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Tipping Tips for Tight Times

Americans’ biggest tips last holiday season, a median of $50, went to housecleaners, who also were the most often tipped of the service providers covered in our nationally representative survey. Sixty-four percent of Americans who used housecleaners gave them money or a gift. Least likely to be tipped: garbage collectors.

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We looked at the numbers since we began this survey, when we asked about the 2005 holiday season, and found a decline in tipping in several categories in 2008, most likely due to the onset of the economic crisis. Overall, however, there has been little change year to year in the percentage of Americans who have tipped the various service providers.

Slightly more than half of respondents didn’t tip at least one of the providers whose services they used, and 39 percent didn’t tip any of those on our list. Some non-tippers said they reward only exceptional service, and about one-fourth said they don’t tip at any time, period.

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Be sure to check the gift-giving policy at a child’s school before giving teachers a present. And be aware that the U.S. Postal Service restricts the gifts that mail carriers can accept. Presents worth up to $20 are fine, but carriers can’t accept cash.

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The top reason that survey respondents skipped tipping: a tight budget. But as Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of etiquette maven Emily Post, says, money isn’t everything. “We like to say that holiday tipping is really holiday thanking,” he points out. “Words mean a lot, so you can say something even if you’re not a crafty person or a baking person. A genuine and thoughtful thank-you goes a long way.”

Conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in January 2012 about the December 2011 holiday season. Note: Some respondents gave cash and a gift.