If the people who deliver your newspaper, cut your grass (or your hair) or hold open the door to your apartment building suddenly become much cheerier around the holidays, it could be the spirit of the season—or it could be they're hoping for a holiday tip.
In some parts of the country, tipping is welcome but not expected. If you live in a charming, small town where everyone knows everyone else and wouldn't dream of accepting a tip just because it's Christmas, count yourself lucky.
In large cities, tipping service workers is not only expected but is so much a part of the holiday tradition that it provokes its own level of anxiety about how to do it right. So if you don't live in Mayberry, here's a little guidance on tips and tokens for the people who make your life easier:
· The lady who "does" for you once a week (or every day): an extra week's pay. (If you pay $100 each week, the holiday tip would be $100.)
· Your daily, in-house nanny: an additional week's pay and one week off.
· The home health care worker for your elderly parent: an additional week's pay.
· Your babysitter: $25 if you use the sitter regularly, and a small gift.
· The gardener who comes one day a week: one week's pay.
· Newspaper delivery person: $20 (would you get up at 4 a.m. to deliver papers???)
· Trash collectors: If you know them, a small tip is a nice thank-you—$10 per person is good.
· U.S. mail carrier: See below.
· Hairstylist, manicurist, waxer, etc.: If you go weekly, tip the equivalent of one visit. Bimonthly or monthly: half that amount (though if your person's prices are really reasonable, it's nice to tip the amount of a full visit as a way of saying "there's nobody else who does a great blowout for $25—thank you!").
· Personal trainer: If you go weekly or more often and you do that consistently, tip the equivalent of a training session. If you go every now and then, consider giving a small present (luxurious shower products, maybe …)
· Car detailer: The price of a single wash if your car is cleaned regularly. A heftier-than-usual tip if you're an occasional client.
· The doorman: $25-50 (this is the person, after all, who accepts your packages and calls a cab to take you to the airport)
· Building manager: $50-100 (remember the time the manager made sure the garbage disposal got fixed before 10 people came to dinner?)
· Elevator operator: $25-50
People Who Should Be Thanked, but Not Tipped
· U.S. mail carriers: It's technically illegal to tip government employees, but you can show your appreciation in other ways: homemade baked goods (but make sure it doesn't have to be lugged very far, and stay away from recipes with nuts, a common food allergy), a warm scarf if you live in a cold climate, or gift certificates to a movie theater or book/music store.
· Teachers: Ask if the teacher has a wish list for the classroom and see if you can provide one of the items on the list. Gift certificates to a good bookstore or for a personal luxury like a mani-pedi would be appreciated. What the teacher doesn't need is another coffee mug, refrigerator magnet or ceramic apple. Trust.
· Nurses, doctors and aides in hospitals, rehabs, nursing homes: Show your appreciation by sending the people who cared for you or your loved one good food, in enough quantities to be shared. Think along these lines: A big tray of homemade baked goods, prepaid pizza from a chain that will deliver, a gi-normous box of chocolates.
· Dry cleaner: A box of candy or good cookies that can be shared.
Keep in mind, these suggested figures are for normal, economically sound years—and this isn't one of those. Everyone understands that the economic downturn has resulted in adjustments all the way around. So give what you can. It truly is the thought that counts most. And money is not everything. Remember: Nobody turns away a great batch of homemade cookies. (And if they do, send the cookies to me!)
Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News, and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times (Doubleday, 2006).
is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).