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Holiday tipping for those who can't accept tips

Some professionals and service workers can't accept cash, but there are ways to get around that rule.

By Karen Datko Nov 23, 2010 4:06PM

This guest post comes from Coupon Sherpa.


This isn't your standard holiday tipping guide. Plenty of people will tell you to give the maid one day's pay for the holidays or slip the trash collector $10 to $30 the next time he wakes you at 6 a.m. Instead, this is your annual guide to tipping those who can't accept tips.

These people may work equally hard all year round, yet are precluded from extending their palms by company standards, government regulations or simple rules of etiquette.

To make the whole process easier on you, we went to the proverbial horses' mouths and nailed down exactly what types of gratuities are acceptable for non-tippable professionals. Herewith, our tips on tipping 12 professions who are prohibited from accepting monetary tips:

Nursing home workers. Many agencies and nursing homes don't allow their employees to accept cash. While this may seem unfair, considering the thoughtful care they provide your loved ones, the policy is fairly prevalent throughout the industry. You might consider a gift certificate, gift card or a small present, like a book or a potted plant. The facility also might suggest donating to an established employee holiday fund to cover a Christmas party, although this seems fairly tacky as it really should be the agency's responsibility.


USPS mail carriers. Come rain, snow or dark of night, these government employees aren't allowed to accept gifts worth more than $20 on a single occasion. According to U.S. Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders, you can give them a gift card -- which handily slips into a USPS approved envelope -- but none that can be exchanged for the cash equivalent.


Other nice gifts for your chilly carrier include hand warmers or a nice bottle of wine. If you're served by a variety of temporary carriers (as is more and more common these days), you might send a group gift to your local USPS branch, like a fruit basket or cookie tin. Saunders said the total cash value of gifts over one year can't exceed $50, although I'm not sure how many people tip their carrier other than during the holidays.

FedEx delivery people. As with USPS workers, FedEx spokeswoman Ann Saccomano says the commercial delivery service doesn't allow their employees to receive cash tips. The boys and girls in blue can, however, accept nonmonetary gifts of up to $25 in value, so go with the rules mentioned above.

UPS delivery people. UPS spokeswoman Rebecca Treacy-Lenda says the delivery service trains its drivers to politely decline tips. "However, we realize that customers often have a strong bond with our people because of the terrific service they provide and when a customer insists, we allow our folks to accept nominal gratuities. We do not, therefore, suggest an amount or range for monetary gratuities. Our drivers do receive heartfelt and sincere gifts during the holidays of baked goods, knitted items and even invitations to holiday parties. We ultimately leave this matter in their hands when confronted with the issue of whether or not to accept or decline a gift." In other words, it's between you and Brownie.

Teachers. Rather than inundate your child's teacher with yet another box of bath salts, how about a Groupon coupon or gift certificate to a nice local restaurant? It would be extra special if your child includes his or her own little gift, be it a homemade item or some small token purchased with  allowance. Children spend hours every day with their teacher, so this is an educational opportunity for them to choose a gift based on what they notice about an adult's tastes and needs.


School bus drivers. Teachers get all the treats, gift cards and "World's Best Teacher" mugs, while bus drivers -- who brave the elements and over-excited kids -- are often ignored during the holidays. Most transportation departments frown on cash gifts, but our local school district says the best possible gift would be a complimentary letter to the driver's supervisor. Your child might also offer a Christmas card with a big smile and a week's worth of impeccable bus behavior.

Personal shoppers. Most stores don't allow personal shoppers to accept tips, but they sure would appreciate if you note their tastes for a change and bring them a small token of your appreciation. This can include anything from a bottle of wine to a pair of those elegant gloves they've been eyeing since Thanksgiving.

Snowplow drivers. Of course you tip the little neighbor kid who shovels your walk each winter, but many big companies discourage tipping plow drivers. What about Christmastime, however, when the snow can make it impossible to leave your driveway? It only seems fair to slip drivers a six-pack or bottle of wine once they've dug out your car. You can always restock your supply when the weather clears.


Flight attendants. Holiday flights can present nightmare scenarios for flight attendants, even more than they usually experience in these days of overbooked flights and overstuffed cabins. Despite low pay, high responsibilities and many grumpy passengers, airlines don't allow their in-flight specialists to accept any form of gratuity. Thus, the best gift you can give is to behave yourself during the flight and dole out a heartfelt thank you as you exit the plane. Buh Bye.

Hospital nurses and physician's assistants. While a cash gift could be misconstrued as a bribe for better drugs, these saints in scrubs often deserve special attention during the holidays. A sweet treat or a veggie platter will show your appreciation during this busy time. I once bought a unique ornament for the oncology floor's Christmas tree and, during a return visit several years later, noticed my gift was still prominently displayed.

Public pool lifeguards. With kids out of school for the holidays, activity centers fill up and lifeguards have their hands more than full. While most aren't allowed to accept gifts, a lifeguard I asked says you might slip these pool-safety inspectors a $5 or $10 Starbucks gift card if your child is a regular swim fan or takes lessons. If nothing else, a little caffeine will help the lifeguard remain alert throughout the shift.

Bus driver. While one bus driver friend says he'd prefer a six- pack of locally brewed beer, this may not be the best idea for someone who drives for a living, even if the city government allowed it. Fortunately, my friend also says he'd love a tin of cookies or any homemade baked goods. As with postal carriers, many bus drivers drive different routes these days, so you might bring your special treat to the station house for everyone to share.


Your boss. Emily Post would turn up her nose at the very thought of tipping the boss, but a thoughtful gift shows your appreciation for a year's worth of employment. You could go solo or chip in with co-workers to buy a joint present, gift card or restaurant gift certificate. You might also find a little something special for your boss's children and partner, if you see them at the holiday party.

For more tipping guidelines, see our post "Tips on tipping for 63 services."


More from Coupon Sherpa and MSN Money:

Nov 24, 2010 12:39PM
What the heck?  MSN thinks I'm spam!
Nov 24, 2010 8:38AM
I don't know about the rest of you, but my wallet won't support all of these gratuities. Everyone on this list makes more than I do!! Maybe some of them should tip me. After all, I'm doing what I am paid to do & I do it well!
Nov 24, 2010 1:51AM

Where's the "Merry Christmas", "Happy Hanukkah", "Happy Holidays" etc.??? Sheesh, makes it sound like we are all little kids. 

Smile, say something nice and save the phatty for Santa!!! 

Nov 23, 2010 9:51PM
Hey, Lets not get carried away here, after all we are in a recession. Roll each one a medium green and red phatty.
Nov 23, 2010 9:03PM
Tip my boss? And buy gifts for the spouse and kids? Yes, I'll make sure to not only do that but let everyone in the office know how generous I am.

Also, I'll remember to say "thanks" to the flight attendant on my way off the plane. I'm sure that's a gift she'll treasure for decades.

Nov 23, 2010 6:59PM
Great article, but we might have a bunch of alcoholics running around driving the bus' and delivering the mail, who thought it would be appropriate to give someone driving a snow plow liquor to drink????
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