The ultimate guide to holiday tipping

Who deserves a little extra and how much should you give? Here's some advice.

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Does holiday tipping make you tense? Join the club. Last year 11 percent of Americans admitted in a Consumer Reports survey that they dreaded handing out year-end gratuities.

But with a few simple guidelines and a slight shift in perspective, you can manage this situation with grace.

Think Honestly About What You Can Afford

“Holiday tipping is really holiday thanking,” says manners maven Daniel Post Senning, co-author of “Emily Post’s Etiquette,” 19th edition. “The principles of good etiquette are consideration, respect and honesty, and part of that honesty is honesty with yourself about what you can afford.”

What you can afford depends on how many people you plan to thank. Start with people who help you care for yourself, your family and your home. That might include your barber or hairstylist, massage therapist, housecleaner, lawn and garden workers, babysitter and dog walker.

The amount you give each person should vary. As a general rule, tip an occasional service provider approximately the cost of one session. And aim to give each person who helps around your home or takes care of your family members about a week’s pay. Simply allow for “about the same amount as you’d spend on these expenses in an average month,” Senning says.

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Aim For This Tip Amount

  • Babysitter: One evening’s pay plus gift from kid(s)
  • Barber: Cost of one visit or gift of equal value
  • Day care worker: $25-$70 each plus small gift from kid(s)
  • Dog walker: Cash gift equal to one day (or one week) of service
  • Doorman: $20-$100 each (all the same amount)
  • Hairstylist: Cost of one session or gift of equal value
  • Housekeeper/cleaner: At least one week’s pay
  • Massage therapist: Cost of one session or gift of equal value
  • Nanny: At least one week’s pay plus gift from kid(s)
  • Personal trainer:  Cost of one session or gift of equal value
  • Pet groomer: Cash gift equal to the cost of one session
  • Postal worker: Small gift or gift card worth less than $20
  • Yard/garden workers: $20-$50 each

Cash is ideal for holiday gratuities, but prepaid gift cards also work. “It’s a way to personalize it, if you know somebody likes a certain thing,” Senning says. In the case of your mail carrier, though, steer clear of greenbacks; U.S. Postal Service regulations forbid employees from accepting cash tips and specify that gifts should cost no more than $20.

For the professionals in your life, nonmonetary gifts are best. Giving your child’s teacher a present instead of cash will help you avoid any perception of trying to curry favor. For the staff at grandma’s retirement home, a group gift—such as a shareable basket of sweet treats—is more appropriate.

If You Can’t Swing Cash, Bake Cookies

If money is tighter than usual, or you didn’t include these tips in your holiday budget, don’t fret. A batch of home-baked cookies or another heartfelt present can be perfectly nice. Whatever you give, “a handwritten note is really important,” Senning says. “Part of any good tip is a genuine expression of thanks.

“But don’t underestimate the meaningfulness of that crisp $50 in the envelope.”

Written by Caren Weiner Campbell for Nerdwallet.

The article Holiday Tipping Guide: Whom and How Much originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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