As the holiday season approaches, it is only natural that the subject of tipping come up. Indeed, this time of year is one in which we often say “thank you” to those who provide us with various services throughout the year. And nothing says “thank you” like a little extra cash.

When you start to think of people who you see on a regular basis, providing you with services, for some of us it becomes clear pretty quickly that we have a lot of holiday tipping to do. Look around at your lifestyle. Do you see a regular hairdresser? Do you receive a newspaper every day? Do you realize that your mail carrier comes quite regularly? There are probably several people that make your life a little more pleasant and convenient. It is worth it to consider tipping these folks to show your appreciation.

How Much Should You Tip?

One of the best places to go if you want information on etiquette is The Emily Post Institute. One thing that struck me is that a lot of the tipping guidelines are basically a unit of pay. This means that if the person that regularly cuts my hair charges $30, I would offer a holiday tip of $30. This appears to be the rule for housekeepers and other service providers. Many housekeepers are paid weekly, so a holiday tip should be a week’s pay. Some service providers, though, are paid monthly. As a result, it may be too difficult to pay them so large a tip. For monthly service providers, half a unit of pay could be considered appropriate. For a regular teen babysitter, it might be appropriate to provide a tip equal to one night’s worth of work. A nanny, though, usually requires a bigger tip.

Other service providers may not warrant a “unit of pay” tip. For newspaper carriers, it is acceptable to provide a holiday tip of around $25 or $30. Many people recognize their garbage collectors, and a tip of between $10 and $30 is probably acceptable. Building maintenance people in apartments might also appreciate a holiday tip.

It is especially important to understand the rules governing mail carriers. While a business might tip its regular UPS or FedEx deliverer, and I will probably tip my Schwan’s Home Delivery guy, rules are different for the U.S. Postal Service. You cannot give letter carriers money. Not at all. You can, however, offer small gifts. The USPS offers gift guidelines for mail carriers that include:

  • Snacks, beverages that are not part of a meal.
  • Token items with little intrinsic value (less than $20).
  • Perishable items like cookies and flowers, with a value of less than $20.

What If You Can’t Afford To Tip?

Economic times are still tough for some people, and holiday tipping can be an economic difficulty. Personally, I think that if you can’t afford to tip, perhaps you should be rethinking your use of certain unnecessary services. If you can’t afford to tip the housekeeper a week’s worth of pay, should you be paying for regular cleaning services in the first place?

At any rate, if you can’t afford to give out cash to those who provide you with services, you can still be thoughtful. Homemade gifts and baked goods are often nice gestures. You can include a handwritten card with a holiday greeting and a thank you in order to express your gratitude.

What do you do when it comes to holiday tipping?