Holiday tipping: Don’t forget those who help your family function

Holiday tipping tips: A tchotchke made by your kids is not a tip. Cold cash, in a nice warm note, is something many in the service industry depend on – from your day care worker to your dog groomer.

Melanie Stetson Freeman
With holiday tipping, etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore says it's important to remember those that make your life easier such as day care instructors. Here, children eat lunch at the Kiddie Korner day care center in New Haven, Conn.

We know you made out your holiday shopping list in October, including everyone from your sister-in-law to the Secret Santa gift for work.

But we’re pretty sure you’re forgetting someone. Remember the newspaper delivery person? And your child’s day care teacher? And your dog groomer? You didn’t grab a sweater for them at Target, did you?

Holiday tipping season is upon us, a potentially complicated social negotiation that can take the cheer right out of the season. It’s usually a time to show appreciation for people who give you services all year long – but exactly whom to give to and how much to give can add extra weight to the simple idea of being thoughful. How little can you give without offending? How much to can you give seeming overly generous? Who is it imperative to remember? And if your holiday resources are shrinking, who can you – gulp – take off the tipping list?

Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of etiquetteexpert.com and author of "Poised for Success," says to focus on those who make your life run more smoothly from day to day such as day care instructors, hair stylists, those who work to take care of your pet and exercise class teachers.

“These are the people that make your life easier,” Ms. Whitmore says.

She says to plan ahead of time to make sure you’re not forgetting anyone who you want to make sure to thank. Doing so can also help you ensure you’re not going beyond your budget.

“You have to pick,” Whitmore sAYS. “I make a priority list ahead of time.”

For the teachers who watch over your little ones while you’re at work, Whitmore saYS some parents may be inclined to have children make something or pick out a gift at the mall, but this may come with pitfalls. She said she wrote an article once in which she instructed parents to have kids create the gifts and got less-than-happy responses.

“Two teachers wrote me back, very upset, saying 'We have too many tchotchkes, we'd rather have cash,’” Whitmore remembered.

You can always work with the other parents in the group to write out a card and pool funds for a gift – Whitmore recommends between $50 and $75 altogether. If it’s just you doing the giving and you feel uncomfortable about handing over a wad of cash, try a gift card to a local restaurant or spa.

And if you’re going to the hairstylist on the corner to get the kids looking groomed for Christmas dinner, add a little extra to that tip, especially if you’re a regular customer there. Whitmore, the daughter of a hairdresser, says tipping 20 percent is always essential, but more is best during the holiday season. 

“These people also appreciate cash,” she said. “They rely on their tips to pay their bills.” 

For a pet groomer or dog walker, it’s also good to thank them for looking after your furry friend with such care. The Emily Post Institute suggests the price of a session as a tip for groomers, or a present, and the price of one week’s work, or a gift, for walkers.

For money-strapped parents, Whitmore says these are the priority people to focus on. But if you’re able, workers in your life such as the newspaper delivery person or the mail person also appreciate little extras. But be careful with postal workers: per US Postal Service rules, you can’t give workers money, and gifts have to be worth $20 or less. Something small, like cookies, is always appreciated, says Whitmore.

“I usually greet them or leave the gift in the mailbox,” she says of delivering items.

Looking to thank others in your life? If a nurse or health care professional often visits your elderly parent and you’ve formed a relationship with them, a gift is certainly a nice idea – just check with their company to make sure it’s allowed. The Emily Post Institute recommends a present from you, not cash, if it is. A small gift or cash, between $10 and $30, is good for the person who delivers your newspaper every day, says the Institute.

And if you’re a city dweller and want to thank those who handle emergencies and keep you safe in your apartment, try cash or a gift for your superintendent (the Emily Post Institute recommends between $20 and $80) and your doorman (between $15 and $80).

Overall, it’s about not going beyond your budget and honoring those who help you all year long, says Whitmore.

“The people who take care of you and your family should be at the top of your list,” she says.

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