Holiday Tipping Decoded! (Hint: It Really Is the Thought That Counts)

Remember that holiday tipping isn't all about cold, hard cash. All sincere expressions of gratitude mean a lot in lean times

Does holiday tipping confuse you about as much as the stubborn tradition of fruitcake? Here’s (ahem) a tip: It’s an art, not a science. Your best judgment is all you need, with the key idea being this: Holiday tipping is a way to show your sincere thanks and appreciation, in no matter what form.

Sure, cash is a great way to say thanks to the people in your life who help you out all year, like childcare providers, housekeepers, doormen, and salon staff. If you’ve got the money, go for it.

But don’t blow your budget to satisfy a perceived obligation to hand over cash. Homemade crafts and food express gratitude and infuse a personal touch.

If time and cash are both too precious this year, remember that your own words are powerful too: Carefully consider a way to adequately express your thanks verbally, adding specific details of your gratitude -- like individualized comments on the talents and disposition of the people who help you out all year. Don’t underestimate what words mean to people.

If you’re going the money route, customize your tip in consideration of details like length of service and type of establishment (is your salon high-end or casual)? And don’t forget to do some quick research on what your service provider is allowed to accept.

In addition to these guidelines and more, etiquette expert Emily Post has a full rundown of what’s appropriate for whom.

For instance, if you can, give a babysitter about one week’s pay, plus a small gift your children create. For a housekeeper, consider about one week’s pay, along with a small gift if you like. For a gardener, a rule of thumb is about $20 to $50. Consider giving $15 or more for each doorman in a building. An amount equal to one session’s pay is a great cash gift for personal trainers, pet groomers, dog walkers, massage therapists and the like.

No matter what, remember to include a card -- because most of all it’s your words and sincere expression of gratitude that mean the most at holiday time, and all year long.

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Twitter: @alicedubin.

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