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The 2016 Guide to Holiday Tipping and Gifting

holidaytipIf you scroll through community Facebook groups during this time of year, you'll find post after post from people asking about tipping and gifting during the holidays. What is the average that people tip in our town for the holidays? To whom do people give tips, gifts or simple notes of gratitude? How the heck do you even tip sanitation workers when you leave for work before they come to take away your trash? There are no right or wrong answers, although policies do exist for some companies and government agencies regarding what their employees are allowed to accept.

Part of the joy of the holiday season for many is the opportunity to say thank you to those who impact your life in a positive way or provide a service to you on a regular basis. Gifting and tipping is often done out of obligation but one should not feel obligated to give. If gift giving is not within your budget, a note expressing your genuine gratitude is enough and should be appreciated by even the "scroogiest". Even if it is within your budget, give some thought to whom you are tipping and why you are tipping them.". Have you ever tipped or given a gift to a receptionist at a doctor's office or the school nurse who goes out of her way to help you? Sometimes the people who expect something the least are the most gracious," said a Quaker Ridge resident.

The Emily Post etiquette website cautions, do not buy into the thought that if you don't tip you won't get good service for the coming year. If you think you've had bad service for this reason, you might want to...speak directly to a manager. The site also adds: Tipping is one of the most stressful and confusing aspects of etiquette today. It is a...way to show appreciation for a job well done; however, treating the person who has served you with respect is every bit as important.


*Not included in the table here are day care providers as only 17% of respondents use this service. Mostly people gave a small gift or cash valued under $50. Dog walkers were seldom used (15% of respondents have dog walkers) but those who do give a small gift or a week's pay. About 23% of people have a valet and most give some small acknowledgement of thanks such as a note, small gift, between $10-$50. Personal trainers commonly receive cash gifts of $51-$100, but some people will give a full week's pay. Doctors were the least likely to receive any sort of holiday gift from their patients. Of the 74 respondents to this question, 6 give a small gift, 2 write notes, and a few give gifts valued between $25-$100.

Table Analysis

The Nanny: Most people give a nanny a gift equivalent to one week's pay or more (72%). Typical is one to two week's pay as a bonus. A working mom of three said, "My nanny makes my life so much easier for us and makes it possible for us to maintain our careers, so we give her a very generous 2.5 week bonus."

The Housekeeper: The majority of people have housekeepers (83%) and gift their housekeepers a week's pay as a holiday gift. Of those who have a housekeeper, an additional 16% give a gift valued over $25. "My housekeeper works hard for us and is reliable," said a Fox Meadow resident, "so I like to show my gratitude with an extra week of pay so she can afford to get her kids or herself a little something extra around the holidays. I usually include a gift just for her like perfume."

The Sitter: Half of those who responded to the survey have babysitters and usually give an extra week of pay to their sitter. Another 25% give between $26-$50. Some give a gift, with 50% of respondents spending under $25 and the balance spending more than $25. You may want to consider how often you use your babysitter to determine how you'd like to acknowledge them. A handmade gift or card from your kids is also something to consider.

The Boss: Half of respondents have no boss, but for those who do, more than half do not get them a gift. About a quarter of people will give their boss a gift valued under $25.

The Hairdresser and manicurist: Most people (91%) have a hairdresser as well as a regular person for manicures and pedicures. Of those, 25% give nothing and 25% give cash or a gift under $25; 10% give between $25-50, 20% give between $51-100, and 5% give between $100-$200. If you go to your regular hairdresser to get your hair done during the holidays, it is appropriate to give a bigger tip than usual (and up to the cost of the hair treatment). The same goes for a manicurist/pedicurist.

The Teacher: Schoolteachers often receive small gifts during the holidays. Of the respondents, 22% do not have children in school. Of the 78% that do, 12% give nothing and 40% give a gift valued under $25. Another 15% of those people who have kids in school give teachers a gift valued over $25, a monetary gift between $10-25, or a monetary gift of $26-50. Interestingly, two people gave teachers a cash gift of between $51-100 and one person gave over $200 to teachers. Although it is possible that these parents have children in private school with different policies, Scarsdale school policy states that class parents can ask for contributions of up to $10 per family for a group gift for the teacher and individual gifts must remain under $15.

The Bus Driver/Monitor: Just over half of respondents have a bus driver and monitor for their kids and most people give a small gift or cash valued under $25. Many parents will pitch in together to get the driver and monitor bigger gifts (average is about $10 each for driver and monitor.)

