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Holiday Tipping Guide

Farnoosh Torabi

Amidst the holiday frenzy, it’s important to remember to thank those who helped make our lives easier and better this year by offering tips. But exactly who to tip and how much? Tipping is always a topic of debate, so for some guidance I interviewed Real Simple’s Modern Etiquette Columnist, Michelle Slatella, for her take on proper tipping etiquette.
Be Realistic
“We'd like to give everyone a tip, but we need to be realistic,” says Slatella.  “The first thing you have to do is not exceed your budget.” Figure out how much you can put into the pot, go down the list and prioritize starting with the service people in your life that you really appreciate who don’t normally make a very high salary, she continues.  After all, for many of these individuals, holiday tips comprise a large percentage of their annual salaries. Slatella suggests the following tips:

  • Your building superintendent: 20 to $100 each. How much you tip depends partly on how long the employee’s been working there and how busy his or her shift is (daytime doormen in some buildings experience the highest volume of packages and resident issues).
  • Your newspaper carrier: $10 to $30
  • Your gardener: $20 to $50
  • Your house cleaner: up to one week’s pay or if your house cleaner comes once a month, the cost of one cleaning visit
  • Dog walker and hair stylist: cost of one typical visit

Consider Combination Gifts and Tips For Some
Some individuals may fall into a “crossover category,” says Slatella, in which case you may want to give them a small gift, in addition to a tip, depending on the closeness and longevity of your relationship.  But there’s no need to go overboard and spend a lot on presents. For example, for a babysitter or nanny whom you adore who’s been watching your children for many years, it may be appropriate to give him or her a generous tip and have your kids make something special for her.  Tips for nannies tend to run anywhere from one to two week’s pay, while babysitters may earn a tip in the amount of an average visit.
Keep Track
It’s important to note how much you’ve tipped certain people in the past, so as to avoid hurting feelings by tipping someone less than previously. Of course, if you lost your job or are experiencing major financial setbacks, you get a pass, but it may be helpful to briefly explain so in a card accompanying your smaller-than-usual tip. Another rule of thumb: If this is your first year offering a tip to someone, make sure it’s an amount you can at least match in the following year. “You’re sort of setting a precedent,” says Slatella.
When No Tip is OK
Can you get away without tipping, say, your dentist or Pilates instructor? The answer is yes, says Slatella. The fact is, some people -- while you totally appreciate them -- may already earn a great salary without your tip. Your tip may not be as much of a financial need to them, as it may be with those in other professions.  Of course, you won’t be shunned for offering a tip, but if you just can’t spare it, simply thank them with a hand-written holiday card or something delicious and homemade. In these cases, it’s the thought that really counts.
What are some of your tipping do’s and don'ts? Send me your thoughts on Twitter @farnoosh.