more like the latter, but it’s important to remember that as difficult as it was for you, chances are many were facing much tougher challenges.


It’s on this more somber note that I present to you the 2009 Holiday Tipping Guide, which hopefully will give you an idea of what is considered customary when it comes to showing appreciation to those in the services industry who have gone above and beyond. These are merely guidelines; it’s up to you to decide what makes sense for both your area and your own finances.

The tip amounts listed are collated from a variety of sources. Remember, it’s up to you to decide what makes sense for you. In general, for most services you’ll want to tip the value of one session or visit. You can adjust that up if you have a familiar and good relationship with the individual, or down if you don’t.


Also, just because something appears on this list doesn’t mean it’s necessarily customary to always give a tip. According to a Consumer Reports survey, reprinted in this 2008 MSN Money tipping guide, no one on this list was universally tipped. The highest was a “cleaning person” at 65%. Only 29% of people tip their mail carriers.


Tipping at home. These are for people who provide services in and around your home, be it a house or an apartment/condo:

  • Baby sitter: One night’s pay to as much as a week’s pay, plus a token gift from the children.
  • Doorman: $10 to $80, depending on your relationship; consider a bottle of wine too.
  • Garbage collector: $15 to $30 each.
  • Gardener: $20 to $50, or a week’s pay depending on your relationship.
  • Maid/janitor: A week’s pay if you have a good relationship with the individual.
  • Full-time nanny: A week's to a month’s pay, plus a token gift from the children.
  • Au pair: One week’s pay, plus a token gift from the children.
  • Day care: $25 to $70, plus a token gift from the children.
  • Teacher: $25 to $100 gift certificate. Check with school principal for guidelines.

Tipping for personal care. These are for people who provide personal-care services to you, your family, your pets, etc.

  • Dog walker: one to two weeks’ average pay.
  • Hair care: About the cost of one session.
  • Massage therapist: About the cost of one session.
  • Nails: About the cost of one session.
  • Personal trainer: About the cost of one session, depending on your relationship.

Tipping for deliveries and mail. These are for your mail carrier and other delivery services. In general, this applies only if you regularly receive package deliveries and have a good relationship with the carrier.

  • U.S. Postal Service mail carrier: Noncash gifts (by law) no greater than $20 in value.
  • UPS driver: UPS has no formal policy, but drivers don’t expect tips.
  • FedEx: Noncash gifts (by corporate policy) no greater than $75 in value.
  • Newspaper: $25 to $50 for daily delivery; $10 if weekends only.

How should you tip? You have the option of giving cash, gift cards, or an item. Cash, especially in these economic times, is probably the best option, but don’t discount the effect of a small noncash gift if it fits your budget better. Most people advise against gift cards because of fees and because they’re less flexible than cash.


What if money is tight? Write a thank-you note. If you want to show your appreciation but your finances won’t permit it, consider writing a thoughtful letter in lieu of a gift. The year has been difficult for everyone, so most people will appreciate the sentiment over nothing at all.


The last idea I want to leave you with is that only you know what you would feel comfortable with. There are two quotes from a 2006 CNN Money article on tipping that I think are worth remembering. First, Cindy Streit, president of Etiquette Training Services, said, “Tipping is never required. It may be expected in many situations … (but) should be thought of as a reward for excellent service.” Second, New York doorman Gil Santiago stated, “Doormen are like elephants. We never forget.” 


Related reading at Bargaineering:

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