Smart Buying

Who Not to Tip for the Holidays

The end of the year is a good time to thank all the people who help you manage your life, but you shouldn't always express your gratitude with cash.

With the New Year rapidly approaching, it's a good time to reflect on the past year and think about all the people who have helped you get through it—and how best to show them your appreciation. "The root of the word gratuity is gratitude," says Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of etiquette empress Emily Post and coauthor of the 18th edition of Emily Post's Etiquette. "An annual or holiday tip is an opportunity to really think about the people who are oftentimes the most important people in our lives."

 

Your hair stylist, babysitter and trash collectors, for example, have helped care for you, your kids and your home, respectively. (See our comprehensive list of people you should consider tipping for the holidays.) It'd be nice of you to thank them.

Emphasis on "it'd be nice." You should not feel required to tip for the holidays at all. "It's not an obligation," says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. "It depends on your budget. You really just want to tip the people that you really feel from the heart that you want to give to."

And whether you want to or not, there are plenty of people you should NOT even consider tipping for the holidays. As helpful as they might have been throughout the year, you should not hand out cash or valuable gifts to:

  • doctors
  • lawyers
  • accountants
  • financial advisers

Basically, no tips for financial pros of any kind—not even your favorite personal finance writer (but I appreciate your appreciation!).

These types of professionals typically earn a nice living without relying on or expecting any gratuities. They may even be insulted by such a gesture. "You're not going to give cash to these people; it would just not be appropriate," says Gottsman. "If you want to show them consideration for the holidays, certainly you can send, let's say, a tray of treats to the office."

You also want to skip tipping your children's teachers. As much as they do for your kids, offering them cash may be misconstrued as some kind of bribe --perhaps to boost your kids' grades or gain them more personal attention. The same might be said of tips for the school principal or coaches. "It's hard to say don't tip them because they oftentimes seem the most deserving," says Post Senning. "But it can create a potentially awkward situation if some kids in class are giving their teachers expensive gifts and other kids aren't."

Instead, Post Senning recommends giving deserving teachers a personal card, gift or treat—even better if it's something your child helped make. "It's a great way to teach kids the value and importance of thanking people without putting the teacher in an uncomfortable position."

And at your office, don't even think about tipping the boss. "You don't want to send any expensive gifts up the food chain," says Post Senning. In this situation, as well as for teachers, find out if you can get in on any group gifts.

If you're a supervisor, don't give cash to your staff, no matter how much you want to acknowledge their work. A deserved bonus from the company, of course, would be great and happily accepted, I'm sure. But a little extra straight from a supervisor would be awkward at best. Again, a small gift or sincere note would be a better move.

In general, be sure to check company policies before giving a tip or gift to anyone. Some organizations do not permit their workers to accept cash or extravagant presents. For example, the U.S. postal service prohibits employees from accepting money and limits gifts to a value of $20. "You don't want your giving to make somebody feel uncomfortable," says Gottsman. "When somebody says 'I really can't,' you have to accept that."

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