2010 Holiday Tipping Guide

Another holiday tipping season is upon us. People are comparing notes about appropriate tipping guidelines. How should we reward people who have provided high quality services to us throughout the year?

The grim realities of our sluggish economy, coupled with the fact that so many people are struggling to make ends meet, loom larger during the holiday season. Nevertheless, there is no need to feel stressed. It is possible to navigate this process and not bust your holiday budget.

First of all, remember that holiday tipping is a gesture. It is not just about the money. If I could wave a magic Yuletide wand and ensure my wife’s hairstylist had the happiest of holidays, I am sure she would prefer that to any check or gift card we could hand out. But barring that, our holiday tip is a way to show appreciation to individuals like her who provide services for my wife and my loved ones.

When setting your tipping guidelines, think about everyone who has provided services for you and your level of interaction with them. Avoid framing your decision to give a holiday tip solely because you feel it is expected of you.

Ironically, we often skip over the very people who should get a holiday tip simply because they do not put themselves forward. Here are some scenarios to help you work through the ins and outs of tipping etiquette, circa 2010:


If your regular hairdresser gets a great tip every time you visit them, you will not violate tipping etiquette if you don’t give them an additional holiday tip unless they are re-arranging their schedule to fit you in to get the special hairstyling that you absolutely must have before your big holiday party.

Suggested holiday tip for that stunning holiday hairdo: 50% over the standard amount that you ordinarily would tip for a hair appointment.

Pet Sitter

If your dog walker or pet sitter did a great job all year, and also showed up at your house during the biggest snowstorm on record and brought your pet their favorite treats when your grocery store was snowed in, now is the time to show that you value their going the extra mile.

Suggested holiday tip for loyal dog walker: Equivalent of what you would pay for 3 visits, plus a new pair of mittens to replace the ones that your dog chewed up.


Your child’s tutor or school teacher can make excellent use of a gift card to your local book, office supply or arts and crafts store. Rather than presenting them with cash, by giving them something that enhances their ability to do the work they love it is a win/win for everyone.

Suggested holiday tip for fantastic teacher: One or two $25 gift cards.


If you have decided to outsource housekeeping to free up more room in your schedule, be sure to acknowledge those who keep your home clean.

Suggested tip: $65-$70 for the average house, or the equivalent of what you’d pay for a week/biweekly cleaning.

Newspaper Carrier

Talk about a thankless job. Up seven days a week in the cold, dark wee-hours of the morning to get a fresh copy of the newspaper to your driveway.

Suggested tip: $20 or so. Come on, you probably leave tips of half that for one meal out at a nice restaurant, and those servers only brought food and drink to your table from a warm, dry kitchen at 6:30 in the evening.

In sum, if you can afford to be generous, this is the time of year where your generosity can have a big impact. If you are financially strapped, that fact of your being a good customer is, in itself, a boon in these difficult times.

In this situation, consider sending someone who has provided services to you a holiday card thoughtfully acknowledging their service. You also can add that you intend to continue being a loyal customer in the future.


  1. I got a thank you note the past two years for hand delivering one giant decorated Christmas cookie to my mailman. I know he ate it.

  2. Just a note on teachers’ gifts: my roommate is a preschool teacher, and every year she receives at least a dozen Starbucks gift cards. Until last year, she didn’t even drink coffee! What about a gift certificate to a local dessert place, bakery, or movie theater? Even $10 or $15 goes a long way at those places, too.

  3. Newspaper delivery person? I’ll hurl the tip from a car to land where I find the paper…sporadically missing, sometimes in the neighbor’s yard or under a car, unprotected in the rain, semi-shredded, or in a pile of poo left in my yard by some neighborhood dog. There was a time when the newspaper was hand-delivered to the box by my door — that was service worth tipping for.

    • Ah, good point. I miss those days, too. We did ask our delivery person to put the newspaper in the mailbox slot for papers and will gladly tip if they comply. We’ve gone through a few drivers now and only one received a tip…if that tells you anything.

    • I’m with you on that – I dropped my service from daily to Sunday only, and when that happened, the delivery dropped from right on our front doormat to somewhere possibly on our lawn or up by the end of the driveway… maybe, if we were lucky. I’m thinking that’s probably not going to motivate a big tip out of me this holiday 🙂

  4. I do agree is is about the gesture. The lovely ladies who cut mine and kids hair have a little statue of Buddha at the front door. Christmas is not something they will be celebrating. But an Extra tip for the lolly pops and kindness will be rewarded.

  5. I don’t get my hair cut in a salon, get a paper delivered, or employee cleaning services (I am a cleaning lady) or dog walking (my kids do that); however what to do about the garbage men and mail lady even though I am a single mom with almost no income at present? I can make baked goods, but feel like they will end up in the trash (they won’t know if I am giving them good ingredients.) Should I make something anyway? Should I write a note? My mail lady is great and so polite and lives down the street so she is also a neighbor. The garbage men take everything and for that I am grateful.

    I don’t want to insult them, but cash is out of the question this season.


