open a paper envelope with the dollars tied with red ribbon and bow.

A Mostly Complete Guide to Tipping During the Holiday Season

It is a social custom in this country to give cash gifts, known as tips or gratuities, during the holiday season. How this custom came to be I have no idea. Thankfully, there are no rules and no tipping police.

open a paper envelope with the dollars tied with red ribbon and bow.

We see a plethora of tipping guidelines in newspapers and magazines during the holidays, but they are editorial suggestions.

Some I’ve read are mind-boggling and include the garbage man, newspaper delivery person, mail carrier, the nanny, driver, and doorman; the housekeeper, butler, and maid (don’t we all have one of those?), which for me begs the question:

What makes one service worthy of gratuities from its patrons while others—like grocery checkers, the nurse, and dental hygienist are not included?

Gratuities, if you plan to give any, need to be part of your holiday spending plan and that means you need to start thinking about it right now. If you’re not sure, ask yourself: Can I afford to be without this person?

I do not mean in a monetary sense. By “afford to be without” I mean, do you want to face the future without this person’s services?

If you absolutely cannot bear the thought, then a tip is in order as an expression of gratitude for the service provided throughout the year and the fact that you do depend heavily upon this person.

Garbage man

For me, the foregoing qualifier eliminates the garbage man. I wouldn’t have a clue who he is, to be honest. Some big robotic truck comes down our street and plucks the containers with a big mechanical arm and dumps them. So if that guy quits his driving job I’m sure there are plenty of others willing to step up. His service is appreciated, but he personally is not essential in my life. No tip.

Hairdresser

This is a slightly different story. It does take a while to get in sync and after a couple of years, I’m there with Dawn. I appreciate her, I count on her. I don’t have to guide or suggest. She just knows what to do. If she told me she’s moving out of state I’d be upset, wish her well, face the future with a heavy sigh, and find another. A $50 tip.

Yard guy

Yes, we have a landscape maintenance company that services our property. Being out of debt does have its perks. They do fine, but believe me if they go out of business I have my pick of about fifty others that will do the same thing. No tip.

Pest guy

We live in the middle of what must be the mother of all wasp colonies. We have had wasp problems since we bought this house. We get sprayed routinely during wasp season.

The company we have now is courteous and responsive, but so are other pest control services. We have this one because their price is about half of all others and the service is adequate. No tip.

Housekeeper

This is a luxury that has become a total necessity in my life. I find that my sanity is worth paying Raquel to clean my house twice a month.

She is an angel. A gift from on-high. Raquel is punctual, immaculate, trustworthy, and reliable. She has a key to my house. I would trust her with my grandchildren.

If she were to leave me I would be devastated. I could not replace her in a million years. I give her raises when she least expects it. It is the best money I spend in any given month.

I pray for her health, that she will live long and prosper. I want to be her favorite client so if someone somewhere ever says she can clean only one house—I want it to be mine! A $150 tip. Gladly.

Conventional standards

Okay, now that I have spouted off on my personal philosophy on holiday tipping, here is a more conventional tipping guide from so-called experts. Just make sure you take this information under advisement and then set your own guidelines that fit within your means and the desires of your heart.

Before we even get to dollar amounts, general guidelines suggest that you look at a number of factors such as

  • quality of service
  • frequency of service
  • how long you’ve used the service
  • customs in your area
  • your personal financial situation

There are no laws or even social standards when it comes to tipping—only customs and traditions.

As you determine what is right for you, keep in mind that you have already paid these people for services rendered.

Ask yourself: Am I particularly grateful because this person made my life easier this year or did more than required?

For those who rate a “Yes,” express your gratitude in a way that fits your ability, not according to what you think society expects or demands.

Following are a few commonly-accepted guidelines for your thoughtful consideration; however, keep in mind that social custom do vary from one region to another.

Postal carrier

The U.S. Postal Service forbids carriers from accepting cash, however, they may accept a nominal item with a value under $20, like cookies or chocolate, for example. If you are very pleased with your service, a letter of appreciation to the supervisor would be in order.

Babysitter

For a regular sitter on whom you depend and who consistently gives excellent care, Martha Stewart suggests a tip equal to two nights’ pay and a small gift from the children.

Trash collector

If you actually know the person who collects your trash (many neighborhoods like mine have gone to robotic trucks with an equally robotic-like driver who never leaves the cab) I am told that a tip of $15 to $20 is customary. Or a 6-pack.

Newspaper delivery

If you have daily delivery and you know who your delivery person is, $15 to $25. Weekend only? $5 to $15.

