Consumers have cut back on holiday tipping. Last year, for example, 39% didn't tip their cleaning person compared to 34% in 2009, according to the Consumer Reports National Research Center. But giving less is better than giving nothing at all. Kelli Grant, Senior Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com, gives advice on how to tip appropriately.
It's always appropriate to include a thank you note with any holiday tips, but it's especially important if you can't afford to give as much as you'd like. Say thanks and that you hope next year you're in a position to give a little more. That lets service providers know that they're not being purposely snubbed.
The appropriate tip amount varies by location. Be sure to review what's usually done in your area with friends and neighbors before you give. A good rule of thumb: give the cost of one session for a provider you see regularly. Consumers who have cut back over the year -- say, visiting a hairstylist every three months instead of monthly -- might opt to pay 10% or 15% of their annual tab.
Make a list of everyone that you would usually tip. Then ask yourself if you can still afford to tip everyone if you scale back a little bit on each gift. If that's too much of a strain on the budget, focus first on the providers who help you regularly and in important ways - such as caretakers for elderly parents or young children.
Don't be so fast to hand cash to your accountant, a child's teacher or your postal service worker. Some companies, government agencies and non-profits have rules disallowing employees to accept cash tips. In those cases, it's better to offer a gift card or a present worth $25 or less.
A group gift or check lets everyone give what he or she can afford and still add up to a worthy present. It can be an especially smart idea for those recipients who usually receive a bunch of smaller gifts, like teachers. But collect something from every parent in the class, and there might be enough for a $50 or $100 gift card for a local restaurant or a favorite store.
For more information on holiday tipping and other consumer tips click here.