    -Becky in NJ

    • I actually realized I have some left over FSA dollars so am going to make a mini cold care pack (tissues, throat drops, and hand warmers) for mail carrier and garbage men. It will not cost me anything out of pocket, and it is a gift that is consumable so will not go to waste. I am going to add a note how I appreciate their service.

  6. I am sure a baked good for the mail lady would go a long way. She is a neighbor and knows you, I think she will feel safe. I also think a good option for the garbage men would be a nice note with heart felt gratitude expressed.

  7. Thank you for including teachers.
    I always leave gift cards for my rural mail carrier and garbage men. They both check on our elderly. The mail carrier was the only person who went door to door to check on everyone when we had a nasty ice storm that shut off our power for ten days. I will forever be grateful for that kindness and service!
    Appreciate your newspaper carrier. Put your feet in those pedals before the judgement comes!

  8. Personally, if we are talking about people who provide personalized services like pet sitting, or house cleaning, I think tipping should be done in some other form than money. Money is so non-personal. Make them a tin of holiday cookies, or a nice card or something. I’d much rather have that 🙂 It’s like an unofficial job benefit.

  9. I always tip my mail carrier and he really appreciates it. I think tipping the garbage collectors is a good idea but I have no idea who are the regulars – they come well before I’m up. I’d like to focus my tip on the garbage men who take care of us as their regular route, if there is such a thing. Anyone have an idea? Also, do you tip the regular UPS and Fedex delivery people?

  10. I also tip my daycare provider with ~1 week’s salary. For his preschool teachers, I gave them movie passes.

    My husband and I always fight over the mail carrier. He refuses to tip them because the turnover is so high and he rarely receives the paper in a timely fashion. This year there might be one though as the paper’s been arriving before noon for a couple of months now. If I’m grocery shopping on a Sunday, it’s super annoying having to wait 1/2 the day for my coupons or go without them and then find there was a coupon I could have used.

    • Does your daycare provider = nanny? We used to provide our nanny a week’s salary as a Christmas present but now that our kids are in daycare/preschool, we’ll be providing a much smaller denomination gift to the teachers.

  11. We live in an apartment in a major city. Tipping is not optional, it’s mandatory in the sense that if you stiff the super and staff, well, you do so at your own risk.

    Is it a form of blackmail? Yes, yes it is. but we do it anyway. You need the goodwill of the staff, who can and have retaliated in the past towards those who don’t tip or tip less than they think is appropriate.

    We also, quite wilingly, tip the service that delivers our daily papers and we used to give gifts (not money because rules forbid it) to our fabulous mailman, now retired (to our regret; we continually do not get mail, have it delivered to wrong buildings, etc.).

    I tip the guy who cuts my hair a couple of times a year.

    What’s always interesting to me, is who tips and who doesn’t. We have older residents on small, fixed incomes. THEY always tip and every time somebody on the building staff does anything, they tip.

    But the really well off folks in the building? They rarely if ever tip. They seem to think the staff is paid some outrageous salary and they are entitled to hours of their time. (The building staff does not make a lot by anyone’s standards.)

    If you are a conscientious worker in a big co-op building in our city, and you have folks living in multi-million dollar apartments, it’s more than a little problematic when people do not tip you. Especially if you really do go out of your way , each day, to help them.

    Do we pay people to be polite? No. We believe it’s about acknowledging that some people really do go above and beyond and that frankly, are underpaid each day.

    And no, we don’t tip people like the owner of a salon who may cut our hair. His/her prices include more than enough and he/she actually turns tips down for that reason.

  12. I’d like to thank the Frugal Dad for the newspaper tipping guideline. I’ve been delivering papers for three years now and always porch papers or follow special requests. Please remember that we’re working 365 days a year, no matter the weather, with no days off or benefits of any kind. If I want a weekday off, it costs me $100 a day for a reliable sub. We often have to wait hours to even get the papers, then run like hell trying to deliver them in some kind of timely fashion. Most of my customers don’t realize I delivered up to the day I had my daughter during the worst winter in history here and was back a week later slogging through three feet of snow. Had I taken more time there was a good chance I would have been fired (as they threatened to do with the lady who broke her ankle in three places).
    Sorry for the vent, but I’m soaked through this morning and tired. Thanks FD and everyone who tips at all. You make it all worth it (and baked goods rock, too!)

