Holiday Tipping: How Much Is Enough?

A reader who purchased his first home this year is unsure of how much to tip workers who provide services for his family. Here's a guide to tipping at home, and when you're traveling for the holidays.

Q: We bought our first home this year and are unsure about what we should tip workers (mail carriers, garbage men, delivery people, etc.) for the holidays. What amount is customary?

A: Tipping during the holiday season isn’t mandatory but it’s recommended unless you want to suffer through a year of bad service from people you deal with regularly. If you’d rather not burrow through the hedges to get your morning paper, for example, a holiday tip to the newspaper deliverer is in order. Holiday time is also when you should pony up to your baby sitter, your cleaning help, your garage attendant, and give something extra to your barber or hairdresser.

The amount and type of the tip depends on the person getting the tip. There are some guidelines to help you, but most experts and those on the receiving end of tips agree that cash is best. The exceptions to the cash gift rule are those who aren’t allowed to accept money, including UPS and Fedex employees and mail carriers. You can opt to give them a gift, although the value shouldn’t be more than about $20.

To keep your relationship on an even keel, experts say you should tip your regular babysitter the equivalent of one or two nights pay, plus a small gift from your children. If you have a housekeeper or a nanny, give at least week’s pay or more, depending on how long they’ve been with you. The newspaper carrier should get $15 to $25 for daily delivery, $5 to $15 if you only get the paper on weekends. You should generally tip your barber or hairdresser the cost of one cut, and you can also add a small gift. If you go to the same restaurant often, something extra for the wait staff is a good idea.

If you’re going to be traveling for the holidays, don’t forget your drivers. Chauffers, van drivers and taxi drivers each earn at least 15% of their total income from tips, according to salary-information website Payscale.com. Tour guides also make up to 20% of their income in gratuities.

Hosting a holiday party? Most people are used to tipping wait staff, but when you hire a company to cater your party it’s also customary to tip the catering manager as well. Where many party-throwers trip up is with professionals for hire. Unbeknownst to some, DJs, musicians, singers, and other performers routinely receive gratuities in addition to fees charged. Finally, don’t forget your parking attendants -- more than 20% of their income comes from tips, according to Payscale.

Holiday time may also be a good time to take a look at your overall tipping habits, which is an area in which many doctors are often perceived as deficient. For a comprehensive list of who to tip and how much, check out the tipping guide at FindALink.net, which covers just about every tipping situation you may find yourself in, including hotels, trains, and cruise ships.

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