Your regular service providers, from your massage therapist to your pet sitter, may deserve a small holiday bonus. But exactly who, and how much should you give them?

There’s a scene in Mr. Bean where per usual, he illustrates his lack of understanding of a common social custom. This time it’s tipping. Even after a subtle hint from the bellhop, everyone’s favorite English goober fails to stick the landing

It’s hilarious in the context of a silly sitcom, but a cringe-worthy faux pas in real life. There’s a special, sinking feeling when you realize that you should’ve tipped someone, or at least should’ve tipped them more. Worse still, if you miss tipping someone like your massage therapist or your virtual assistant, it can hurt their feelings or leave them questioning the quality of the service they provided!

The holidays are an excellent time to make up for any missed tipping opportunities and show the professionals in your life how much you care. But who should you tip, and how much? When’s the ideal time to tip? And finally, with budgets tightening across the board due to the pandemic, are there other forms of tips worth giving – especially when there is so much pent up anger right now with COVID-19?

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In this piece I’ll cover:

  • Who to tip this holiday.
  • How much to tip them.
  • When to tip them.

And more. Without further ado, let’s investigate holiday tipping!

Who should you tip this holiday?

Holiday Tipping Guide: How To Tip When Budgets Are Tight - Who should you tip this holiday?

The first question is simple: who? 

The answer isn’t so simple, since some folks legally cannot receive tips. Some even find it insulting! 

I once tried to generously tip my rickshaw driver in India, only to have him frown and thrust my money back into my chest. As I’d later learn, some cultures find the offer of a tip to be condescending; the message received isn’t “great job, here’s a bonus” but instead “you clearly don’t make much, here’s more”! There are also certain professions that think this way, which I’ll discuss below. 

But let’s start with who you should be tipping. 

Generally speaking, anyone with whom you have regular contact or appointments would probably appreciate a small token of gratitude.

Keep in mind that it’s hard to pin down exactly who will expect a tip, since everyone is different. But where applicable, I made a note for the professionals I subjectively think might make a polite, expectant *cough* this holiday season. Later on, I’ll discuss how much to tip.

  • Babysitters – If your regular babysitter has done a solid job, he or she might be looking forward to a small holiday bonus.
  • Hairstylists – Virtually every hairstylist in America lost weeks of critical income this year due to nationwide lockdowns. While your regular stylist may not expect a holiday bonus on top of their regular tips, an extra tip would be massively appreciated nonetheless.
  • Massage therapists – Physical therapy can be an extremely competitive field; chiropractors and massage therapists have to outperform each other while offering competitive rates, and many are still crushed under student loan debt. Therefore a holiday bonus to both would definitely be appreciated.
  • Amazon, UPS, USPS, and FedEx delivery folks – Employees of private mail carriers have been working tremendously hard this year, and their workload will reach its peak in December as even more people purchase gifts online to avoid stores. A small gift of a beverage, food, and a tip will be highly appreciated. FYI, USPS are federal employees and cannot accept tips, but can accept gifts valued under $20.
  • Building staff – Has your apartment’s front desk person been handling extra packages for you this year? Have your maintenance staff been extra responsive and helpful to your requests? Both might deserve a small tip.
  • Handymen and women – Handymen and women are taking extra risks this year entering homes where tenants may or may not have masks on. Your regular home helper would certainly appreciate both a mask and a tip from you!
  • Tutors and teachers – Educational staff, from kindergarten to college, have also dealt with a tough, jarring transition from in-person to virtual learning. Whether they’re your teacher or your child’s, they’d certainly appreciate a gift of some sort to acknowledge their extra workload. Tutors, whom you already pay hourly, can receive a monetary gift. Teachers, on the other hand, might misconstrue money as a bribe for gold stars; consider a small gift valued <$20 instead.
  • Assistants – Assistants, in-person or virtual, always deserve a small end-of-year gift or tip regardless of extraneous circumstance.
  • Pet walkers/groomers – While many pet services remained open as essential businesses during the COVID-19 lockdowns, industry professionals are still providing a valuable service to you and your furry best friend. Give ‘em a tip.
  • Housekeepers – Finally, if you still have a regular housekeeper cleaning up your place, they always deserve an end-of-year tip. Consider that he or she may have lost a few clients due to safety concerns, so an extra-generous tip in 2020 would be massively appreciated. 

This is an incomplete list, but should help you brainstorm any additional helpers in your life who may deserve a little holiday bonus. 

Now, who shouldn’t you tip for various reasons? 

Who shouldn’t you tip this holiday (with cash, at least)?

Holiday Tipping Guide: How To Tip When Budgets Are Tight - Who shouldn’t you tip this holiday (with cash, at least)?

Not everyone in your network will appreciate a tip. Some find monetary gifts to be inappropriate, and others are simply not allowed to receive them. Who makes up that list?

  • Accountants – Accountants generally don’t expect tips. Your accountant already charges you a high hourly rate for labor, which encompasses precisely what they think they’re worth. If they truly went above and beyond this year and saved you tons of money and anxiety, a thank you card, phone call, or possibly a bottle of wine might be appreciated.
  • Lawyers – Similar to your accountant, your lawyer is already charging you precisely what they think they’re worth. You could say that their “gratuity” is included in their hourly rate. If they really came through this year, consider a small, non-monetary token of appreciation similar to what you gave your accountant.
  • Doctors – Doctors are already well-compensated and may find a monetary gift confusing or insulting. If you truly feel compelled to offer them a gift of some kind, be sure that they’re allowed to receive it; call the front desk to confirm.
  • Mental therapists – Unlike your chiropractor, your psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist will not expect or possibly even appreciate a tip. 
  • Nurses – The nurses in your life, whether it’s your home health nurse or your grandparents’ nursing home aide, typically cannot or will not receive monetary gifts. Furthermore, according to HuffPost, “most would prefer not to be tempted with gifts of fattening food.” Instead, the author (a nurse herself) recommends a bouquet, a handwritten letter, or simply words of affirmation. Such a small gesture could make a huge difference to someone whom most people take for granted, especially during a pandemic. 