Housekeeper

If you are happy with the service, the equivalent of up to one visit.

Hairdresser

Again, if you are happy with the service—even if your hairdresser is the owner of the salon—15 to 20 percent of the total bill on a typical visit (in addition to the tip you would normally leave for your last visit before the holidays) and a small gift. If you aren’t happy, find a new hairdresser.

Door personnel

If you live in a building with a single doorman a $25 to $100 tip is typical, more or less depending on how much this person assists you during the year. It really depends on the staff that works in your building and what they do (help with packages, hold items to be picked up, and that kind of thing). In New York City some people report tipping the doorman $500 or more.

Superintendent

If your building has a “super” on whom you depend, a tip is highly recommended—particularly if you are fond of that person answering your calls on the first ring. And you want your apartment to have heat in the winter and cooling in the summer. $20-$80.

In closing …

A monetary gift in any amount is one way to say thanks to service providers, but it is not the only way. Never underestimate the value of a handwritten note on pretty holiday stationery.

A gift of special treats with a nice note is always appropriate. Any expression of gratitude that comes from your heart is never wrong.


Feel free to share your comments below. Comments are moderated to assure they are relevant and helpful.

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  1. Kathleen A Nemyer says:

    I am a retired hairstylist (50 + years) and former salon owner. I always appreciated the tips I received. At Christmas, I gave free haircut coupons to be redeemed in the month of their birthday. It was always appreciated and by spreading it out, tied to their birthday, it was a great way to show appreciation and great PR for the year.

    Reply
  2. GAIL EVANS says:

    I have a different take on tipping. I agree with your one statement that tips exclude people such as a Dental Assistants, Day Care Workers, just to name a few. Many people mentioned that get big tips also get big money for the job they do, that is their job, and overtime pays them even more. I try to tip the underpaid people that everyone forgets, or you think their job is not important. now that I am venting, I also don’t tip the same for take out as i do inside. It takes them less than 5 minutes to deliver a meal. If I ate inside, they would wait on me much longer. Therefore in 5 minutes for take out they could deliver 10 meals at a tip of 2.00 to 3.00 and make 30.00.

    Reply
  3. Les says:

    Mary,
    I have followed your column since the internet existed. I have found a lot of useful information for you. I also agree that tipping a garage man Is not necessarily. However, I don’t with agree your comments about 50 other drivers bring available. I CDL isn’t the easiest to obtain and drivers of large vehicles protect everyone’s safety on the road. Think your last comment about buying a six pack tipping with a six pack was in very poor taste.
    Thank you for listening to my criticism!

    Reply
  4. Dede says:

    Great article Mary, as are most of your tips and tricks! I feel you should also add pet groomers to the list. My groomer was out a while for maternity leave and I was devastated. This definitely puts her on my Christmas tip list. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you!!

    Reply
  5. Mitzi says:

    There is a bakery in Vienna, VA that sells a variety of British foods. It never was a restaurant, although i had noticed a “tip jar” on the counter. since the pandemic started,they now only sell frozen pasties, and there is not enough room inside, so you order, and they text that your order is ready, and you reach inside the door, and pick up your bag of frozen pastries. They had the arrogance to add a tip to their price, without asking if you phone it in. I don’t tip the butcher, nor the checkout in the grocery store. Why should I need to tip on my bakery order?

    Reply
  6. Susan says:

    I tip my hairdresser at each visit. At Christmas, I give her a gift card, a homemade gift that I know she likes, in addition to her regular tip. I have yet to receive a thank you. I would be happy with a text. Many of my friends get a sample shampoo or conditioner etc. Shouldn’t it be reciprocal?

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Well, this is difficult. I think it goes back to the reason you give a gift at all. If you give it with strings attached, (even if that “string” is the expectation of a Thank You note or other acknowledgment), is it a pure gift or is it manipulation? A true gift is given with nothing expected in return, but for the joy of it. If this bothers you to the point of angst, I suggest you stop. You have expectations that are not being met, so why torture yourself? Just my 2 cents 😉

      Reply
  7. Vicki Tavana says:

    With this pandemic I don’t eat inside restaurants,I call in or do online “to go” orders. Do I need to tip the person taking or bringing my order to me?

    Reply
  8. PH says:

    We tipped the people who have been delivering to our house throughout the pandemic this year – Amazon driver, UPS, FedEx. Do we know them? No; well, we recognize our UPS guy. But we are grateful for their services and we know they are working very hard, especially this year, and we are grateful for their efforts. Regardless of whether they are the exact same person each time, I believe that our recognition brought a bit of brightness to their day.

    Reply
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