TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter December 2009

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Holiday Tipping Guide

Money   RibbonThe holiday season is here! (Cue music...) Peace on Earth. Good will towards all men. Other good thoughts and glad tidings cast in your general direction. OK! Now that's out of the way, let's talk about money. People who do things for you are expecting a "little something" around now. But... how sure are you that you know: (1) who's supposed to get a holiday gratuity, (2) how much to give, and (3) the right way to hand it over? Do this correctly and you're good to go for another 12 months. Mess it up and (at a minimum) you'll get some dirty looks or be moved to the back of the figurative service line when you need something done for you by that untipped/undertipped person henceforth into the future.

Have no fear. I've scoped this whole holiday tipping situation out for you. As with the previous UL articles on year-round tipping protocol, I've done my research, consulted numerous guides, and interviewed service providers to determine the norms for this 2009 holiday tipping season. Here we go:

Around Your Home or Apartment


How Much


Housekeeper 1 week's pay For your regular housekeeper, a cash gratuity equal to a week's pay is the standard. An additional small purchased gift is optional. On the other hand, if you have a cleaning service that sends different people to work in your home or apartment, no tip is necessary.
Trash Collectors $10 to $30 each If you don't see the people who pick up your trash, you can tape an envelope on the can where they'll spot it. Some municipalities prohibit tipping, but I can assure you that your gratuity will not be turned away if given discreetly. On the other hand, if your "trash collector" is the driver of a truck with a mechanical pick-up arm, no tip is necessary.
Gardener $20 to $50 total Alternately, an amount equal to one summer week's normal pay or service fee. (Snow removal people are normally not tipped.)
Pool Cleaners Tip equal to one cleaning If you have a regular pool cleaning crew, a total cash tip equal to the charge for one summer service can be distributed among them. If different employees come each time during the season, no tip is necessary.
Building Super $20 to $200 or more The upper end of this wide range is appropriate if: (1) you don't tip your super much during the year, (2) he does a lot for you, or (3) you live in a big city.
Doorman $10 to $100 each The more doormen your building employs, the smaller your tip for each one can be. It doesn't have to be equal among them however. Give more to the doormen you see more frequently, or those who do more for you. Some folks also give a bottle of wine or spirits in addition to the cash.
Elevator Operators $15 to $50 each Same advice as above for doormen. You should also check to see if your building has a pooled fund for all employees. That makes life simpler.
Handyman $15 to $40 Amount depends upon how much work you've had him do for you (or expect to in the future).
Parking Attendants $10 to $20 each I'm referring here to the folks who park your car on a monthly basis at your apartment or workplace.

Personal Services


How Much


Baby Sitter 1 or 2 night's pay Applies to your regular sitter. A small gift from your children in addition is a nice gesture.
Full-time Nanny 1 to 4 week's pay The longer your nanny has been with you the greater the expected holiday gratuity. Some people give an amount equal to one week's pay per year of service, up to a maximum of four. Others cap it at two week's pay. A small gift from your children will also be greatly appreciated
Au Pair 1 to 2 week's pay One week's pay is typical. An additional token gift from your children is appropriate.
Dog Walker 1 week's pay Some people give a gift of this approximate value instead of a cash gratuity to their walker.
Pet Groomer Tip equal to one grooming You will find this guideline appropriate for other assorted personal service people.
Personal Trainer Tip equal to one session Also applies to your regular yoga instructor, massage therapist, etc. Especially if they come to your home for the sessions. Can be given in cash or as a gift of equivalent value.
Hair Stylist Tip equal to one visit Also applies to your regular manicurist or barber. Can be cash or a gift of equivalent worth.



How Much


Letter Carrier Noncash gift under $20 The USPS prohibits letter carriers from accepting cash or cash-equivalent gratuities. While nothing is expected, if you have a friendly relationship with your carrier, by all means give him or her a small gift. A nice idea would be a gift card from a coffee shop along the route. Another idea is a set of Yaktrax to prevent falls on ice.
UPS Driver Nothing to $50 UPS doesn't restrict its drivers from accepting cash or gifts, but most don't expect anything. It depends upon your personal relationship with the driver and how often your receive or send packages.
Fedex Driver Noncash gift under $75 Fedex allows its drivers to accept only noncash gratuities
Newspaper Delivery $25 to $50 The suggested amount is for daily delivery. If weekend-only, then about $10 is appropriate. Some folks give a gratuity equal to one month's subscription cost.
Dry Cleaner $10 This applies to assorted delivery people you deal with on a regular basis. Nothing is expected but a small gratuity is appreciated. Some businesses have "no tipping" policies but they're rarely enforced.



