It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but when it comes to holiday tipping, it can also be a season of confusion: Who should I tip? And how much?
First, "should" makes tipping seem obligatory—it's not. A holiday tip is a token of gratitude for people who have helped you all year, not a pay-to-play transaction that, if withheld, gets you the cold shoulder and side-eye. And if the word "tipping" sounds joyless, call it a bonus instead. Here's a holiday tipping guide for spreading the cheer—and the wealth.
Set a budget
No one wants to come across as a grinch, but it's not worth going into debt playing Santa. Roughly 52% of Americans picked up credit card debt during the holidays last year, according to a survey from NerdWallet. Among them, nearly a third have still not paid it off.1 So pick an amount you can afford to give out. "The key financial wellness basic is for your overall expenses to be less than your take-home pay," says Aliya Padamsee, CFA, CFP®, a director of Financial Solutions at Fidelity. Account for tips as you're figuring out your end-of-year costs, and if you don't have the funds for the recommended tip amounts below, read on for other options.
Make a list
Consider people who help you throughout the year, including those who take care of your kids (nanny, babysitter) or pets (dog walker, groomer); your home (housecleaner, doorman; maintenance workers); and your well-being (personal trainer, hairstylist).
This list is different for everyone and can get long, so check it twice. Prioritize tips for those who've made the biggest difference in your life lately, how regularly you use their services, and how long you've known them.
Try the "up to" rule
Let the cost of a service be your holiday tipping guide, suggests Lizzie Post, co-president of the etiquette-focused Emily Post Institute. She recommends using "up to amounts," as in "up to a week's pay," or "up to one session's pay." If you've had a solid relationship for years, you could go larger if it's within your budget.
In addition to the suggested tip amounts below, Post suggests adding a card expressing your appreciation for their work throughout the year, which captures the spirit of the season and keeps the exchange from being overly transactional.
Here are some common tip recipients and how much to tip:
- Babysitter/nanny: one typical session/one week's pay
- Daycare staffer: $25 to $75, depending on how many hours your child is in this person's care each week
- Hairstylist/colorist/barber: the cost of one service
- Home health aide/in-home caregiver: one week's pay
- Housecleaner: one visit
- Landscaper/groundskeeper, such as a snow plower: one session
- Massage therapist you see regularly: one session
- Manicurist/pedicurist you see regularly: one session
- Newspaper delivery person: $10 to $30
- Personal trainer: one session
- Pet sitter/dog walker/groomer: one session
- Trash collectors/sanitation workers: $10 to $30 each
Apartment building staff: Buildings sometimes distribute staff lists that include years of service. (Some people believe those with longer tenures deserve bigger tips.) Renters tend to tip less than owners, according to Brick Underground, a New York–based real estate site that issues an annual holiday tipping guide.2 In 2022, they suggested the following:
- Super, resident manager: $150 to $300
- Doorman, concierge: $75 to $200
- Porter, handyman, and other maintenance staff: $25 to $50
- Garage attendant: $25 to $75
While cash is common, "it's absolutely fine to tip via a cash app," says Myka Meier, author of Modern Etiquette Made Easy: A 5-Step Method to Mastering Etiquette and founder of Beaumont Etiquette. "You can add a personalized message to say thank you when you send it." Just make sure you're reaching the right person. If you don't have their username, cellphone number, or email address—or their photo doesn't pop up when you search for their name in an app—ask the tip recipient directly for their details.
Think outside the buck
"If holiday tipping is tipping you over the edge, then consider alternate forms of showing your generosity, such as baking holiday treats alongside a homemade card with a heartfelt message about what their service means to you," says Padamsee. Besides, some workers aren't allowed to accept cash or cash equivalents, such as gift cards. That's true for USPS mail carriers (though they can accept other gifts worth $20 or less)3 and FedEx workers (though they can accept other gifts up to $75). UPS encourages drivers to decline cash tips, but they're not barred from accepting them. Drivers typically receive baskets of water and snacks, cookies, work socks, and artwork from children in the house.
Physical tokens may feel more appropriate for other helpers too, such as kids' coaches, nursing home staff, and teachers. Just make sure the present is something they'd appreciate. For example, check about allergies before you give home-baked goods, and don't give a bottle of wine unless you know the recipient drinks.
You could also consider a group or class gift. Instead of getting 20 "World's Best Teacher" coffee mugs, for instance, your child's teacher could get one large gift, such as a gift card to a restaurant or retailer.
Some apartment buildings collect tips from residents and then divide the full amount among building staff. If yours doesn't, consider organizing a pool yourself, allowing neighbors to contribute what they can afford. At the office, take up a collection for cash gifts to the housekeeping and mail/package delivery staffers.
If you're strapped for cash, give a card
Although it's starting to ease, high inflation might still be playing naughty on your ability to be nice. Not tipping at all isn't like leaving coal in a stocking. "Most people understand, and they would rather you engage the service and not give a holiday tip than not engage the service at all," says Post.
At the very least, write a note expressing your appreciation and, if you feel comfortable, acknowledging your situation. Post suggests: "Thank you for all your hard/good work through the year. This year I found myself unable to provide cash tips or gifts, but this is in no way a reflection on the service received. I genuinely appreciate the work that you do and wish I could do more to say thank you. I hope that you and your family and friends have a wonderful holiday season!"
Part of the anxiety around tipping may stem from thinking you're not giving enough or as much as someone else. "People don't want to be seen as ungrateful or rude by not tipping the correct amount," says Meier. Luckily, this isn't a contest. Post, who loves making and giving English toffee and peanut brittle to people on her list, only recently got to a place where she could also give cash. "It was a fraction of the cost of a service," she recalls. "So here I am thinking, It's not enough. But the recipients' reactions showed that worry was unfounded. Doing what you can is enough."