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Holiday Tipping - Who Should Get One, And How Much? Advice From An Etiquette Expert

BOSTON (CBS) -- The holiday season is traditionally the time that many Americans choose to thank people who provide them with services year-round. CBSN Boston's Breana Pitts spoke with etiquette expert Jodi Smith about who you should tip, how much and when.

BP: Do you believe that we should be tipping people like the mail carrier, the door man, a security guard if you live in the building, trash collectors and so on?

JS: Almost that entire list. Everyone except for the mail carrier. If your mail carrier is a federal employee, a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, they are not allowed to accept tips, according to the ethics regulations. You can give them a gift, so please do recognize them by giving them a gift. Everybody else on your list, these are people who make your life easier all year long and you absolutely should be tipping them.

BP: How can people figure out what amount they should be tipping, and does it vary for different workers?

JS: This is one of the things that I wish there was a magic number, and I could tell everyone that this is the amount that you tip. But it varies. Some of us live in moderate housing, some of us live in luxury housing. Based on where you are, are you in the middle of Boston or are you out further west in the Berkshires? Where you live, your geographic region, as well as the abode where you actually make your home, those prices help to dictate. So in terms of a general guideline, I like to say between about $50 and $200, but it depends. It depends on the kind of lifestyle you have. The more extravagant your lifestyle, the better the tipper you should be.

BP: What about group gifts? Like say, parents who want to all pitch in for a gift for their kid's teacher?

JS: I love the group gift, because a teacher can only have so many "#1 Teacher" mugs, especially if they've been teaching for 15, 20 years. Instead, have a parent, have a caregiver who is part of that class organize a group gift and talk to the teacher. It does not have to be a total surprise. One year for my kids' teachers we gave them e-readers like Kindles, as well as gift certificates to be able to buy books, download them online. Another teacher really wanted to be able to go out to a really nice dinner with their spouse, and so we got them a gift certificate for the fanciest restaurant in town. So talk to the teacher and please, for all of those teachers out there that have no more room in their cupboards for #1 teacher mugs, do the group gift, please please please!

BP: Aside from a teacher, who are some of the people we should make sure to tip this holiday season?

JS: Everyone else that makes your life easier. Your hairdresser, any sort of pedicure/manicure people if you go to a spa, if you go to workout on a regular basis, the newspaper delivery person, if you have a lawn that gets mowed, if you have a driveway that gets cleared, if you have housecleaners that come in, dog walkers, babysitters, nannies. All of these people that make your life easier all year-round, these are the people that you want to tip.

BP: Some people who usually tip, they may have taken last year off because they were struggling financially with the pandemic. So what is your message to people who might not be able to afford it again this year? Is there some other way that people can say thank you?

JS: A lot of times people, if you've lost your job, if life has been really difficult for you financially, will think "I'm just not going to tip at all." And that's fine if your finances don't permit you to tip and you have not been using the service, then you don't need to tip. But at a minimum, write a hand-written card to this person and let them know that you appreciate them, that you hope that times are going to be better. If you're somebody that is a baker and want to make some gourmet cookies and give them the cookies along with a card - do something to make sure that they recognize. So somebody like your garbage pickup, these are people that even if you're in financial hard times, are still picking up your garbage. You want to recognize them. If you don't have the money to do it right now, at least acknowledge them with a card and maybe some homemade cookies. And then, when your finances are better, whether that's Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, sometime in the spring or even the Fourth of July, tip them when you can. But don't ignore the end-of-year tipping because the message when you ignore it is that you did not appreciate them. You want to make sure you at least acknowledge people at the end of the year.

BP: When should people give an end-of-the-year tip? Prior to Christmas?

JS: Now. Right after Thanksgiving, this is the ideal time so that these people are able to then use the tips to help make the holidays special for themselves and their families. So if you're listening to this, now is the time to get out your Excel spreadsheet, figure out who's made your life easier, and be generous. Be as generous as you can with these end-of-year-tips.

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