How much should you tip this holiday season?

By Tobie StangerConsumer Reports

In recent Consumer Reports surveys, 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 last year’s survey on tipping during the 2011 holiday season, their median tip was $50. Most other professions typically received a holiday tip or gift with a median value of $20. Least likely to be tipped were garbage collectors.

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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.

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 survey respondents 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.”

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.

—Tobie Stanger

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