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Holiday Tipping In Tight Times

For many of us, a holiday tip is a good way to show folks we appreciate how much they do for us during the year.

But what do you do when money is tight, as it is for so many people in these tough economic times?

The Early Show got some answers Monday from etiquette expert Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, as part of the show's "Perfect Gift" series.

According to Smith:

You should consider giving a holiday tip to service providers such as babysitters, custodians, building superintendents, house cleaners, dog walkers, garbage people, newspaper deliverers, and personal groomers.

If you find that end-of-year tipping is putting a strain on your budget, even in normal times, you should first consider your lifestyle and the number of services you require during the year. Tipping should never require you to overextend yourself financially.

But if you've had a major shift in your economic status, such as losing your job or home, or you're suddenly financially responsible for ailing parents, then you must adjust your holiday tipping.

If you're not tipping, you should still put forth an effort to let your service providers know you appreciate them and that you haven't just forgotten. Send cards, express well wishes, and include what you can. For this year, you might want to think about a token gift, such as a small box of chocolates or homemade cookies. If you have more time than money, a thoughtful letter of recommendation the service provider can use going forward is also useful. A gift certificate for a particular store you think they would enjoy aslo works well (think local delis, coffee shops, etc).

If you happen to find yourself flush again in February, you could always tip then!

Incidentally, the United States Postal Service Web site's page on "Gifts From Outside Sources" says postal workers aren't allowed to accept cash, ever. They are allowed to accepted gifts worth as much as $20.

How much to tip, should you decide to, is affected by many factors, including your means, budget, relationship with the person, geographic region and what you have given in the past.

Typical tips:

  • Child Care:
    Babysitter: Two nights' pay
    Nanny/AuPair: One week's salary during the first year, more for each additional year
  • Apartment Dwellers:
    Doorman: $25 - $100
    Superintendent: $25 - $100
    Parking Attendant: $20 - $30
  • Home Care:
    House Cleaners: One weeks' salary
    Dog Walker: One days' pay
    Garbage Person: $20
    Newspaper Deliverer: $5 - $20
  • Personal Care:
    Personal Grooming: Cost of one session

    Of course, these are just guidelines. If you're well-off, you should be tipping more.

  • Teachers:

    In daycare situations, the teachers are tipped.

    After daycare, most schools have the room parent coordinate the end-of-year gift. Most teachers could do without the mug! School teachers are generally not tipped, they're given gifts. Again, most schools have a teachers' fund that's used for a holiday celebration and toward items for the classroom. Notices should be coming home from the school or room parent to help guide you. My favorite is when the schools put up a tree and on each leaf is something they would like for the school and the approximate price. That way, parents can choose something within their means to donate to the school.

    When we do tip, how should we do it?

    Tips should be crisp, new bills placed in an envelope with a card or note of appreciation. Whenever possible, you should hand the tip to the individual. And you can give your tip any time between Thanksgiving and New Year's. If you don't see the person on a regular basis, and you are in a remote or low-crime location, you can leave the envelope for the service provider. Otherwise, find out the full names of the providers; write checks, and mail them enclosed in holiday cards.
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