December is a traditional time to express your year-round gratitude with a generous tip–and it can certainly help workers make ends meet as the year winds down. But holiday tipping can add to an already overloaded financial plate.

Understanding the etiquette and expectations around seasonal tipping can help you navigate this unspoken aspect of giving culture and let your service providers know how much you appreciate them.

Is Holiday Tipping Required?

Mr. Pink may have famously asserted that tipping is never truly required, but we all know that not tipping at restaurants or on delivery apps is churlish, at best. Providing a tip to a server, barista, hairdresser, or delivery driver is now an expected part of a service transaction.

Holiday tipping, however, is more about sharing your gratitude than simply being an expected part of your financial transactions. Giving your regular service providers a generous tip can be an effective way of showing your appreciation, but it is not the only way. This means that holiday tipping is certainly not required–but showing your thanks is both polite and much appreciated by your service providers.

How Do You Decide Who to Tip?

The Emily Post Institute outlines several factors you should consider when determining who you should tip and how much your gift should be. These considerations include:

  1. Your budget: Just because tipping is common during the holidays doesn’t mean you have to strain your finances to provide tips to all of your service providers. There are other ways to show your appreciation.
  2. Your relationship with the service provider: Consider the amount of time the provider devotes to you, the length of time you have used the service provider, and the quality of their service.
  3. Your current tipping habit: If you already make a habit of tipping each time you receive service, you may choose to skip the holiday tip or give a more modest gift in December.
  4. Your location: Tips tend to be higher in larger cities.

These factors can help you create a list of regular service providers you want to thank at the end of the year.

How to Prioritize Your Giving

Giving generously to all of your service providers may not fit in your budget. That’s why it’s important to prioritize your giving based on how often you see these providers. Specifically, which service providers help you out on a weekly or monthly basis all year long, compared to those you only see once or twice a year.

For example, you might want to give a larger tip to the babysitter who picks up your kids after school every day and a more modest tip to the hairdresser you see every two months. You can also show your appreciation by giving small gifts, rather than cash, to some of the providers on your list.

Tip or Gift?

How do you determine which of your service providers should receive a tip and which will get a gift from you?

To start, remember that a cash tip is not appropriate for all of your service providers. Your lawyer, therapist, and mail carrier, for example, are generally prohibited from accepting cash tips, no matter how much you might appreciate them.

That’s why it may make sense to offer a small gift or even just a thank you note to some of the service providers you want to thank this December. Here’s a breakdown of what might be appropriate for the professionals in your life:

Service Professional Suggested Tip or Gift Options
Au Pair or nanny Tip equal to 1 to 2 weeks’ pay
Babysitter Tip equal to average pay for a single babysitting session
Day care center staff Gift card of about $25 or small consumable gift
Dog walker Tip equal to 1 to 3 dog walking sessions, depending on frequency
Hairdresser, manicurist or masseuse Tip equal to the cost of one session
House cleaner Tip equal to 20% to 100% of the cost of a one cleaning session
Personal trainer Tip equal to the cost of one session
Postal worker/mail carrier Non-cash gift worth less than $20 or small consumable gift (such as baked goods)
School bus driver Small gift
Teacher Gift card of about $25 or small consumable gift

Express Your Thanks

No matter who you are giving a tip or a holiday gift to, pair it with a handwritten thank you note. You may have a professional relationship with your service providers, but a heartfelt thank you will help them understand what a difference they make in your life.

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