What Is An Appropriate Holiday Tip To Give?

Thanksgiving is behind us and now it is on to the mad holiday dash that will include office Christmas parties, trips to the local mall, and lots of gift wrapping behind closed doors.   We often struggle during the month of December on determining who we should be tipping and what is the appropriate level to tip different people in our lives?   My mother was a fifth grade school teacher for her entire career.  We used to laugh during the last week of school every year before Christmas when Mom brought home a box of gifts filled with “love a teacher” mugs, Jean Nate cologne fresh from CVS, and some horribly made hand crafted gifts.    How things have changed in the world we live in today as school classes band parents together to get some large gift card for teachers.   So who should you tip and what is an appropriate amount so you don’t come off as a cheapskate?

A tip, or gratuity, is a small amount of money given voluntarily as a token of appreciation for a service rendered. We tip our servers as a way of thanking them for good service. We might also leave a very low tip, or no tip at all, as a signal that the service was substandard (www.howstuffworks.com). Remember, that the tip you are giving at this time of year is a measure of how much you valued the service you got during the year and for some people it is money you give so you can reassure yourself that a particular service vendor will take better care of you in the upcoming year.  Cash is always the best way to do this unless you know your vendor through a close or personal relationship.   Although gift cards are easily accessible today, nobody wants to end up with 10 more trips to the store for $15 shopping sprees.   So here are ten different people you may have to give to during the season and a range on what would be appropriate to give them.

  • Postal Worker – They can’t receive more than $20 anyways, so just stick to $20 cash.  If you really want do them a favor, use the post office more than you do today as pretty soon you could see mail being delivered every other day.
  • Housekeeper – Give ½ of the cost of one cleaning.   If your housekeeper charges $200 per visit, then give them $100.    There is nothing they want less than a gift card to Starbuck’s and some candy canes.
  • Hairdresser – Give them the cost of one normal haircut.    If you get your hair colored, etc., you don’t have to give the entire value of your overall hair salon experience, just the cost of one haircut.  If you go to a place like Super Cuts or Great Clips, make sure to give them at least one decent CD to play so the music isn’t so bad next time you go.
  • Newspaper Deliverer – Give them $20.   Same as a mail carrier especially if you get it delivered daily.  Give $10 if it is a weekend only delivery.
  • Trash Services – Sanitation engineer or garbage collectors have a really difficult job moving all kinds of stuff during the course of the year.   If you want to make sure they take care of those difficult to move items you leave during the year then leave each worker a decent tip.  $25 to $50 is a good idea.
  • Teacher – It’s best in today’s day and age to figure out what the school recommends or if the class is going to do one large gift altogether.  It shouldn’t be more than $20 out of your pocket.
  • UPS/FedEx – They are discourage from taking gifts, but I’m sure they wouldn’t turn down something you give them especially when shorts season turns into pants and jacket season.   Somewhere in the nature of $15 to $25 would be appropriate.
  • Landscaper – The monthly bill you pay is tip enough for them.    Services like these and your electrician, heating and air conditioning, and other home services might allow for you to give a small $5 gift if you see it in your heart.  Otherwise, you generally don’t need to tip these businesses as they charge you handsomely for their services.
  • Office Staff – There is no requirement to provide a holiday bonus or tip for working within your company.    Those days have come and gone and it’s recommended your office works out some type of Secret Santa so you don’t have to feel like you left someone out of the mix.
  • Nanny –  If you have a nanny, it is recommended to give 1 weeks pay as a holiday gift.  It is your kids we are talking about . . . right?   You certainly can make your call about what happens at your house when you are gone for the day.  The same may be true for the people within the day care center.   This one requires some thought.

It’s certainly up to you whether you want to write a handwritten note with each of these gifts.   If you have developed a relationship with one of these service providers, then by all means write something from the heart.  Otherwise, you may want to keep it generic with a short note of thanks.    The tipping standard today has changes with stores having jars of dollars and change in front of you and tips becoming more of an expectation rather than a real gratuity.   However, most of the people in these industries rely on tips as part of their overall pay.  If you feel the service you have received has been great during the year, than get out your best Ho! Ho! Ho! And reward those that have done a great job!

Written by:

Ted Jenkin, CFP®, AAMS®, AWMA®, CRPC®, CMFC®, CRPS®

Co-CEO and Founder of oXYGen Financial, Inc – The Leaders in Gen X & Y Financial Advice and Services

Ted Jenkin  is one of the foremost knowledgeable professionals in giving financial advice to the X and Y Generation.

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About the author  ⁄ Ted Jenkin @ Your Smart Money Moves

Ted Jenkin @ Your Smart Money Moves


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  • November 30, 2012

    Great tips on when it’s appropriate to tip and what amount to do. For me, it isn’t so much, but if I should? For example, I wrote about whether I should tip the mailman: http://thecollegeinvestor.com/651/holiday-tipping-guidelines/ even if they don’t really do anything above and beyond for me?

  • December 2, 2012

    I am totally against tipping most of the people on your list….especially the mailman. I don’t mind tipping people whose income is primarily derived from it, but many of these people on the list are very well paid, in a union, and rarely interact with me. I do like giving holiday tips to those who I have specifically hired like my guitar instructor and maid.

  • December 3, 2012

    I agree with Hank a little on this one.

    A server makes most of their money based on their tips. Some of these other people make pretty good money for what they do and I hardly ever see them to even give them any cash.

    The maid is an exception is you see them do the work and enjoy the benefits of a clean house and you know who cleaned it. The garbage man could be a mixture of different people, so me tipping the guy I happen to see one day could never do that route again.

    But it’s always nice to give just because. People will appreciate it and hopefully reciprocate to others and create a nice chain of giving – that sounds supper sappy!

    I also got a good chuckle from the fantastic sams one. I used to get my haircut there as a kid. It’s too generic for me now. Either way, a good read!


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