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How much should you tip this holiday season?

Housecleaners are most likely to get a tip, trash collectors least likely

Last updated: December 2014

Illustration: Christoph Hitz

How much should you tip during the holidays? And who should get a tip? It depends on the type of worker you're tipping, where you live, and other personal factors, according to two surveys.

In our most recent Consumer Reports national survey, about 6 in 10 Americans tipped at least one of 14 common service providers, including apartment superintendents, barbers, child-care providers, school-bus drivers, teachers, fitness trainers, gardeners or lawn-care workers, hairdressers, housecleaners, mail carriers, manicurists, newspaper carriers, pet-care providers, and sanitation workers.

Housecleaners were the most often tipped and the best compensated; in our most recent survey, their median tip was $50. Those in most other professions typically received a holiday tip or gift with a median value of $20. Least likely to be tipped were garbage collectors.

Slightly more than half of respondents didn’t tip at least one of the providers whose services they used, and 39 percent didn’t tip any of those on our list. Some nontippers said they reward only exceptional service, and about one-fourth said they don’t tip at any time, period.

Stumped for gift ideas? Check our Holiday Gift Ideas page.

Emotions and regional differences play a part

In some cases, Americans aren't real thrilled about having to tip for the holidays. Care.com, a website that helps people find babysitters, senior-care workers and pet sitters, surveyed 1,269 people nationwide earlier this year about their holiday-tipping preferences. In that poll, 14 percent said they wished they didn't have to tip the the people who work with their kids. Thirty percent expressed annoyance at having to tip delivery people. One in four respondents said they spend more than $250 on total holiday tips, and 11 percent spend more than $400, total. 

The survey pointed out some regional differences. New Yorkers are most likely to tip; 75 percent reported they'd be giving this holiday season. They also spend more than in the other states; 20 percent of New Yorkers spend more than $300, versus 9 percent of Illinoians. Thirty-six percent of Californians re-gift, while only 25 percent of Texans do. Cash is the preferred gift of 44 percent of New Yorkers, versus 27 percent of Texans. (For a guide to tipping nannies, check Care.com's interactive map.)

The Care.com survey also found that men tip bigger than women; 52 percent spend more than $150, while 44 percent of women tip that large. Perhaps no surprise, 15 percent said they disagreed with their partners on whom or how much to tip. 

Wise tipping strategies

Be sure to check the gift-giving policy at a child’s school before giving teachers a present. And be aware that the U.S. Postal Service restricts the gifts that mail carriers can accept. Presents worth up to $20 are fine, but carriers can’t accept cash.

The top reason that respondents in our survey skipped tipping: a tight budget. But as Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of etiquette maven Emily Post, says, money isn’t everything. “We like to say that holiday tipping is really holiday thanking,” he points out. “Words mean a lot, so you can say something even if you’re not a crafty person or a baking person. A genuine and thoughtful thank-you goes a long way.”

—Tobie Stanger

Tip sheet for holiday tipping

Service

What people gave

Total value (median)

 

Cash, check, gift card

Gift

Nothing

 

Housecleaner

53%

15%

36%

$50

Lawn-care crew

21

4

75

25

Garbage collector

7

3

90

20

Teacher

16

35

53

20

Hairdresser

38

9

54

20

Manicurist

35

4

61

20

Newspaper carrier

32

3

65

20

Pet-care provider

29

5

66

20

Mail carrier

13

8

79

20

Barber

35

4

61

10

Conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in January 2012 about the December 2011 holiday season. Note: Some respondents gave cash and a gift.

Check out charities

If you’re thinking of thanking someone over the holidays by donating to a charity, check it out with the major charity watchdogs: CharityWatch, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator.


   

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