How Much


Day Care Staff $25 to $75 total Split among the staff. An additional small gift from your children is appropriate and appreciated.
Teacher $20 to $50 noncash gift This is a bit tricky. Most people avoid giving their child's teacher a cash gratuity lest it be interpreted as a bribe. Middle school and high school teachers are normally not given anything from a parent. The value range applies to nursery through primary school teachers who are with your kid all day. It's often best to pool your gratuity with that of other parents. It's very appropriate to buy something that can be used in the classroom.
Coach Noncash gift up to $25 in value Applies to any after-school or activity instructor. Check with the school first to make sure gifts are not prohibited.
Tutor Small gift from child Also applies to private music teachers, ballet instructors, etc. A token gift from your kid is fine.
Personal Assistant $50 to $100 Avoid "personal" gifts like perfume or clothing. Also avoid "practical" gifts. Good gift ideas are hard-to-get tickets to a special event or concert, a gift certificate for a fine restaurant, or a gift card from a favorite store.
Country Club Staff Approximately $50 each Most clubs have a no-tipping policy. Feel free to ignore it. Give a crisp fifty to the people who regularly serve you at your club: golf pro, locker room attendant, head server in dining room, etc.
Nursing Home Staff Noncash gift Most nursing homes discourage cash gratuities. A better choice is an edible gift that can be shared among the staff.
Personal Caregiver Small noncash gift Some home health care agencies prohibit tipping. You should respect this policy.
School Bus Driver $10 to $20 Most appropriate for preschool and elementary school bus drivers. Secondary school drivers are rarely tipped.

Who Doesn't Get Tipped?

Under normal circumstances, the following people don't expect or receive holiday gratuities:

  • Accountants
  • Attorneys
  • Auto mechanics
  • Contractors and remodelers
  • Doctors
  • Electricians and plumbers
  • Electrologists
  • Financial planners
  • Graphic designers
  • Interior designers
  • Nurses or medical technicians
  • Painters
  • Physical therapists
  • Travel agents
  • Window washers

However, feel free to give them gifts if you want.

The Survey Says

Consumer Reports magazine surveyed its readership with regard to their tipping behavior. I'll list some of the findings, but you should take them with a grain of salt. CU is a quality organization but readers of the magazine tend to be the type of folks who will spend 3 hours choosing the right toaster. They are also older and perhaps more frugal than the typical Urbach Letter reader. You will see from the listing below that many of the service providers I've listed earlier are getting stiffed. For example, only 8% of survey responders gave any tip at all to their garbage collector. The survey, taken after the 2008 holiday season, also reported that many respondents cut their tip amounts greatly last year and only 6% plan to give more this year.

Gave Tip or Gift
Total Value (median)
Cleaning Person
Newspaper Delivery
Pet-Care Provider
Mail Carrier
Garbage Collector
Multiple Responses Allowed

Some Additional Notes About Holiday Tipping

1. In general, you should think about tipping the "non-tradesmen" service people who make a regular appearance at your home and those who provide "non-professional" personal service to you somewhere (bearing in mind the exception list above).

2. Don't just shove cash at people. That's rather crude. At a minimum, it should be enclosed in an envelope. Preferably a card of some sort.

3. Always write a short note expressing thanks and appreciation and/or good wishes of the season. It doesn't have to be more than two or three sentences.

4. You don't tip your friends. You give them gifts.

5. The guidelines presented here are for the United States. Other countries have different norms.

6. If money is tight, you don't have to give cash gratuities. However, you should not ignore the people who've been serving you all year long. Spend a little time writing a somewhat longer note of appreciation. Times have been tough for everyone and your expression of thankfulness is especially important, even if you can't be as generous as you'd like to be.

7. Distribute your gratuities/gifts during the month of December. Definitely before Christmas day.

8. Gift cards are a mixed blessing. For some recipients (especially semi-professionals), receiving a gift card is not as crass as getting raw cash, but there are drawbacks. Bank-issued cards can have fees deducted after a period of time, and retail store cards are at risk of being rendered worthless if the store closes.

More on Gratuities

By the way, if you missed my 3-part tipping guide which ran earlier this year, here are some catch up links to the articles in the Urbach Letter archive:

Part 1 - Out on the town. (April 2009)

Part 2 - Hotel, travel, and resort. (May 2009)

Part 3 - Deliveries, home services, and personal services. (June 2009)


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(c) Copyright 2002-2010 Victor Urbach
This article
may be reprinted with permission and attribution