Money & Career

Tipping guide: Who to tip and how much to tip them

No-stress strategies for spreading the joy...and cash


What do you tip your hairstylist? How about your dog walker, newspaper carrier or babysitter? If figuring out what to tip makes you fret each year, help is here. We asked two etiquette experts to weigh in on festive tipping tactics and their advice is sure to crank holiday stress down a notch or two.

Why tip at all?
Because it’s simply nice to say thanks to the people who make your life easier, says Diane Craig, an etiquette expert from Toronto. For instance, think about your hairdresser. “Even if you just give cookies you’ve baked or a bottle of wine, you have to acknowledge how much you appreciate their efforts. They make you look fabulous,” she says. 

So, what’s the going rate?
Although there are certainly lists out there that reveal how much service providers tend to receive, Craig maintains that good manners aren’t so much about cash quantity, but the spirit in which the tip is given. In other words, it’s the thought that counts. “In this day and age, a nice handwritten note is very special,” she says.

Here are the average tips according to Consumer Reports surveys and the Emily Post Institute:

For those who help you:
Hairstylist (this includes cut, colour or highlights): $20
Manicurist: $15
Massage therapist: Up to the cost of one session or gift

For those who help with the kids:
Nanny: Up to one week’s pay plus a gift from your child
Babysitter: One evening’s pay plus a gift from your child
Day care staff: A gift, gift card or cash worth between $20-$70 for each staff member who works directly with your kids
Child’s teacher: Non-cash gift worth up to $20

For those who help you run your home:
Mail carrier: A gift or gift card worth up to $20
House cleaner: Between $35-$50
Newspaper carrier: $15

Other maintenance people:
Pet care provider: $20
Building superintendent: $20-$80 or small gift

Fess up and pay up
But what if you’re still stymied by the dollar amount? When in doubt, ask, says Julie Blais Comeau, an Ottawa etiquette expert. “There’s nothing wrong with asking when you don’t know. Tipping should be stress free,” she says.

So feel free to walk up to the hair salon’s receptionist and find out what a typical gratuity would be. Or, pull your nanny aside and plead ignorance. Say, “I really appreciate what you do, but I have no idea what to tip you. What do you normally receive?”

I’ll get you next year

Although there are a lot of grey areas when it comes to holiday tipping, experts all seem to agree on one thing: It shouldn’t break the bank. If you have to go into debt to tip this year, stop. Pull out a stash of stationary, and get writing instead. You can even allude to the fact that you were, say, out of work most of the year, says Blais Comeau. “Respect your budget. That’s the important thing,” she says.

Kira Vermond is a freelance writer and author of Chatelaine’s own Earn, Spend, Save: The savvy guide to a richer, smarter, debt-free life (Wiley, 2010). You can also listen to her career and money advice on CBC Radio weekday mornings across Canada.