Holiday tipping do's and don't's

The issue of holiday tipping has left many folks wondering how big (or small) a tip to leave (or not leave) as part of the yearly ritual of playing Santa. By following a few simple guidelines, you can spread extra holiday cheer to the folks with whom you interact every day without going broke.

Athar Hussain/Reuters/File
A man counts one-hundred-dollar U.S. bills at a money changer in Karachi.

Do you tip your sanitation workers or mail carriers? How about the barista working the holiday shift? The issue of holiday tipping has left many folks wondering how big (or small) a tip to leave (or not leave) as part of the yearly ritual of playing Santa. To get a handle on holiday tipping etiquette, we talked to a few experts and found out that by following a few simple guidelines, you can spread extra holiday cheer to the folks with whom you interact every day without going broke.

DON'T: Tip Outside Your Budget

If you're smart enough to have a line item in your budget for the holiday gifts you buy, then you can also set aside a dollar amount that represents your total tipping pool. Michael Fazio, co-founder of Abigail Michaels Concierge and author of Concierge Confidential says, "Ask yourself if you have $500 or $5,000, and work backward from there."

DO: Create a Tipping Tier

During the course of the year, different service professionals receive different tip percentages. But for holiday gifts, Fazio suggests reflecting on whether some service professionals deserve a little more than others. He recommends weighing the value of workers who come through for you when it really matters, like a maitre d' at a swank restaurant who always gets you a choice table for business dinners. In such cases a holiday tip of $250 is not out of the question, Fazio says.

DO: Tip Domestic Employees a Week's Salary

If you have a housekeeper, babysitter, or nanny, then Holona Ochs of Lehigh University says a week's salary makes for a good benchmark. And she should know: She interviewed more than 400 tip-earners in 50 categories to get their views on the subject in her book Gratuity: A Contextual Understanding of Tipping Norms from the Perspective of Tipped Employees. If someone works for you every other week, feel free to cut the amount in half. Either way, consider the tip an investment, as a little holiday bonus reinforces loyalty and a desire to do a good job long after December is history.

DO: Tip as a Means of Insurance

Ochs and Fazio agree that tipping out of holiday guilt is a bad move. Why tip if you're not rewarding someone for exemplary service? But they agree that tipping to insure your valuables, while it sounds similar, is actually smart. Let's say someone parks your car regularly at a garage. If so, consider tipping them at the holidays. This increases the likelihood they'll take care of your car (or at least be gentle with it) all year round. If you're stumped on the amount, ask your neighbors or coworkers what they tip the parking attendant; $25 will likely be seen as generous. If you own a really pimped out ride, up the ante even more.

DO: Tip Service Workers You Interact with At Least $20

At the holidays (and all year-round) it's important to show gratitude to the people who make your day brighter and your life easier: a favorite coffee shop barista or the owner of the dry cleaners are good examples. Here, Fazio favors a $20 or $25 tip for everyone that falls into that category, with one small caveat. If you live in a building with a doorman, try to find out what your neighbors tip so as not to come in too low. If you're still not sure, give him a gift you know he'll appreciate based on anything you've leaned about his tastes through the year.

DON'T: Overtip Your Mail Carrier or Child's Teacher

You may love your regular postal worker, but don't overtip him! The U.S. government's 20/50 rule limits single gifts to federal employees to $20 and total gifts in a calendar year to $50. And while you may want to tip a schoolteacher, it's best to not give cash. An envelope with a nice thank-you note and money can often come off as a bribe on behalf of your kid. It's much better form to pool with classroom parents to get him or her a gift.

The final word on holiday tipping goes hand-in-hand with holiday giving. Keep in mind that while both are nice, they're two very different things. If you want to merely give money away think about donating to the Salvation Army or a local soup kitchen, for example. A holiday tip is not about giving money away; it's about thanking someone for a job well done and wishing them a happy December.

Lou Carlozo is a writer for, where this article first appeared:

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