The Inhabit Your Home Holiday Tipping Guide

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It’s about saying thank you. 

Those of us who live in the Northeast of the United States have a wonderful holiday tradition – saying thanks to our year-round service providers by giving holiday tips.  Recently I’ve learned that in many places in the U.S., such as the suburbs of the Midwest, this isn’t a regional custom. Yet in their major cities, like Chicago, it’s done often. And it’s almost unheard of in the EU and in our neighbor to the north, Canada.

Belgium native and South Orange, NJ resident, Claudia Schiepers observed that, “Coming from a country where the concept of a bonus at the end of the year was non-existent, it took me awhile to get used to the experience. Not that I thought it was a bad thing, it just never even crossed my mind. But the longer I live in the United States, the more I realize that all of these people make my life easier and provide me with some form of happiness. So I consider it a great privilege (in a life that is full of privilege) that I am capable to show my gratitude through this custom.”

Regardless of where you’re from, saying thank you is just a nice thing to do. So if you want to start your own tradition or if you simply need some advice, I’ve got some guidelines for you.

First of all, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to holiday tipping our many service providers. In fact, there are no rules at all.  “Common sense, specific circumstances, and holiday spirit should always be your guide.” is great advice from the Emily Post Institute.

A Few Considerations to Think About When Putting Together Your Tipping Plan 

  • What is your relationship with this person? How long have you been using their service and how close are you?
  • Where do you live?  Folks in cities and suburbs may tip higher than those in rural areas.
  • Do you tip as you go?  For example, most folks give their hair stylist a tip immediately following their cut.  If this is the case, then there is no need to give an end of the year tip.  You may consider a small gift, but even that isn’t necessary.
  • Educate yourself on the rules and regulations for government employees (i.e. mail carriers) and certain companies (i.e. FedEx of Garbage/Recycling Services).
  • If you are still at a loss, ask a trusted neighbor for ideas or suggested tip amounts. This route may also helpful if you recently moved to a town or region that you don’t know much about.
  • There is absolutely no reason to spend over your budget!
  • It’s a good idea to make a list of each service provider you want to tip so that you can determine how much to spend on each.
  • Give some thought to those who you think need your money more than others.
  • While cash is nice, gift cards and small store-bought gifts will work wonderfully. Be mindful of fees and expiration dates for gift cards – this information may change your mind.
  • If your budget is tight, homemade baked goods like cookies or banana bread make fine gifts.  DIY gifts work well too. Making soaps and candles are easier than you think.
  • If you plan on giving food, make sure the recipient and/or his or her family doesn’t have allergies, or at least note any potential allergens in the ingredients.
  • It’s for the same reason I tend not to give wine or liquor – you never know who may have an addiction.
  • Any gift or tip should be accompanied by a short note. I always say something like, “Thank you for all you do. Happy holidays and best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!”
  • If your budget is really tight, a simple handwritten note – that is legible – will perfectly express your thanks.

Suggested Guidelines 

As the section’s title says, these are merely suggestions.  But if you’re a data person, Consumer Reports found that “the median was $50, although typically people give the equivalent of the cost of one service.”

Housekeeper | The cost of one cleaning or small gift.

Mail Carrier | Gifts worth $20 or less
The United States Post Office Employee Tipping and Gift-Receiving Policy states that “All postal employees, including carriers, must comply with the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch. Under these federal regulations, carriers are permitted to accept a gift worth $20 or less from a customer per occasion, such as Christmas. However, cash and cash equivalents, such as checks or gift cards that can be exchanged for cash, must never be accepted in any amount. Furthermore, no employee may accept more than $50 worth of gifts from anyone customer in any one calendar year period”.

United Parcel Service (UPS) Carrier | A small gift.
A representative from UPS told me that their policy states that their carries are “typically not allowed to accept cash, but gifts are nice.”  I do have some neighbors that insist on giving their carriers $20 and it’s usually accepted happily.