  13. I deliver newspapers 365 days a year, no days off, no holidays off, out WALKING in the rain, snow, sleet. People can be downright LAZY. Asking for special instructions to have a newspaper porched or put inside a back door & it’s pitch black they leave no lights on, which is not only rude but dangerous for the carrier. Half of the customers are perfectly capable of walking into their driveway to retrieve a paper but the majority are downright lazy & feel the need to be pampered by wanting us to bend over backwards by walking down dark unlit alleyways & Never ever show appreciation by tipping. That paper doesn’t just appear out of thin air, we go through a lot to get it to their homes. If a carrier has what is called a “carrier route” as opposed to a motor route, they are walking the route, running across dangerous highways, dodging trucks & bad weather. We have to pay for the rubberbands, bags, collection envelopes etc out of our pockets. I’m at the point where I can no longer afford my supplies. If a customer calls with a silly complaint we get charged money for this. Some people spill coffee on their paper & call it in as a “wet paper” & I’m charged double the price of the newspaper. This comes out of my check, I depend on this to feed my family but between gas, supplies & complains there are some weeks where I cannot buy groceries. There is no workman’s comp, no benefits, hardly any compensation for gas if any at all, no insurance, nothing. If someone can afford to pay to subscribe to a newspaper then they can afford a generous tip. Half the time I get no tips after going through hell to put a paper in someone’s back porch. It’s a highly physical job which comes with many injuries especially in bad weather. I deliver over 200 papers that have to be out before 6:30 am. If you absolutely must call in a complaint please remember it comes out of our check & make sure it’s a justified complaint, not just because the paper was 5 inches too far away from your front door. Unless you’re using a walker-make the effort & realize your carriers go through hell to get it to you. Remember, you’re one of hundreds for some carriers. I’ve had some customers get mad they had to walk into their driveway in the rian to get a paper & they call up the newspaper & LIE & say they didn’t get it & I’m charged money. Even iof the wind blows the paper away down the street & I know I delivered it they still charge me money & take the word of the customer over mine. This is my last Winter doing this, not only do I get screwed by the unappreciative customers but the newspaper itself as well.

    • I lot of complaining here about delivering the newspaper. I’d like to point out that this job was done for years and years by kids! And they did go up to each house and put the paper by the entrance-way. My brother made a lot of money delivering the Daily News for years. Today the paper is delivered by adults – in cars – delivering to whole towns. So I’m not sure what you’re complaining about. If someone asks you to deliver the paper to their porch, it’s probably not because they’re LAZY. I’m really glad you don;t deliver MY paper.

  14. I’m glad the newspaper deliverers are writing to say what their work is like. Has anyone ever been a garbage man? It seems to me that their work is also out in the elements and requires lifting and early hours, and I’d like to give mine a year-end gratuity to show my gratitude but I really don’t know how to tell who are my regulars or who might be a day-substitute because they come before I’m up. Any suggestions from anyone?

  15. Regarding the newspaper delivery & tipping, I think it should be for good service, same as any other job where people are serving you in some way. I don’t feel that just getting your paper delivered, as in the attitude of you should be grateful just to have received it, is alone enough to warrant a tip. Isn’t that what their job description is? There have been many times when my paper was not received, received wet, was all ripped up because of careless throwing or once when it was thrown, it came loose of it’s tie & scattered all over the place, including blowing into my neighbor’s yard & he was not happy about! It would have been a nice gesture if they could have at least put it all together again. A tip has to be earned, same as good service in a restaurant, etc. Yes, I know there are a lot of perrils that go with the job but that is the case in many jobs & if they don’t like it, should do something else.

  16. In terms of tipping for good service YES, good service entails ensuring the paper is not scattered on someone’s front lawn etc. In terms of a paper being ripped up, sometimes we receive them this way from the newspaper but we have to deliver it as we are not given extras, it’s the paper company’s job to make sure we don’t receive damaged papers but they don’t & we have to foot the bill for it. If sonmeone calls saying their paper was damaged then the newspaper is going to charge ME money for it even though THEY gave it to me like that. If there are SPECIAL REQUESTS such as a paper that has to be on the porch or in a backdoor then YES there should be a tip as we go beyond what our job entails & bend over backwards for specials requests such as this. Just throwing a paper in a driveways does not warrant a tip but placing it in a special place requested by the customers absolutely does hands down. Whether it’s on the porch or backdoor or walking down a dark unlit, unpaved or sometimes icy unshoveled walkway or alleyway. I’ve already sprained my ankle twice & did a few faceplants on customer’s sidewalks because they just HAD to have it on the porch but failed to salt the walkway or shovel. Some of us cannot just pick up & go elsewhere. I have a 5 yr old to watch in the afternoon & cannot afford daycare or a babysitter. Just tell the average person in today’s economy to just go elsewhere & find another job, in some areas of the country it’s virtually impossible, the way the economy is right now we don’t have the room to pick & choose. If a paper is just in a driveway then I personally wouldn’t expect a tip, but ask for it in a special spot where I have to walk down a dark icy pathway or a dark backyard or in a dangerous spot you bet I’m going to want compensation for that which shows appreciation. Lots of people tip waitresses but fail to tip a carrier, at least the waitress isn’t doing it out in the elements risking getting hit by a truck or breaking a leg or even getting mugged at 3am. Thank goodness for my mace that I carry daily. I had eveb been sexually harassed by a customer but was told I had to keep going back to his house because he was a paying customer, sadly independant contractors aren’t protected by sexual harassment laws, I have to go to houses where known sex offenders & rapists live, if I don’t go then my contract gets terminated & if they ask for it in the back in a dark creepy area I have to do it or I don’t feed my family that week. It’s a thankless & dangerous job that gets overlooked way too often.