Thursday, November 11, 2010

Holiday Tipping

If your budget is tight this year, cutting back on tipping is OK, but make sure you still express your appreciation in some way to the folks who make your life easier.

By Liz Pulliam Weston from MSN Money

It's customary to thank service providers with holiday tips. But these aren't exactly customary times.
Giving less or not giving at all shouldn't be a source of guilt if you're having trouble making ends meet, says etiquette author Peter Post of the Emily Post Institute.
"If you're in real financial straits -- you've lost your job or whatever -- you may not be able to tip with a monetary expression of thanks," says Post, the author of "Essential Manners for Couples." "Nobody expects you to go into debt."
One out of four Americans who usually tips or gives a gift to a service provider planned to spend less this year, according to the latest Consumer Reports holiday tipping poll. Only 6% planned to spend more.
The amount given is dropping in some cases as well, with manicurists and barbers receiving a median $10 instead of last year's $15 and newspaper deliverers getting $15 instead of $20. (Watch the video on the right for more.)
But if you're strapped, Post recommends one of the following:
  • A holiday card with a handwritten note. A warm thanks is appropriate, and you can touch on why your tip is smaller or nonexistent. "You don't want them to think the lack of a tip is a reflection on their service," Post says. "You can say, 'Thank you so much for all you've done. It's been a terribly difficult year, and we're looking forward to resuming our holiday tips when things improve.'"
  • Handmade gifts or treats. A plate full of holiday cookies or candy is a low-cost way to express your appreciation. "One evening of baking can produce a dozen or a dozen and a half cookies for each (recipient)," Post says.

Keys to tipping

If you can give, just not as much, here are some things to keep in mind as you triage your holiday tipping list:
  • Prioritize your most important service providers. If someone's work makes your life dramatically better, that person should be at the top of your holiday tipping list. The trusted housecleaner, the hairdresser who fits you in at the last minute and the baby sitter who always does a great job tending your kids should get more of your holiday tipping resources than service providers you use infrequently.

  • Don't skimp on your employees. If you have household workers, such as a nanny, a housekeeper or a caretaker for an elderly relative, Post cautions against forgoing holiday bonuses if at all possible. The holiday bonus is often considered part of the employee's compensation, Post notes. It all depends on your past practices, what's customary in your area and what you promised when you hired the person, of course, but withholding or shortchanging the bonus could be considered a cut in pay and you could wind up losing a valued worker because of it.
  • Tip strategically. If you live in a building with a doorman, superintendent or both, failing to tip can lead -- unfortunately -- to bad service. The higher the customary tip, the less likely a plate of cookies will cut it. Talk to your neighbors to see what's the going rate and try to come close to that figure to make sure your packages still get delivered and your friends can get into the building.
  • It's OK to consider need. The lower-paid the worker, the more holiday tips are likely to be appreciated -- and the bigger impact your gift can have. Your tip to a manicurist or gardener may be a bigger deal than the same-sized token to a package-delivery person.
  • If you tip generously all year, you can skimp a bit. A smaller tip or a modest gift at the holidays is fine.
  • A note should accompany any tip. Your message doesn't have to be elaborate, but should include a couple of sentences thanking the person for his or her good work and wishing a happy holiday.
Below are rough guidelines provided by the Emily Post Institute that you can adapt to your budget and local custom:
Holiday tipping suggestions
Baby sitter
One evening's pay, plus a gift from your child
Cost of one haircut
Beauty salon staff
Cost of one salon visit
Day care provider
A gift from you, or $25 to $70, plus a gift from your child
Dog walker
Up to one week's pay or a gift
$15 to $80 or a gift ($15 each for multiple doormen)
Garage attendants
$10 to $30 or a small gift
$20 to $50 each
$15 to $40
Up to one week's pay and/or a small gift
Live-in help
One week to one month's pay, plus a gift from you
Mail carrier
Gift worth less than $20; no cash, check or gift cards
Massage therapist
Up to the cost of one session or a gift
Nanny or au pair
One week's pay, plus a gift from your child
Newspaper deliverer
$10 to $30 or a small gift
Package deliverer
Small gift in the $20 range
Personal trainer
Up to the cost of one session or a gift
Personal caregiver
One week to one month's salary or a gift
Pet groomer
Up to the cost of one session or a gift
Pool cleaner
The cost of one cleaning, to be split among the crew
$20 to $80 or a gift
A small gift or note from you, plus a small gift from your child
Trash collectors
$10 to $30 each
Liz Pulliam Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "Your Credit Score: Your Money & What's at Stake." Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. She also answers reader questions on the Your Money message board and helps middle-class families cope at Building a Brighter Future.

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