FedEx Carrier | A gift valued up to $75.00; no cash.
A representative from FedEx told me, “Gifts of cash or cash equivalents such as gift cards or gift certificates must never be accepted. Employees are allowed to accept a nominal gift valued at up to $75, no cash.”

Newspaper Delivery Person | $10.00 – $20.00 or small gift.

Jitney Driver | $25.00 – $30.00 or small gift.
Jitney drivers are those who drive residents to and from NYC transportation in South Orange, Maplewood, and West Orange, NJ.

Garbage & Recycling Services | $10.00 – $30.00 per person or a shareable gift, like a box of cookies.
Most folks stuff “pre-broken” cash (cash that can easily be shared among the workers) into an envelope and tape it securely to the top of the trash or recycling tote or can.

Landscaper / Gardener | $20.00 – $50.00 per person or a shareable gift, like a box of cookies.
Some of us live in states that require year-round lawn and garden maintenance service. This should inform the amount you chose to give, should you decide to do so.

Pool Cleaner | Up to the cost of one cleaning to be split among the entire crew. Or a shareable gift, like a box of cookies.
Similarly, some of us live in states that require year-round pool service. This should inform the amount you chose to give, should you decide to do so.

Doorman | $50 to $100 or a gift per person.
A resident of New York City’s Upper East Side, Caroline Smith tells me that “there is usually a recommended bonus amount from the building and based on a particular doorman’s demeanor, helpfulness,  and friendliness over the course of the year we would increase the base bonus amount or choose to give individually rather than only to a group pot.”

Nanny | Between one week’s salary and up to one month’s salary in addition to a special gift from the family.
Remember that very few people know your family better than your nanny!

Au Pair | Up to one week’s salary and/or a special gift from the family.
This young person will be a part of your family for one or two years and in that period, you will get to know him or her very well!

Babysitter | The average cost of one night’s fee or small gift.
Choosing to tip really depends on how frequently you use his or her services.

Daycare Staff | $30 – $70 per person

Teachers | A class parent will usually pool cash resources from each family. That said, there is usually no obligation to participate and you should never feel any pressure to do so.  A small gift or a thank you note will certainly be appreciated.

Tutor | The cost of one session or small gift.

Personal Trainer | The cost of one session or small gift.
Emily Inkelis, a fitness coach at Orangetheory Fitness and an elite body builder from Northport, Long Island tells me the she gets “Lots of gift cards mostly – Dick’s Sporting Goods, Lululemon, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and restaurants in the area. If they are a more frequent member or we have a good relationship, it could be an article of clothing, a scarf or something like that.  For the studio as a whole they bring in lots of food…cookies mostly and some Edible Arrangements.”

Pet Groomer | A small gift.
Choosing to tip really depends on how frequently you use his or her services. Most folks tip their dog’s groomer as they go. Laura W. of Brooklyn, New York, “stands by 15%. 20% is for excellence.”

Dog Walker | Up to one week’s pay or a small gift.
Australia McArdle, owner of Australia’s Walk About’s, a dog walking service in South Orange, NJ says, “My regular clients give me weeks pay. For dogs that I walk occasionally, I get between a $20.00 and $50.00 tip. Last year a client gave me a full length Eddie Bauer coat and a week’s pay!”

And finally, The Chicago Tribune had a sweet suggestion to “also a kind gesture to put a little extra in the tip jar at your favorite coffee shop for the barista who makes the perfect leaf design in your foam every morning.”

This guide was researched using the online resources of Consumer Reports, The Emily Post Institute, The United Postal Service, Sharon Schweitzer, The Chicago Tribune, and The Huffington Post. Many thanks to representatives from The United Parcel Post and FedEx who answered my questions.  Significant input was also provided by friends, family, neighbors, and professionals from South Orange and Maplewood, NJ, Northport, Long Island, Manhattan, NY, Brooklyn, NY, Chicago, IL, Quebec, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. 

If you have any additional insights or guidance, I encourage you to share them in the comment section below. I may edit this piece to include your voice. Thank you!


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