Stringing lights on a tree, baking Christmas cookies and even coming up with the perfect presents for friends and family are all easy compared to one dreaded holiday task—deciding which service providers you want to tip and how much you should tip them.
Although there are some general guidelines on who should receive a small gift at holiday time, tipping is a very personal decision—only you can decide how much it’s worth to have great looking hair or a clean house every week. But don’t feel pressured to give more than you can afford; if you’re on a tight budget, think about some other way that you can say thank you, such as a homemade gift. (Since everyone gets so many cookies during the holidays, why not consider giving an I.O.U. for your specialty dish at a time of their choosing in January or February? It’s likely to be even more appreciated then.)
You can just hand your service providers a Christmas card with cash, but it would be more meaningful if you took a few minutes to write a note expressing your thanks and telling them why their service is important to you. They’ll remember that note long past the time they’ve spent the money.
If you do provide cash, go to the bank and get some fresh bills. Although older bills spend just as well as new ones, the crisp dollars look nicer and communicate that you took the time and trouble to make that extra little effort for your tip recipient.
To answer this question, make a list of all those who provide a helpful service to you on a regular basis. The list could include:
There are other people—like your children’s teachers, for example—that you don’t tip but that you often want to recognize at holiday time. For teachers, check with your children’s school to find out if they have a policy on gift giving. If you get the okay, let your children help pick out and/or make a small gift.
Do a Web search and you’ll find varying opinions on how much to tip. Some etiquette experts suggest gifting what you would usually pay for a service. For example, if your regular hairdresser charges you $30 for a shampoo and style (before tip), then give her $30 as a holiday bonus. If you pay $100 each week to have your house cleaned, then $100 would be a generous tip for those who clean it.
For people like garbage collectors, handymen or lawn service personnel, a tip of $10-$30 per person seems to be the norm these days.
If you can’t afford to tip much, consider giving a good tip to fewer people. A tip is a voluntary expression of gratitude, not a mandatory one (although realistically you might get better service in the coming year if you do tip).
Finally, if you just can’t get your budget to stretch to cover tips over the holidays, find another time during the year when you can express your thanks. An unexpected large tip in May or June—with an explanation that this is a belated/early holiday tip--may be even more appreciated than the cash in December.