Money & Career

Holiday tipping on a budget

Holiday tipping is a contentious issue in our house. My husband, a self-proclaimed el-cheapo, isn’t big on tipping. He thinks it should be reserved for excellent service only. Me: I think tipping at holiday time is a way to say thanks to people who help out through the year – and with two kids under four and a business to run, we rely on a cadre of people to make sure life runs smoothly.

santa with money in hand

This year, we’ve declared a moratorium on excessive holiday spending. We just can’t afford to spend big money on celebrating. That means making and sticking to a clear list of what we plan to buy and how much we can afford to spend.

One item we’re arguing over is tipping. Whom to tip and how much? It’s a contentious issue in our house. My husband, a self-proclaimed el-cheapo, isn’t big on tipping. He thinks it should be reserved for excellent service only. Me: I think tipping at holiday time is a way to say thanks to people who help out through the year – and with two kids under four and a business to run, we rely on a cadre of people to make sure life runs smoothly.

To make sure we come up with a tipping budget that works for both of us (and fits our budget), we’ve focused on prioritizing our list of people we give tips to. A few guiding principles that we’re sticking to:

Putting employees first
Our hard working nanny gets first dibs on the tip pool – no argument there at all. So does our long-time cleaning person. If you have a dog walker gardener, doorman, regular babysitter or superintendent in your building, think about adding them to your holiday list.

How much to give? Experts say you should tip the equivalent of a week’s service. In the case of our nanny, who has gone above and beyond the call of duty this year, we’ll try to put a bit extra in the envelope.

Think frequency

Our personal trainer is our biggest luxury – and a huge support to us throughout the year. We see him every week. We’ve decided to tip him mainly because we see him so often. I have other people I rely on – like my hair stylist. But I don’t see him very much (maybe three times a year – I have long hair) and he’s already pretty expensive.

How much to give? If you go for monthly or weekly services like massages or manicures, think about tipping the cost of one session or treatment.

Don’t forget teachers

My kids are both in preschool and their teachers do a fantastic job. I want to make sure I show them how much we appreciate them.

How much? Cash isn’t appropriate, but a small gift from is a really nice way to show you value their hard work. Last year I did this post on great teacher gifts – I’ll be revisiting it for ideas this year too.

Recognizing unsung (and underpaid) heroes:  

We still get a newspaper every morning – the same guy delivers it each morning at 5 am, in every kind of weather. He works hard and I’m sure doesn’t make much money.

How much to give? I always put 20 bucks in the envelope our paper carrier leaves on our doorstep every year. It’s important to remember people who regularly provide service that don’t earn much money (coffee baristas, doormen, etc.) – an extra $10 or $20 can make a big difference.

Cash isn’t the only way to show you care:

Sure, it’s nice to have a bit of extra money at holiday time – but we can’t afford to tip everyone. That doesn’t mean I won’t be thanking them though – Christmas cards, small gifts or homemade cookies are other ways to say thanks.

How are all of you managing your tipping this year? Please share your ideas below!

FILED UNDER: