9 Rules for Holiday Tipping the Right Way

Holiday tipping is a way of thanking those who give us extraordinary service. Here’s how to negotiate the custom with finesse.


It’s that time of the year when everyone wonders who to tip — and how much to give — during the holiday season.

Do you tip your kindergartener’s teacher? How about the garbage man? And what about the mail carrier, hairdresser and a half-dozen others who make your life sweeter and easier through the year.

Following are nine rules for tipping the right way this holiday season.

1. Spread the wealth

To tip within your budget, decide what you can afford to spend. List everyone you want to tip and prioritize those folks. Then, decide how much to tip each person.

After you have hit your budgeted limit, find non monetary ways to thank people who didn’t make the list.

2. Stay within your budget

Don’t throw fiscal self-discipline to the wind for the holidays. There’s pressure to keep up with everyone else, especially at this time of year. It’s easier to resist, though, by imagining the misery of a holiday debt hangover.

3. Exercise flexibility

There’s no code of ethics for this. You have carte blanche to use your own good sense.

If you have little disposable income, disregard advice from articles that suggest tipping the doorman, the dog walker, the nanny and the personal trainer.

Those articles assume a level of disposable income you don’t possess, and the advice in them may be inappropriate for someone with less money.

However, if you can afford to tip, think about how much your nanny, personal trainer and other personal service professionals affect your quality of life. Then, tip generously.

4. If you’re unsure, ask around

Wondering what to give teachers at your child’s school? Call the office and ask what’s recommended and what other parents do. Your hairdresser? Ask at the front desk. Call your garbage company to find out what’s recommended.

Don’t stop there. Ask your friends what they do. Quiz other parents and acquaintances at the dog park, coffee shop or your kids’ soccer games.

5. Don’t tip if …

A tip is a gift. You’ve already paid, so this is a recognition of extraordinary service. There’s no need for a holiday tip if the service you receive is nothing special.

Also, whether you tip and the amount you give depends on the frequency of service and your relationship. If you don’t know the name of your trash collector or your paper carrier, it may be better to give a small gift or something from your kitchen.

Remember that in some cases, it might be inappropriate to tip. Postal employees aren’t allowed to accept cash tips or gift cards. A holiday gift valued at $20 or less is OK, as are gifts worth up to $50 in a year.

Teachers typically may not accept cash, so give a gift worth $25 or less. Or, better yet, get together with other parents on a group gift.

Also, if you’ve been tipping steadily every time you receive a service, there’s no need to pull out your wallet again at the holidays.

6. Do tip if …

It is customary to tip the:

  • Garbage collector
  • Baby sitter
  • Newspaper deliverer
  • Handyman or woman
  • Housecleaner
  • Hairdresser or barber
  • Personal trainer
  • Massage practitioner
  • Caregiver
  • Manicurist
  • People who groom or walk/feed your pets

How much you give depends on your finances. If you’re not strapped, tip the cost of one session for those you employ regularly on a per-session basis. Give a week’s compensation to people who work regularly in your home or for your family.

7. When you give cash

Put a cash tip in a card with a handwritten note of thanks. A couple of sentences will do. There’s no need to write a long letter.

8. When you give gifts

When a tip is not appropriate, give a small wrapped gift and a card of thanks. Or give a gift card or gift certificate worth about $20 at a coffee shop, bookstore or online marketplace. Avoid giving gift certificates for necessities such as groceries. If you suspect your recipient is hard up, give cash instead.

9. When you don’t have cash

Here are alternative ways of saying thanks:

  • Send a letter of praise to a worker’s supervisor.
  • Write a thoughtful thank-you note expressing your gratitude.
  • Give a card or gift made by your children.
  • Give cookies, jam, chocolate truffles, pickles or other goodies you’ve made.

What are your rules for holiday tipping? How do you say “thank you” if you can’t give cash? Share your thoughts in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

Stacy Johnson

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