Tips on holiday gratuities

Personal Finance

Your Money

November 28, 2006|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,Sun Columnist

The holidays are a time to remember those who make your life easier and more enjoyable.

No, not your family.

I'm talking about the people who do routine tasks like cutting your hair, walking your dog or delivering the mail and newspaper.

Often we express thanks with a holiday tip. But that raises lots of questions. Which service providers should be tipped? How much? If you tip someone one year, must you do so every year? Will a tip guarantee good service? What if you don't tip?

It's enough to raise your holiday stress level another notch or two.

"At its best, tipping is appreciation and gratitude in the form of cash. At its worst, it's emotional blackmail," says P.M. Forni, a Johns Hopkins University professor and author of Choosing Civility. "Sometimes we tip because we want to, and sometimes we are pressured into it."

Growing list

Each year the list of service providers who shouldn't be forgotten around the holidays seems to grow. That may be because we're relying more on others to manage our hectic lives.

"There is the nanny. There is the au pair. There is the teacher and the gardener. The music instructor. The garbage collector. The postman who is not supposed to receive tips in cash but can be given gifts with a value of lower than $20. There is the doorman. There is the handyman in the apartment building. There is the elevator operator and the shampoo person at the hairdresser's," Forni says.

"It's enough to make you pull your own hair out ... and that would have the advantage that you don't need the shampoo person any more," he says.

Not every service provider needs to be tipped during the holidays.

"If you tip someone regularly throughout the year, you don't have to give a holiday tip," says Elizabeth Howell, a spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute.

You should tip those whose assistance helped you make it through the year or who made a positive impact on your life, Howell says. That may be a day care provider or the doorman who makes sure your packages are safe. Or it could be the personal trainer who helped you meet your goal, Howell says. And tipping once doesn't commit you to do so again.

Check out www.tipguide.org for a comprehensive list of tip suggestions. Jim Lewis, who owns an insurance company in suburban Dallas, started compiling the list years ago to help others like him who were confused about tipping.

Among his holiday suggestions:

Apartment doorman: $10 to $80.

Apartment building superintendent: $50 to $200

Daily newspaper carrier: $25 to $50.

Dog walker: One to two week's pay.

Garbage collectors: $15 to $30 each.

Hair stylists, manicurists and massage therapists: $15 or more.

Teacher: Gift certificates of $25 to $100, if school policy permits.

Maids: One week's pay if you employ them directly. No need to tip for a maid service where workers routinely change.

Child care providers: One night's pay for baby sitters; one week's to one month's pay for full-time nanny; and $25 to $70 for day care helpers. Also, all of them should receive a small gift from your child. (Forni likes this last suggestion. "It's good for the child to learn to acknowledge a person who spends time and energy on him or her," he says.)

Cash substitutes

Gratuities can quickly add up. If you can't afford much cash, consider a small box of chocolate, homemade gifts or a thank-you note, Howell says.

Some Baltimore hairdressers say they're grateful for any acknowledgment around the holidays. Sometimes customers give them food, wine, gloves or other clothing. Cash is preferred, and gratuities run as high as $20.

Peter Devine, a hair designer in South Baltimore, says a thank-you note would be sweet, but. ...

"I need the money," says the father of two. "I have bills to pay."

Questions? Comments? Write personal.finance@baltsun.com

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