Among the most commonly tipped service providers last holiday season, according to our nationally representative survey, were cleaning people. Fifty-nine percent of Americans who used their services gave them money or a present. A notable change from the previous year: a drop in the percentage who gave something to their child's teacher, from 60 percent to 48 percent.
Fifty-four percent of Americans said they didn't tip at least one person whose services they used, and 38 percent didn't tip any of the providers we asked about. People who gave no tips tended to say that their budgets were too tight (48 percent) and that it's not customary to tip some providers (40 percent).
Rebecca Black, founder of Etiquette Now, which presents etiquette workshops, suggests that a holiday tip be the equivalent of one session's fee for a gardener, barber, or other occasional worker; one or two weeks' pay for a nanny; and $10 to $20 for a newspaper carrier. Mail carriers can't accept gifts worth more than $20. Check the gift-giving policy at a child's school before giving teachers a gift. "Whether little Johnny gets C's or A's, you don't want to give cash," says Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily and author of "Emily Post's Etiquette."
What if you can't afford a cash gift? "Try the kind of treat you wouldn't buy for yourself," Post says, "a gourmet bag of coffee, a nice soap, but not perfume—that's too personal." Black says, "Consider all your conversations and use what you know about each person to determine what kind of gift could replace cash." Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, suggests "something baked from your kitchen or something that you have created yourself such as a specialty olive oil-herb combination." She adds, "It is never necessary to overspend, and tipping/gift giving just for the sake of ‘what it looks like' is damaging to your budget and your holiday outlook." Post agrees. "If cash isn't going to happen," she says, "a nice note is better than nothing, and it is in the spirit of what the holidays are all about."