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Holiday tipping at its best is a joyful expression of appreciation, but it can also be a practice awash with confusion and awkwardness.

It's not always clear who you should tip and how much to give. That's largely because there are few hard-and-fast rules about tipping. Fortunately, here are some guidelines.

Tipping Versus Gifting

The Emily Post Institute, which offers etiquette advice, defines holiday tipping as "an end-of-year cash gratuity to a service provider such as your doorman, hairdresser, newspaper delivery person, babysitter or dog groomer to thank them for their consistent and outstanding service."

Notably off that list are educators: "Teachers are salaried professionals — a cash tip is not appropriate as it could be seen as 'currying favor,'" the Institute writes. A small gift like homemade cookies or a gift certificate to a favorite coffee shop would be more appropriate.

Likewise, consider that many service providers are banned from accepting tips. Some trash and recycling collectors may fit in this category. Postal carriers definitely do — according to the U.S. Postal Service, carriers must not accept cash or cash equivalents, such as checks or gift cards with credit card company logos that can be used like credit cards. However, carriers can accept a gift worth $20 or less; it can be in the form of a regular gift card to a store or restaurant.

Suggested Amounts

When you do wish to tip, you can get an idea of what's expected by speaking with others, like the manager of your hairdresser's salon, or neighbors in your building who share a doorman.

Published recommendations are also useful, such as those of The Emily Post Institute, Real Simple and Care.com.

One common suggestion among the three sources is to tip in the ballpark of a "session" when applicable. This is a game plan you can use with a hairdresser, personal trainer, pet groomer, massage therapist, pool cleaner, babysitter and/or housekeeper you work with regularly.

One common suggestion among the three sources is to tip in the ballpark of a "session" when applicable. This is a game plan you can use with a hairdresser, personal trainer, pet groomer, massage therapist, pool cleaner, babysitter and/or housekeeper you work with regularly.

Tipping advice for other service providers is less uniform among the three. Here's a sampling:

  • For a Doorman:
    • The Emily Post Institute: $15-$80; $15 or more each for multiple doormen
    • Care.com: $25-$100, depending on involvement
    • Real Simple: $20-$100. If there are multiple doormen, $15 or more for each is fine; if you only have one, then the higher end of that range is more appropriate, especially if he is friendly and does a lot for you. The average holiday tip is $50.
  • For Day Care Providers:
    • The Emily Post Institute: $25-$70 for each staff member who works with your child(ren)
    • Care.com: $25-$50 for each staff member
    • Real Simple: $35-$70 for each staff member who works with your child(ren).
  • For a Newspaper Carrier: 
    • The Emily Post Institute: $10-$30
    • Care.com: $10-$20
    • Real Simple: $10-$30, or the equivalent of one month of the subscription price.

Additional Considerations

Tipping averages tend to be higher in larger cities, according to the Institute, and if you already tip regularly it says you may forego a holiday tip or "give a more modest holiday thank you."

If tipping will strain your budget, consider giving small, inexpensive gifts. You may also wish to complement a tip with a gift, like one made by a child for someone he or she feels is special.

Ultimately, whether you tip or not, you can't go wrong sending a note of gratitude. Heartfelt expressions won't help service providers pay their bills, but knowing how much you appreciate them and their work can be priceless.

Disclosures

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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