Holiday tipping: 5 helpful guidelines for end of year gifts

‘Make your thank you thoughtful and meaningful’

Even though it’s the season of generosity and gift-giving, end-of-year tipping can seem awkward and confusing.

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The point of tipping, according to etiquette expert Elaine Swann, is to thank people who are in the service industry who regularly go above and beyond to help you.

“It’s always a good idea to tip, especially at the end of the year, in order to show people who help you throughout the year that you really appreciate them,” Swann told FOX Business. “This is the time of year that you want to almost return the favor.”

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That being said, it’s not always easy to determine the specific people you should tip or how much you should give them.

To help you out, here are five questions to consider when tipping this holiday season.

Who should you tip?

“The way we can determine to whom we should give a tip is think about the individual who is part of your life throughout the year,” Swann said. “This is not the random person that just so happened to deliver your packages that day … This is where we look at the relationship and the service that they’ve provided throughout the year.”

Instead of looking at a list of people you should tip, Swann suggested thinking about the people who have “gone the extra step for you.”

“If they really helped to make your life easy throughout the year, then that’s an individual that I would say should wind up on your tip list,” she said.

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For example, Swann said that tipping your child’s tutor at the end of the year is a great way to thank them for the times they stayed late to help your child throughout the year.

You could also consider tipping your regular barista or sandwich maker, even if you tip them when you order, too.

“The best way to determine whether or not you should give them a tip is how far above and beyond did they go for you,” Swann said. “Do you usually go in every week and you have a really large order and they’re very accommodating? Do you walk in and they know your order already so they can ring you up without even thinking twice about it? It’s in that instance that you can say, 'you know what? I want to say thank you for all you’ve done throughout the year.'”

The Emily Post Institute suggests about 26 people you should consider tipping, including your regular babysitter, your housekeeper or cleaner, your barber or beauty salon staff, your dog walker or your massage therapist.

However, there are also people you shouldn’t tip at all, Swann said.

Specifically, you shouldn’t tip your postal workers, because they’re government officials and they aren’t allowed to accept cash gifts.

“If you do decide to give them a gift, it has to be under $20 in value,” Swann said.

How much should you give?

There are two kinds of service workers you might be tipping this holiday, Swann said, and those two differences can offer a good rule of thumb for how much money to give.

For people who offer a specific service and charge the same amount all year, like a tutor, Swann said to consider tipping them “from as little as half of the amount of the service that they normally charge you to all the way up to the full amount.”

For someone like your regular barista, who may already be getting paid an hourly wage, Swann said: “That’s when we start to get into that dollar-amount range, where you actually give them something that’s meaningful.”

“Anywhere from $20 on up is good,” Swann said because it’s more significant than a typical $1 or $2 tip.

How do you tip?

According to Swann, most people don’t have time to go to the bank and take cash out for tips, so she recommends using Zelle instead.

Zelle, a digital payment service, is already in many banking apps and recognizes contacts in your phone, Swann said.

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“You would send the person money through Zelle and then add a note,” Swann said.

She suggested including specifics in the note for what they’ve done to help you, whether it’s your child’s tutor who agreed to stay a bit late or your barista for always remembering your order.

When do you tip?

“In my opinion, based upon when we’re connecting with people and when we see them, you can tip by Dec. 31,” Swann said. “That should be your cut off. And if you haven’t yet or maybe you don’t see them or maybe your schedule is off, in terms of connecting with them, then what you can do is just make it a Happy New Year sort of thing.”

What if you don’t have the budget?

If you want to tip, but can’t afford to, Swann recommends buying cards and hand-writing thank-you notes.

“This is something that’s very, very important and people really, really enjoy that,” she said. “Even if you don’t know their address, you can hand it to them directly and just put some kind words in there, letting them know how much you appreciate them.”

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“Make your thank you thoughtful and meaningful,” she added. “Share some sort of instance or tell them what you appreciate them for, aside from just writing your name. Remind them of how they helped out through the year.”