'Tis the season to be jolly, but instead I often find myself stressed when I realize I have no clue how much to tip my hairdresser. Or my housekeeper. Or my garbage collectors. If you're like me, you have a list of people you want to thank for helping to make your life easier throughout the year. If you're also like me, you have no clue about what gratuity levels are considered typical, stingy, or even generous.
That's why this year I reached out to a couple of highly regarded experts to get the inside scoop. Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas says, "The first rule of thought is to gift and tip within your budget. No one wants to see you struggle to tip through the holidays if you have just lost your job, or you are having trouble paying the rent."
"Tips are subjective," adds Jodi RR Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Mass. "Tips are dependent on your relationship with the individual and the norms for your area, as well as your budget."
With that in mind, here are some helpful guidelines from the experts to help you (and me!) navigate gratuity gifts as the year comes to an end.
These are the people who help out around the house, so you have more time to earn money to hire people to help out around the house!
- Babysitter: Cash or gift card equivalent to one or two night's pay. I talked to someone who used to sit for my kids and she told me, "It's nice to know you're appreciated. A small gift is a nice token of appreciation and helps keep a sitter loyal to a family."
- Nanny/Au Pair: The equivalent of one week's salary and a handmade gift from your child. "A live-in nanny or a nanny that spends most of the day with your children is invaluable," says Gottsman.
- Housekeeper: A cash gift equal to one week's pay. "If you use a service, and you don't see the same person on a regular basis, or the person is brand new," says Gottsman, "you may not feel obliged give a tip at all. If you have a relationship with the person(s), or they come weekly, consider a gift card per person or a tip equivalent to one visit."
- Pet Sitter: One day to one week's worth of service. "Our pets are our family and someone that takes care of them while we are on a trip, or walks the dog on a regular basis is worth their weight in gold," says Gottsman.
You'll want to keep happy all those folks who make apartment living nice.
- Doorman: Between $20 and $200. (This range seems huge to me. I've never lived in an apartment with a doorman so I'd love to hear those of you who do ring in on this one.)
- Custodian/Superintendent/Handyman: $20 – $100. "If they have saved you in the middle of the night when your toilet was overflowing or jumped your car more than once when you forgot to turn off your headlights," says Gottsman, a holiday tip would be helpful."
- Parking Attendant: $10 – $50
- Landlord or Building Manager: $50 (cash or gift card)
While homeowners don't typically have doormen to tip, they do have a host of service providers to gift.
- Garbage Collector: Between $10 and $25 per crew person. In many areas, tips left taped to the trashcan lids can be stolen (I've had several friends tell me this happened to them.) If you miss your crew during the day, Gottsman suggests arranging to drop the gift off at their corporate office.
- Lawncare: $10 per crew person.
- Snow Removal: $10 per person.
- Pool Cleaner: One week's pay.
These gifts are more personal than those traded during the office Secret Santa.
- Your Boss: $0 or a group office gift. "It's not necessary to give your boss a large or expensive gift," says Gottsman. "Consider an office gift pool or bring a tray or holiday goodies for the office."
- Your Office Assistant: A bonus, gift card, or small gift.
Show teachers and staff you appreciate all their efforts to educate Junior (even if Junior doesn't).
- Your Child's Teacher: Many schools encourage parents to contribute to a class gift. If your child's school doesn't, consider a small gift with a note and/or a handmade gift from your child. A teacher friend of mine told me, "I always love and save handwritten notes. If they come with a gift or gift card — to anywhere at all — that is appreciated, too. But, it's the notes that keep me going."
- Classroom Aide: If there is not a group classroom gift, a small gift with a note and/or a handmade gift from your child.
- School Lunch Attendant: $20 per attendant, if you have a child with special dietary needs, and school policy allows such gifts (check with your child's school office to be sure). Says Gottsman, "A lunch attendant who is vigilant when it comes to your child's food allergy is worth their weight in gold."
- School Secretary: A small gift or gift certificate.
The people who keep you and your family looking good should know you appreciate their work, too.
- Hairstylist: The cost of one session or a gift. "Hair stylists become our confidants," says Gottsman. "It would be uncomfortable to arrive empty handed the last week of the holiday season."
- Shampoo Attendant: A small gift or $5 – $20.
- Manicurist: The equivalent of one visit or a gift.
- Massage Therapist: The equivalent of one session or a gift.
- Personal Trainer: The equivalent of one session or a gift. According to Gottsman, "Personal trainers often double as counselors. A tip of one service or a gift that has personal significance would say happy holidays."
- Pet Groomer: The equivalent of one service or a basket of treats from your pet.
- Personal Healthcare Nurse: The equivalent of one week's pay.
Gift Wrap Your Gifts, Too
When preparing your holiday gratuities, Smith says, "Tips should be crisp, new bills placed in an envelope with a card or note of appreciation." For the financially strapped, Smith suggests a heartfelt note of thanks along with a thoughtful and inexpensive gift like homemade cookies. Gottsman agrees and offers further suggestions like a pot of fresh herbs from your garden or a basket of scones with homemade jelly.
When to Skip the Tip
Gottsman also suggests adjusting your tips according to level of relationship and frequency of service. "Everyone has different lifestyle preferences and providers," says Gottsman. "One person may use a hairstylist once a week while another person may visit the salon every three months. If you don't see them regularly and they can't remember your name, you may opt to skip the tip."
If the relationship is solid, though, Smith says that skipping the tip is akin to telling your service providers they're not valued or to imply they've done something wrong. If a gratuity is not in your budget for this year, consider the alternative suggestions above. However, "when your finances are fluid again," Smith suggests, "please do tip them."
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