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6 Things You Must Know About Holiday Tipping

Express your gratitude to the people who help you all year.

1. Make a cheat sheet.

Begin with those who work most closely with you or your family. For many people you see regularly—a weekend babysitter, cleaning person, hairstylist, massage therapist or personal trainer, for example—the cost of one session or visit is a good benchmark. About a week’s pay and perhaps a small gift from your child is appropriate for a nanny. The newspaper deliverer and trash and recycling collectors (if they are allowed to accept tips) should get about $10 to $30 each. If you live in a building with a doorman, tip him at least $15. Pair your tip with a handwritten note that specifies what you appreciate about the person and her services, says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.

 

2. Exercise discretion.

If someone has worked with you for several years or has provided outstanding service, you may bump up the amount. Likewise, you could cut it for someone you tip throughout the year or whose services haven’t been outstanding. Where you live also makes a difference: Tips in big cities tend to be higher than in rural areas. “When in doubt, ask around,” says Peggy Post, director of the Emily Post Institute. But if a neighbor tells you that she’s tipping her handyman twice as much as you can afford, you don’t have to match it.

3. Keep it timely.

Try to tip before the holidays are over, says Gottsman. Tipping early in the season—say, near Thanksgiving—gives your recipients a chance to use the money for gifts or other expenses that come up at the end of the year. Delivering the tip in person is ideal, but for hard-to-catch people, such as your newspaper carrier, you may be able to track down an address where you can mail a card and a check (some may leave you a preaddressed envelope). You could also leave a note at your door asking when you might be able to see him.

4. Money isn’t everything.

If you want to give a more personal (or less expensive) gift, homemade crafts or food, chocolates, and wine are go-to options (but watch for dietary restrictions). Monogrammed handkerchiefs or notepads show that you put some time and thought into your gift. A latte drinker might love a gift card to her favorite coffee shop. If tips or gifts don’t fit into your budget, write thank-you notes. Post suggests sending a letter to, say, your cleaning person’s supervisor commending her work. “A gift or a tip is not an obligation,” says Gottsman. “It’s a gesture of kindness and cheer during the holidays.”

5. Not everyone takes tips.

Don’t offer money to professionals such as accountants, lawyers and doctors, although a gift may be welcome. Postal carriers aren't allowed to take cash or cash equivalents, such as checks or gift cards that can be exchanged for cash. You may, however, offer a gift worth less than $20. Employers of workers such as nursing-home attendants and trash collectors may prohibit employees from accepting tips or gifts. Check the company’s policy.

6. It’s good to receive.

Giving a year-end tip or gift is primarily a way to say thank-you. But being generous can benefit you, too. Your hairdresser would never intentionally botch your dye job if you skip a holiday tip, but she might be more inclined to squeeze you in at the last minute if you treat her well. “We work better when we know someone appreciates us,” says Gottsman.

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