Holiday Tipping

Did you know it’s illegal to tip your postman with money? I didn’t. You actually can only tip them with an item worth less than $20. By law, if it looks to be worth more (a fruit basket, for example) they must share it with the whole branch. Did you know that it’s suggested that you tip your housekeeper the cost of one house cleaning as a holiday tip? How about for teachers? On this one, I could stand on a soapbox and say “give more.”

Today, we delve into the oh-so-dicey topic of holiday tipping.

StyleBlueprint Thank You Dec 2013

Tipping is simply a way of expressing gratitude.

Emily Post is the gold standard for etiquette. We have thus referenced her advice today. Some of you will be shocked.

Things to consider before we get into specifics. (This is paraphrased. For Emily Post’s word-for-word advice, click here):

  • You shouldn’t feel obligated to go beyond your personal budget.
  • Money tight? Consider homemade gifts. Not crafty in the least? Time spent writing a heartfelt thankful note is always a good route.
  • Always include a handwritten note of appreciation. 2-3 sentences is plenty.
  • You’re a regular tipper? If you tip at the time of service, you may give a more modest holiday thank you. You may also choose to give a small gift instead.
  • How often and of what quality is the service you receive?
  • Consider your relationship with the provider.
  • Where do you live? Tipping averages tend to be higher in larger cities. (So, what the TODAY show is telling you may be applicable in NYC, but not in Waynesville, NC.)
  • How long has the person been providing you this service? A few times? Years? Decades?
  • When in doubt, ask: call management and ask what is typical of other customers.
  • Common sense and holiday spirit are always the best guide to holiday tipping.
  • Don’t tip out of fear that you won’t receive expected/good service the coming year. If you ever think you’re receiving sub-par service for an ill-received holiday tip, consider changing companies or speaking with the owner/manager.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s continue with some specifics from Emily Post. This chart is directly from Emily Post’s website, to be used as a reference and conversation starter. Again, remember that this is ONLY a guide! These are not steadfast rules. Also, for an explanation of the differences between holiday gifting and tipping, from Emily Post, click here.

Service Provider Options Suggested Amount or Gift
Au pair or live-in nanny Cash or consider a gift. This person works closely with your family and you probably know them well. One week’s pay and a gift from your child(ren).
Regular babysitter Cash One evening’s pay and a small gift from your child(ren).
Day care provider Cash or a gift for each staff member who works with your child(ren). A gift from you or $25-$70 for each staff member and a small gift from your child(ren).
Live-in help (nanny, cook, butler, housekeeper) Cash and a personal gift One week to one month of pay as a cash tip, plus a gift from you.
Private nurse Gift A thoughtful gift from you.
Home health employees Check with agency first about gifts or tipping policies. If there is a no gifts/tipping policy, consider a donation to the agency. A thoughtful gift from you. (If gift-giving is not against company policy.)
Housekeeper/Cleaner Cash and/or a gift Up to the amount of one week’s pay and/or a small gift.
Nursing home employees A gift (not cash). Check company policy first. A gift that could be shared by the staff (flowers or food items).
Barber Cash or gift Cost of one haircut or a gift.
Beauty salon staff Cash or gift depending on whether you tip well after each service. The cost of one salon visit  divided for each staff member who works with you. Give individual cards or a small gift each for those who work on you.
Personal trainer Cash or gift Up to the cost of one session or a gift.
Massage therapist Cash or gift Up to the cost of one session or a gift.
Pet groomer Cash or gift (if the same person grooms your pet all year). Up to the cost of one session or a gift.
Dog walker Cash or gift Up to one week’s pay or a gift.
Personal caregiver Cash or gift Between one week to one month’s salary or a gift.
Pool cleaner Cash or gift The cost of one cleaning to be split among the crew.
Garage attendants Cash or small gift $10-30 or a small gift
Newspaper delivery person Cash or small gift $10-30 or a small gift
Mail carrier Small gift only Please see below for a detailed description of the United States Postal Service’s gift regulations.*
Package deliverer Small gift only, no cash. (Only if you receive regular deliveries.) Small gift in the $20 range. Most delivery companies discourage or prohibit cash gifts.
Superintendent Cash or gift $20-80 or a gift


Cash or gift $15-80. $15 or more each for multiple doormen, or a gift.

Elevator operator

Cash or gift $15-40 each


Cash or gift $15 to $40

Trash/Recycling collectors

Cash or gift (for private) check city regulations if it is a municipal service. $10-30 each
Yard/Garden worker Cash or gift $20-50 each

What is not included on this list is teachers and various coaches and instructors.

For teachers, I found a Consumer’s Report survey that listed the average gift (cash, gift card, actual gift) value of $20. In reality, there is such a wide difference here because: 1) Your child may have more than one teacher. 2) You may have lots of kids and that will factor into how much you are able to give. 3) You may be especially fond or not so fond of your child’s teacher. For suggestions, I would boldly suggest either a gift card or something that can be used, not saved. Food, movie theater tickets, a gift card to a restaurant. Of course, when your child is insistent about the coffee mug or Christmas ornament, that is super sweet, so add that in addition to the consumable good!

Instructors and Coaches: for teams, a group gift is great and provides more ‘bang’ than lots of individual gifts. If there is someone who can pool the money and come up with an idea, I’ve never seen any parent begrudge another parent for taking charge here. For dance instructors, music instructors, tutors and more, it’s hard. A nice consumable gift (food) or gift card is usually perfect and can keep you on budget.

Lastly, I wanted to showcase one thing my family started last year to give thanks to all the kind servers at restaurants who wait on us throughout the year. This may only effect one server each year, but it’s such an unexpected surprise and it’s a complete joy for us to do. We tip $100 at some point during the month of December. Our kids are always wondering if THIS is the night. We talk about it; we’re giddy over the prospect of surprising someone with $100. The Ben Franklin sits in our wallet and waits. Last year (and most likely again this year) we dropped it at Tequilla’s, a little Mexican restaurant we end up at a couple times a month. It’s a low-dollar restaurant, so the $100 tip may double (or more) that server’s tips that night. In keeping with the sentiment that it’s more fun to give than to receive, this new holiday tradition of ours is totally that. This was my family’s favorite moment in December 2012. If this is within your family’s budget, leaving a completely unsuspecting server a $100 tip on a $60 check is a great way to embrace the joy of the season.

We hope this clears some holiday tipping confusion up. For most people, this chart will make you feel good about some things you are doing and a scrooge on other things (at least it does me!). Remember, it’s about what you can handle for your own budget, really. Point in case: I’m remembering the bullet points at the beginning “You’re a regular tipper? If you tip at the time of service, you may give a more modest holiday thank you” and “Always include a handwritten note of appreciation.”

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