Although many people look forward to the holidays, no one enjoys the stress and errands that precede them. Questions of how or what to tip the many service providers that make our lives better only add to that holiday stress. Put that stress to rest by keeping these holiday tipping guidelines in mind, and you will have less to worry about during the holidays.
Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas and an etiquette and modern manners expert, considers holiday tipping "a way to show gratitude to those that provide you with loyal service throughout the year." Consider "your relationship with the person, the frequency of your service and the quality of care that the person provides." Maralee McKee, founder of Manners Mentor, summarizes, "The more you see them the more you ought to tip them."
The basic rule of holiday tipping is that for regular service, your tip should equal the cost of that service. For example, tip your baby sitter the cost of an average night's work. If you use a dog walker, housekeeper or gardener, tip what you pay for a week's work. This rule covers most service providers, including manicurists, personal trainers, massage therapists and hair stylists.
For those service providers that do not charge a regular fee, Gottsman and McKee offer some specific guidelines.
--Teachers. Both Gottsman and McKee suggest -- if not prohibited by the school's gift giving policy -- coordinating with other parents to present a class gift so that each family can give an amount they feel is appropriate, without worrying about peer pressure. McKee says, "I know sometimes room moms love to give a room gift, but unless you know a teacher well outside of work ... then (an American Express or Visa gift card) will allow them to buy a gift for themselves or an extra gift for their family."
--Doorman or Landlord. Gottsman says a gift of $50 to a few hundred is appropriate, depending on the level of service they provide you on a regular basis, as well as your personal relationship with them.
--Mail Carrier. Both Gottsman and McKee note that government regulations prohibit U.S. Postal Service mail carriers from accepting cash or gift cards. McKee says, "He or she can accept, at any one time, a (non-monetary) gift with a value of $20 or less, not to exceed $50 in a calendar year." FedEx and UPS do not have similar restrictions, and Gottsman suggests tipping no more than $75, based on your relationship with the driver.
--Trash collectors. Gottsman suggests checking with local regulations for public service employees. If allowed, she suggests a tip of $10-25 per person, and if you can't catch them on their route, make arrangements with their corporate office.
--Newspaper Delivery. Gottsman suggests tipping what you pay for an annual subscription, unless delivery service has been "extremely poor."
--Nanny. Given the vital role in your child's life, Gottsman stresses not overlooking this person. She suggests tipping one to two weeks' pay and giving a small, handmade gift from your child.
Finally, Gottsman and McKee have advice for families who have experienced hardship during the economic downturn. Remember that tipping is not mandatory. Gottsman says, "Tipping is a way to thank people for good service or a positive experience." When deciding where to cut and how to tip, McKee says, "Tipping is a token of appreciation. Don't go into debt to do it." She adds, "'Thriftiness' is cutting back at your own expense. 'Stinginess' is cutting back at the expense of others."
As an alternative to giving cash tips, consider giving gifts. McKee suggests shopping for gifts during sales to make your budget go further. But she cautions that gifts serve as a reminder of the giver, so if they clash with the recipient's style or interests, it may be a negative reminder. Similarly, while some people might appreciate a tin of baked goods, others might not if they have allergies or dietary restrictions.
Keeping these tips in mind should take much of the stress and uncertainty out of holiday tipping. That way, you can focus on the important parts of the holidays: friends, family, food and celebrating.