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Holiday tipping guide: Who should you tip and how much?

Not sure how much to give for holiday tips? Check out our tipping guide for babysitters, housekeepers, pet sitters, hairdressers and everyone in between.

While any time is a good time to show your appreciation for someone who regularly makes your life easier and more pleasant, the holidays traditionally are the time to express your gratitude in the form of cash. By no means is holiday tipping mandatory, but giving someone who regularly provides you with a service a little something extra at the end of the year is always appreciated — perhaps more so than ever this year. 

“A holiday tip or gift should be given to anyone you do business with on a regular basis — babysitters, gardeners, hair stylists, mail carriers, pet sitters, housekeepers, etc.,” says Aileen Avery, author of “Gift Rap: The History and Art of Gift Giving” and founder of The Art of Gift Giving

According to Avery, holiday tips needn’t be over-the-top to be valued — but they should always include a hand-written note, expressing your gratitude. “The point is to show someone they’re appreciated,” she explains.

Feeling a little lost when it comes to who should get a holiday tip and how much? Here, experts offer insight on the art of holiday tipping. 

When a gift is better than cash — and vice versa   

Cash is often the preferred gift for many caregivers and service workers, but it’s not necessarily the only way to go, notes Heather Wiese Alexander, an etiquette expert and founder of Bell’INVITO. “If the relationship is personal, absolutely gift, rather than tip,” Alexander says. “A gift says ‘I know you.’ A tip says, ‘I’ve noticed you’ve done a great job and want to reward the effort.’” 

Also, Alexander adds, it’s a “pro-tipping touch” to include your cash tip in a holiday card. “Most of my clients will order extra holiday cards specifically to deliver their tips,” she says.

When there’s a gray area of a personal relationship with someone you pay regularly, like a babysitter or hair stylist, Alexander recommends adding a small, meaningful gift to a tip.

Another consideration is whether someone’s employer allows cash tips at all. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, says that its mail carriers shouldn’t take cash gifts of any amount (including checks and gift cards), and non-cash gifts have to be under $20. If you aren’t sure if someone is able to receive a cash gift, reach out to their employer to find out.

Who to tip and how much

When figuring out how much to give and who to give it to, experts recommend considering the following:

  • The relationship: How close you are with the recipient is an important consideration, says Holly Flanders, a child care coach in New York City. When nannies or babysitters have been caring for your kids for years, they can feel like family. For those special relationships, it’s common to give a little more than you would have given if they were new to the job. Likewise, if you’ve seen the same hairdresser every eight weeks for the better part of a decade, you might want to give him or her a larger year-end tip than someone who’s cutting your hair for the very first time.
  • Your budget: Families often have a lot of financial obligations during the holidays. What you give and to how many people should fall within your financial means, explains Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. If money is tight, prioritize who to tip based on the relationship you have with them or value of the service they provide to your family. And if you can’t give cash, consider a homemade gift or thoughtful note instead.
  • Their position: According to Alexander, reserve cash tips for employees, such as nail technicians, baristas and hairstylists. “Cash tips are traditionally for employed status individuals and gifts are traditionally more for a business owner who might be in your list for an end of year appreciation,” she says.  
  • Your personal preferences: When it comes down to it, giving a tip is a lot like giving a present. If you want to give someone something to show your appreciation, go for it, Gottsman says.

When you can’t afford to tip 

If finances are tight for your family this year, there are still a number of ways to show your appreciation for people you normally tip. “The key, whether gifting or tipping, is sincerity,” says Alexander. “If all you can do is write a thoughtful note, you’d be amazed at how much it will be appreciated. Never let the thought of not doing enough keep you from doing something. Give from your heart — and always write something sincere.”

Holiday tip chart recommendations

According to experts, here are suggestions for who you should (and shouldn’t) tip and how much during the holidays.

Au Pair1-2 week’s pay and a small gift from your kids
BabysitterAverage day/evening pay for regular sitters and a small gift from your kids
BarberCost of 1 session
Bartender$20-$40 for someone you see regularly
Building Porter / Janitor$25-$100, depending on involvement
Building Superintendent$100-200, depending on involvement
Cleaning CompanyCost of 1 session or a small gift, if you see the same people regularly
CobblerDon’t tip
Coffee Shop Barista$20 for someone you see regularly
ContractorDon’t tip
Country Club Staff$50 for someone you see regularly
Day Care or Child Care Center StaffSmall gifts from your kids in the $10-$30 range
DentistDon’t tip
DoctorDon’t tip
Dog WalkerCost of 1 session or 1 week’s pay
Doorman$25-$100 depending on involvement
Driver / Limo Service$20-$50 or 20% of monthly bill
Dry Cleaner$10-20 gift card or homemade goods
Elevator Operator$10-$40, depending on involvement
Errand Runner$50 to 1 week’s pay, depending on how often you use
Fitness InstructorCost of 1 session or a small gift
Food Delivery Person$20-$30 for someone you see regularly
Garbage Collector$10-$30 per person
Gardener / Landscaper$25-50
Gas Station Attendant$10-$20 for someone you see regularly
GroomerCost of 1 session
Hairdresser or ColoristCost of 1 session
Handyman / Handyperson$25-50
House Cleaner Cost of 1 session for regular cleaner; small gift for infrequent service
HousekeeperCost of 1 session and a small gift
Kennel StaffHandmade or baked goods
Kids’ Activities InstructorSmall gift from your kids
Kids’ Coach (Athletics)Small gift from your kids
Live-In Help (housekeeper, senior care aide, nanny, chef, etc.)1-2 week’s pay
Massage TherapistCost of 1 session
Mother’s HelperAverage day’s pay for regular helper and a small gift from your kids
Nail Salon TechnicianCost of 1 session
Nanny1-2 week’s pay and a gift from your kids
Newspaper Carrier$10-$30
Nurse (in-home nurse, private nurse)Edible goodies with a handwritten note
Nursing Home or Assisted Living Community StaffHomemade gift
Package Delivery PersonSmall, non-cash gift
Parking Garage Attendant$10-$20 for someone you see regularly
Personal Assistant$50 to 1 week’s pay
Personal Chef1-2 week’s pay or cost of one session, depending on frequency
Personal TrainerCost of 1 session
Pet Day Care StaffHandmade gift or baked goods
Pet Sitter$20-50
Pet TrainerCost of 1 session
Physical TherapistDon’t tip
Pool Cleaner$25-50
Postal Worker / Mail CarrierFood, such as baked goods, or non-cash gift worth less than $20
School Bus DriverSmall, non-cash gift
Senior Care Aide$50 to 1 week’s pay
Snow Remover / ShovelerCost of 1 session
TailorDon’t tip
TeacherSmall gift from your kids
Teacher’s Aide / AssistantSmall gift from your kids
TutorCost of 1 session and small gift from your child, depending on frequency
VeterinarianDon’t tip
Waiter / Waitress$20-$40 for someone you see regularly