That about covers the no/maybe list. Now that I’ve covered who to tip, how much should you tip them?

How much should you tip them? 

Holiday Tipping Guide: How To Tip When Budgets Are Tight - How much should you tip them?

This might be the section you’re nervous about. You’d like to tip everyone who helps you the right amount, especially since you know things are tight this year. 

But, given all that’s going on, your budget might be a little tighter, too. With a pandemic raging and an uncertain economy, you might not be able to spare hundreds of dollars on tips in addition to your existing holiday travel and spending plans

So where’s the balance (or the “tipping point,” if you will)?

Calculate your budget

Do you know precisely how much tipping money you have to play with this year? How about your holiday budget in total?

If you still need to establish a holiday budget, a fast and painless way is to download a personal budgeting app. There are two I recommend. 

PocketSmith can help you establish a budget and monitor spending in minutes. They offer a simple, beginner-friendly approach and offer a free account that never expires. Premium and Super accounts cost $90 and $120 per year; still pretty reasonable considering how much PocketSmith can help you save!

I also recommend MoneyPatrol. As the name implies, MoneyPatrol is a bit more hardcore than Pocketsmith, with more features, monitoring tools, and helpful spending warnings. The app will ask you to establish a budget and will make darn sure you follow it!

Tip what you can

Once you’ve established a holiday 2020 budget, you may find little wiggle room for tipping. And that’s totally OK. 

Remember that the point of tipping is to make someone feel appreciated. The term “gratuity” comes from the root word “gratitude,” not “extra money.” 

Therefore, if you can’t offer someone the full recommended monetary amount below, make their gift personal and special. If you can only spare $5 or $10, include the cash in a handwritten thank you card describing, in detail, how their services have made your life easier. 

For many essential workers during these times, gratitude and appreciation are in equally short supply. 

Also, you may not want to offer cakes or baked goods for a few reasons. Given the stress of the pandemic, many folks are trying to eat healthier and lose weight. Food doesn’t always travel well, and the CDC is currently recommending against shareable foods like cakes.

The one exception is mail workers. Many work long, physically-demanding shifts, so a healthy, individually-wrapped snack like peanuts or a protein bar can make their lives easier. 

In summary, here’s a chart with each profession listed above, alongside recommended tipping amounts. 

AssistantA nice gift—but not too personal–in the $50 range. You don’t want things to get weird.
BabysitterOne week’s pay (if they work for you on a regular basis), or the typical cost of a single babysitting session
Pet groomerThe cost of one session
Dog walkerOne week’s pay
Doorman$20-$100, split if there is more than one.
FedEx or UPS delivery personUSPS - no cash; snacks, small gift up to $20 in value; FedEx - no cash; snacks, small gift up to $20 in value; UPS - Cash up to $10, snacks
Hairdresser/BarberCost of one haircut, or whatever service you regularly receive.
Home health aideA small gift under $25
HousekeeperA week’s pay
Mail carrierA gift worth no more than $20. USPS prohibits mail carriers from receiving cash or gift cards.
NursesHandwritten thank you card
Superintendent/Maintenance Man$20-$100, depending on level of responsiveness.
Teacher/TutorA small gift worth no more than $25. Cash is ill-advised, as it may look like a bribe.
Doctors and therapistHandwritten thank you card
AssistantsPersonalized gift or cash up to $50 in value
Handymen and womenCost of one visit

Given the circumstances, it’s worth reiterating that you shouldn’t feel pressure to tip outside of your budget or comfort zone. 

If you can’t afford a large tip this year, but certainly plan on continuing to hire someone, that’s material to include in the handwritten thank you card. For many gig, essential, or hourly workers, the promise of continued business well into 2021 can be equally, if not more comforting than a one-time bonus. 

When should you tip them?

Holiday Tipping Guide: How To Tip When Budgets Are Tight - When should you tip them?

Cold logic would dictate that a year-end bonus should arrive between Christmas and New Year’s. 

But put yourself in your helpers’ shoes; when would you like to receive a holiday bonus; before or after your holiday shopping?

If you answered before, you’re spot on. Whether your tip is $50 or just a handwritten thank you card, it’s always best to tip by December 1st for a few reasons. 

First, monetary gifts are much more practical before the holidays. Cash bonuses of any amount can help balance budgets and offset travel and gift expenses. 

Even handwritten notes should be delivered the week after Thanksgiving. The reason being, the holidays can be the most stressful time of the year and many tippable professions will be working overtime to make everyone else’s holidays special. Therefore, words of gratitude, affirmation, and appreciation can provide a nice morale boost before the busiest season of the year. 

Summary

Offering tips to the professional helpers in your life benefits all involved. Whether your tip consists of cash and/or a handwritten thank you card, the practice will help them feel appreciated, help you flex your gratitude muscle, and will strengthen the relationship between the two of you.

2020 has been a hard year for everyone, and whether it comes with cash or not, a little holiday gratitude is what we all need. 

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About the author

Total Articles: 154
Chris helps people under 30 prosper - both financially and emotionally. In addition to publishing personal finance advice, Chris speaks on the topics of positive psychology and leadership. For speaking inquiries, check out his CAMPUSPEAK page, connect with him on Instagram, or watch his TEDx talk.