Our quick holiday tipping guide helps gift-givers determine the appropriate way to thank everyone for their service—including babysitters and dog walkers—in a way that works for their budget and lifestyle.

By Linley Sanders
December 17, 2018

During the holiday season, some Americans consider giving a cash tip or "bonus" to people who provide exceptional year-round services, like a diligent mailman, hairdresser, or dog walker. If you truly appreciate the regular assistance provided by certain individuals in your life, consider expressing that gratitude with an end-of-year gift. While not required or even expected, the special thank-you can show service providers how much you appreciate their above-and-beyond performance.

Jennifer Porter, an etiquette expert in Seattle, says the holidays are a wonderful time to express gratitude to important service people by demonstrating how well you know them. "It’s especially nice to give a gift that’s personalized based on your service partner's interests,” Porter says. "If a trip is planned, gift a book about the region; if a new grandchild has arrived, tickets to a fun family-focused event. Think outside the gift card and give experiences and items that show you listen and care.” 

How Much Should I Tip?

Determining how much to give during the holidays is personal—it depends on the relationship with that person, how frequently you interact, and your budget. A generous rule of thumb is to give the equivalent of one week's pay for full-time employees or one extra session for scheduled workers, advised Heather Wiese-Alexander, an etiquette expert and the founder of bell'INVITO stationery. Even if you are unable to give a financial end-of-season bonus, there are numerous ways to express gratitude without spending a lot of money.

So how do you decide who gets a tip? Be realistic about your budget and relationships, and really think about the individuals who make your life easier on a regular basis. This guide can help get you started.

Personal Caregivers (Like Nannies or Senior Living Assistants)

Christmas tipping is a way to thank people for making your life easier, and it's an opportunity to show people they make a difference. This can apply especially to year-round nannies, daycare providers, or senior home caregivers. Connie Fong, the vice president of brand for Care.com, recommends placing cash or a gift card inside an envelope with the individual's name on the front, then giving it to them in person. Add a personalized note thanking them for going the extra mile, whether that meant flexibility when you were running late or a creative DIY craft project that your loved one still cherishes.

"Remember that you want the tip to feel meaningful from your family, not an obligation, so gifting the tip in person with an envelope and a nice note makes the exchange much more special," Fong says. "If the exchange can't be done in person, letting them know ahead of time that you got them a gift is perfectly fine. This lets you tell them where it'll be located and also gives you the opportunity to tell them that you wished you could have given it to them in person. If you'd prefer for the tip to be a surprise, make sure you leave it in a place they can find it, like the kitchen counter or the coffee table."

Beauty and Health Specialists

When thanking a regular service provider—like a hairstylist, personal trainer, or manicurist—you can tip up to the cost of one extra session. Those services can add up on their own, so evaluate which people bring the most consistent joy into your life before doling out Christmas gifts. If you cannot afford a gift for everyone, that is completely understandable. A thank-you note can mean just as much to people who helped you throughout the year.

U.S. Mail Provider

If your U.S. Postal Service provider brings Fido a treat three times a week and takes special care to be prompt with your deliveries, you can thank them for a job well done. Postal employees, including carriers, aren't allowed to accept cash or gift cards, but they are permitted to accept a gift worth $20 or less, according to the USPS. Choose something appropriate for your mail carrier that can easily fit into a gift bag. "Give a box of chocolate, homemade bread, or cocoa or cider mixes in cute mugs," Porter suggests. "And remember to include a card with thanks!"

Home, Yard, and Office Service Providers

Consider the value of your living space when brainstorming gifts for handypersons, landscapers, and garbage collectors. Wiese-Alexander suggests cash gifts around $25 to $50 with a handwritten note of appreciation for top-notch home service providers. Gift cards are only appropriate if they align with a place that the receiver will actually frequent, and if they cover the entirety of a purchase, she advises. The maintenance workers in your office building are important to remember, too. Trash collectors or janitors who you interact with frequently receive gifts between $10 to $20.

Also on the list: an office employee or doorman at your residence. Before tipping, check with your HOA to see if a holiday gift is already budgeted for.

Pet Caregiver or Dog Walker

Pets are members of the family, too. If your weekly dog walker is especially good with your excitable fur-baby, consider giving additional Christmas cheer. A gift in the range of $20 to $50 is appropriate for above-and-beyond pet care.

When You Should Skip Holiday Tips

Family doctors, therapists, and dentists are not often able to accept holiday tips—in some cases, there are ethics, guidelines, or laws against it. Instead, consider sending the family holiday card or a personalized note of gratitude. Quite often, seeing your family happy and appreciative is more than enough Christmas thanks for family health providers.

Low-Cost Ways to Show Holiday Appreciation

Outside of holiday tipping, there are many ways to help caregivers and service providers feel appreciated. Send handmade Christmas cards with personalized notes, make holiday food gifts, or give small DIY presents. No matter what you choose, people will appreciate that you thought of them during the holiday season.


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