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I like the idea of giving a holiday tip as a ‘thank you’ to those who help me and my family throughout the year, whether it’s the mailman, our kid’s teachers, or our babysitter. But what’s the appropriate amount to give and how do I not lose my shirt in the process? — Pat E., Syracuse NY
Holiday tipping is always tricky. Who do you tip? How much? How do you not come off as a cheap ass while staying financially responsible and not pissing off the delivery so much that your Prime packages show up mysteriously smooshed for the next month? As Ned Flanders might say, as far as melon scratchers go it’s a honey doodle.
But listen, in all seriousness it’s the end of the year. We want to show gratitude for the many important people around us that help us run our lives and those of our families a bit smoother — or, to keep this metaphor going, help us pave over the rough parts.
So, to answer your question, I reached out to Diane Gottsman, a nationally renowned etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. Conveniently, she puts together an annual holiday tipping guide to help folks like us who might be a little shaky on how much to offer.
Here are a few of her suggestions for the 2018 season:
- Teacher & Teacher’s Aid: Contribute to a class gift or gift certificate, but avoid cash.
- School Secretary or Nurse: A small gift or gift certificate.
- Bus Driver: $25 each
- School Lunch Provider(s): $25 each
- Coaches & Tutors: $25 or gift certificate to a favorite coffee shop
- Office Assistant: If a bonus isn’t on the radar, give a gift card or gift you are confident your assistant will enjoy. The cost of the gift will be based on relationship and tenure.
- Landlord/Building Manager: $50 or more, depending on their level of support
- Doorman: $20 – $100 (potentially more if you they provide great service throughout the year)
- FedEx: FedEx Employees can accept a gift valued up to $75, no cash or gift cards.
- Trash Collector: If there are no local gift giving restrictions, $10- $25 per person. Give it to them personally or drop off the gift at their corporate office.
- Garage Attendant: $10-$50
- Daily/Weekly Housekeeper: Equivalent to one day’s or week’s service.
- Newspaper Delivery: $10-$30
- Babysitter: A cash equivalent to one night’s pay or a gift card
- Nanny: Somewhere between one week’s and one month’s worth of pay, plus a gift from your child
- Dog Walker: A cash gift equivalent to one day (or one week’s) service
Obviously, those numbers can add up quickly. So if you can’t give quite that much, don’t feel like a scrooge. Plus, the size of your gift – and whether you tip at all – really depends on how close you are to that particular service provider.
“The tip sheet is merely a guide for those who are at a loss as to where to begin,” says Gottsman. “Feel free to tip upwards, or downward, depending on your budget or particular circumstances.”
The fact is, most people in general give quite a bit less. A Consumer Reports survey last year found that only half of Americans provided tips to service providers during the holidays. And among those that do, that total sum of their gifts was around $40. The point is to give what you can, within reason; the thought itself is what will probably stick with the recipient.
It’s also worth pointing out that how you offer a tip is crucial, too. “Never hand a person cash or a gift card,” says Gottsman. “Write a note in a holiday card and put their name on the front of the envelope. The manner in which it is wrapped and presented is as important as the actual gift or tip.”
Keep in mind that there may be special rules around tipping for public services workers, including some trash collectors. It’s a good idea to check with the appropriate department to see what the rules are.
Even parcel delivery services have their own policies. According to Gottsman, UPS drivers can only accept a small gift or tip, whereas FedEx employees can receive gifts valued up to $75. However, they’re not allowed to take cash or gift cards. Go figure.
As for the folks who deliver your mail in the rain, sleet and snow? Postal carriers aren’t allowed to take cash or cash equivalents, but they can accept gifts worth no more than $20. Even a modest offering is a nice way to say “thanks” for their too-often thankless work.
When’s the right time to tip? For Gottsman, giving someone a gift and a nice note is something you can generally do whenever you normally run into them. “If you don’t plan to see them later in the month, feel free to tip earlier in the season,” she says. “You can also mail a card or even send an online gift card if you know it would be something they would enjoy.”
Hopefully with those pointers in mind, you can tip confidently this year and keep in good stead with the people you depend on throughout the year. Now that’s something you can’t put a value on.