In this report

A tip sheet on holiday tipping

Last reviewed: December 2010
Illustration of hands exchanging money
Illustration by Christoph Hitz

If you tip your barber, dog walker, or garbage collector at year's end, you're in the minority, says a nationally representative survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. The poll of almost 1,900 Americans was conducted early this year, when memories of holiday tips were fresh.

Respondents who tipped spent at the same rate as in past years. Though the top median tip was $35, a few service providers got thank-yous valued as high as $500. In this age of electronic news, a higher percentage of respondents than in the past tipped newspaper carriers.

If you'd like to tip, take these tips:

  • Give cash (the value of one session or a week's wage) to self-employed, lower-wage earners.
  • Give gift cards with care. Service, inactivity, or dormancy fees are now prohibited in a card's first year. But cards could be useless if the vendor goes under. Mail carriers can't accept cash or checks but can accept gift cards of $20 or less that can't be exchanged for cash.
  • Be sure that food gifts won't trigger an allergic reaction or violate a dietary restriction.
  • If your budget won't allow a payment, write a heartfelt note of thanks. Says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert who owns The Protocol School of Texas:"It's about what is authentic and genuine."
Holiday tipping chart