If you seldom get the chance to show your thanks to everyone who makes your life easier, the winter holiday season is an ideal time.
Of course, this is also the time of year when you're cash-strapped: You're buying gifts left and right, and spending more than you'd prefer on airfare to visit far-flung family members. Which means, as much as you'd like to show your thanks by being a generous holiday tipper, you're hardly in a position to hand out green paper to everyone deserving. What should you do?
Make Your List
Take a tip from Santa himself, and make a list. You don't necessarily need to come up with it in one sitting.
Instead, simply live your life for the next few days. Anytime you receive assistance from someone who is one of your regular helpers, make a note of it. The list might include the garbage collector who has never complained about your poor sorting habits; the person who delivers your mail; the janitor who cleans your workspace each evening while you're still there finishing up.
Your list should only include people who are your regular, year-round helpers--not those whose services you use only a few times a year. If you're worried you may forget someone, check your list twice with this tip sheet below (which I compiled after scanning about a dozen other lists on the internet):
- Child or adult care: babysitters, nannies, in-home nurses, tutors.
- Housecleaning: housekeepers, weekly cleaners, cooks.
- Grooming: barbers, stylists, salon staff.
- Fitness: trainers, coaches, massage therapists, yoga or other class instructors.
- Pets: dog walkers, cat sitters, groomers.
- Home and neighborhood helpers: doorman, building superintendent, handyperson who fixes everything, mail carrier, newspaper deliverer, trash collectors, lawn care workers.
- Food and drink: waiters and bartenders.
Now that you've made your list, you need to determine who truly warrants a tip--and how much should you tip them.
Don't Think Twice. It's Alright
The first thing you should be honest about is how much you can afford to tip.
Think, too, about your rapport and history with the person. If you generously tip the same waiter or bartender every time you see her, she is not going to feel slighted that there was no extra tip for the holidays. According to EmilyPost.com, you don't need to give a year-end tip to those whom you tip at the time of service. You can thank them with a note or a small gift. That simple rule should ease some of your cash concerns.
Next, don't worry so much about the amount. Keep in mind that holiday tipping is far from a universal act. For example, in one Consumer Reports survey, 90 percent of respondents said they did not tip their garbage collectors. In the same survey, 79 percent said they did not tip their mail carrier.
If you give a small amount, you're giving more than most. Likewise, you shouldn't feel ashamed about writing a short, sincere note, even if you can't fold any money into that note. In addition, you can use homemade baked goods and crafts, in lieu of cash or gifts.
Of course, if you're fortunate enough to be able to tip all of your helpers, then you still want to make sure you're being reasonably generous. Care.com's holiday tipping guide is exceptionally thorough. You might be happy to see that for most helpers, a $10 tip or small gift is perfectly generous. In other cases--for example, with barbers, personal trainers, and pet sitters--the tip should be the cost of one session.
Above all else, remember that the idea is to be kind and to say thank you--especially to the helpers you haven't had the chance to acknowledge. Err on the side of generosity and your helpers will appreciate it. You'll also feel better about yourself, and what you've contributed to the holiday spirit.