The Trash Guys: Scarsdale's Department of Sanitation has a policy stating that sanitation workers cannot accept or solicit monetary gifts. However, we certainly love our sanitation workers as they are the most tipped of any surveyed group; 94% of people give a monetary gift to their sanitation workers. Almost 10% of people give gifts valued under $25 and 14% give gifts valued over $25. Of those that give cash, 16% give between $10-$25, 24% give between $26-$50, 22% give between $51-$100, and 8% give between between $101-$200. These dollar amounts are per sanitation worker. One person gives over $200 and another gives the equivalent of a week's pay. If you're going to give the sanitation workers a gift, some people recommend taping a note onto the garbage cans on trash day requesting they ring the doorbell to hand them their acknowledgement directly, ensuring the right people receive the gift. Many people worry about people other than sanitation workers walking around and grabbing envelopes taped to trash cans. One mom posted on the Scarsdale Moms Facebook page that she went out of her way to drop cash off at the sanitation office for the people who haul her trash and they never got it. This might be due to the village policy. Another person told me that she chooses not to tip sanitation workers because they are salaried employees with benefits and are not dependent on tips. "They're not people who I have a relationship with and who provide me with a special service, so I don't feel the need to give them money beyond what I pay indirectly through taxes. On the other hand, I give holiday gifts to the people who help me out on a regular basis and never get acknowledged like my pediatrician who calls me back in less than ten minutes, solving minor problems and saving me countless trips to the office."

The Postman: Mail carriers are also usually acknowledged during holiday time, although the United States Postal Service (USPS) does not allow mail carriers to accept cash gifts, checks, or any other form of currency. They may accept snacks and beverages, gifts valued under $20 including gift cards to a specific retailer, or gift baskets that can be shared with other staff. That being said, only 12% of respondents give a gift valued under $25. More commonly, people give cash: 33% give between $10-25, $19% give between $26-50, 7% give between $51-$200, and three people actually give between $101-$200. Has anyone ever received a note from their mail carrier saying, "My apologies, USPS policy states I cannot accept cash..."? I didn't think so. My own mail carrier leaves me an envelope saying "happy holidays" on it with his address. It's even stamped! I personally find that to a be a bit aggressive considering the postal service's policy.

The Delivery People (Newspaper, FedEx, UPS): Newspaper deliverers commonly receive cash, between $10-25. Private delivery people (FedEx and UPS) may accept monetary and non-monetary gifts. Again, these are salaried employees with benefits so one should not feel obligated to tip even if they receive many packages throughout the year.

The Dry Cleaner: More than half of respondents don't give anything to their dry cleaner attendant. Those that do might give a small gift, gift card, or some extra cash with a pick-up.

The Gardener: Two-third of us don't go out of their way to give anything to the gardener. Those that do, though, most often give a gift valued over $25 or cash ($51-100). I wonder if more people would tip their gardeners if Christmas came in the springtime!

The Admin: A third of respondents have secretaries/administrative assistants. The survey results were all over the place and 10% give nothing. Some give over $200, some give less than $25, and there are lots of people who gave something in the middle or a gift versus cash. Sorry folks, there's really no average here or suggested gift value.

The Handyman: Handymen were the most likely to receive a simple note or card saying "thanks." Of the 40% of people who have a regular handyman, more than half do nothing. Another handful of people give a gift valued at less than $25, cash $51-$100, or cash $101-$200. Again, if your handyman is working around the holidays for you or really goes out of his way for you, it is nice to show your appreciation in some form.

Coaches, Tutors, Extracurricular Instructors: Although not included in the survey, many people wrote in to say that they do give their kids or their own instructor a holiday bonus or gift. Of those who choose to do so, most give the equivalent of one coaching, tutoring, or extracurricular session. "Every year I have my kids make cards for their teachers outside of school like their dance instructor and Spanish tutor. They're so appreciative of the time my kids take to do this."

Several people commented that they give gifts to others as well: groomers, milkmen, vets, gym instructors, and tennis professionals. Sometimes a bunch of people who regularly take a class will collect money from anyone wanting to pitch for a group gift. As far as groomers and dog walkers, many people will give a bonus if the person regularly attends to their pet.

A few people wrote in to say that instead of traditional "tipping" during the holidays, they donate to charity in the names of those who have provided a service and lets them know by giving them cards expressing gratitude.

There are many questions we can ask ourselves about the whole process of gifting to people other than family and friends: Why do we typically tip our sanitation workers but not the school janitor when sanitation workers are paid significantly more? They are both salaried government workers. Why do we give a holiday bonus to the relatively well-paid UPS delivery guy who has company-provided benefits but not the dishwashers at the restaurant we go to every week?

These survey results provide guidelines for what people in our community typically give to others during the holiday time and whom they gift. Remember, there is no "right amount," to give or obligation to give at all. This holiday season, I encourage you all to give a small gift, gift card, or "tip" to one person who doesn't typically receive a holiday gift. After years of doing this, I can say for certain it feels like a good deed and might make all the difference in one person's day.

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