Tips on Holiday Tipping: How Not to Go Broke
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The Fiscal Times
November 26, 2013

Before you buy that iPad Air or that new pair of Prada shoes, check the cookie jar.

Do you have enough tip money for all the service providers who make your life smoother, easier and safer throughout the year?

The list of people who expect holiday tips reads like the Yellow Pages: personal trainers, hair stylists, doormen, housekeepers, dog walkers, golf pros, tennis instructors, pool cleaners, plumbers, gardeners, school bus drivers, snow plow drivers and just about every other service person on the face of the earth who may have aided you in some way, shape or form no matter what the season or circumstance. 

Related:  ‘Tis the Season for Worrying About Finances

If you tip all of these people at the amount recommended by etiquette experts, you could go broke before you’re finished decorating the Christmas tree.

The good news is that you don't have to hock the family jewels to tip the people you care about most. It's a matter of priorities, choice and budget.

“I always tip my UPS man early in the season to make sure all my gifts arrive in one piece and on time,” says a New York City-based editor who shops almost entirely online. She considers it money well spent and tips him $50 a year.   

Another Manhattan worker, a technical producer, says tipping the superintendent of his building is a must at holiday time.   

It’s critical, of course, to know the rules about tipping for particular industries: The U.S. Postal Service, for example, forbids its mail carriers to accept cash gifts or other forms of currency – though small gifts in the under-$20 range are permissible, as are small and perishable food items. Both are likely to be heartily accepted.

Fed Ex employees may not accept cash gifts, though they can accept gifts of up to $25 in value.

UPS, for its part, gives it drivers leeway. The company’s “gifts and entertainment” section of its corporate code of ethics says that “solicitation of gifts is never appropriate… All gifts and entertainment, other than infrequent items of nominal value, must be disclosed and approved by the appropriate manager.” The company discourages but does not outright ban cash gifts from customers; drivers are advised to review policies and use discretion.  

Cash, of course, is not the only way to acknowledge important service providers at holiday time. Small personalized gifts or handmade goods or items can be entirely appropriate for au pairs or live-in nannies, daycare providers, private nurses, teachers, tutors, housekeepers and others, according to Emily Post.  

Here are a few suggested tip amounts and ideas from Kiplinger’s, which suggests the higher end dollar figures be reserved for those who truly deliver exceptional service:

  • Doorman:  $25-$100.
  • Newspaper delivery person: $10-30.
  • Trash and recycling collector: $10-30.
  • Building handyman: $15-50.
  • Dog walker: up to a week’s pay.
  • Massage therapist: cost of one visit.

One thing’s for sure: Many consumers wouldn’t dream of the holiday season without tipping the auto mechanic who saved their car, the vet who saved their dog – or the cleaning person who helped them save face during the holiday celebration that was supposed to be “just a few people coming over for a little bit.”  

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Managing Editor Maureen Mackey oversees scheduling and work flow and also writes and edits features and reports on a wide array of subjects. She spent more than 20 years as a senior book and features editor at Reader’s Digest.