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Thanks, but...Holiday tips dip

Last reviewed: December 2009
Large hand holding a small envelope out for service workers
Illustration by Christoph Hitz

Americans have become more choosy about whom and how much to tip at the holidays, according to a nationally representative survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. During the 2008 holidays, fewer people than in the previous year tipped their newspaper carrier, barber, mail carrier, hairdresser, manicurist, and garbage collector.

Our poll of more than 1,800 U.S. residents was conducted shortly after the last holiday season, when respondents could best remember what they gave. A survey of 1,000 U.S. adults we conducted in October 09 shows that the downward trend might continue: 26 percent of Americans who usually tip or give a gift to a service provider said they would spend less this holiday season than last. Just 6 percent planned to spend more.

Average cash or noncash tips also were smaller for some occupations. The median tip value for manicurists was $10, half the amount given during the prior holiday season; the median tip for pet-care providers dropped from $30 to $25. A few of the tippers we surveyed bucked the trend, giving as much as $500.

Note that although more than half of respondents gave something to a teacher, most gave a gift instead of money. (School districts may discourage cash gifts.) Postal workers can accept noncash gifts or gift cards worth $20 or less. Choose gift cards with care: Bank-issued cards may expire or have fees, and retailer-issued cards might be useless if the store goes under.

If you're giving less this year, you can still say thanks with a card or homemade gift. Readers have reported plans to make wreaths, Christmas-tree ornaments, or specialty foods. Reader Cale Johnson of Seattle, for instance, recently made three dozen jars of pear chutney from a bumper crop in his backyard. "It's as though the tree sensed I could use a little help with my holiday gift giving," he said.