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Holiday Giving: Who and What to Tip When


'Tis the season to hand out cash.

This holiday season, a leaner budget might clarify which people truly make a difference in your life. The challenge will be figuring out how much to tip them.

Determining what to give during the holidays, if anything, will likely be more complicated than in years past. Even if money is tight, it's hard not to feel guilty about skimping on the usual year-end bonus. You might also worry that not tipping will create an awkward tension, or result in shoddier service.

Still, you won't be alone if you scale back. About a quarter of respondents to a recent Consumer Reports survey plan to tip less this holiday season than they did last year. Only 6% plan to give more. If you're among those on a tighter budget, here's how you can save without appearing cheap.

Know the Customs

Before you start doling out money, you might be curious about what others are giving.

There are no hard-and-fast rules, but year-end tips are generally the cost of a single session. So if a haircut costs $40, that's how much you could give as a tip.

And holiday bonuses are generally reserved for people you've relied on for at least six months, said Mary Mitchell, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Etiquette. So don't feel obligated to tip a hairdresser you've only been to a few times.

For someone like a paperboy who doesn't charge per delivery, ask others what they're giving if you're at a total loss. Practices usually vary by region, however, so don't use your sister in Wyoming to gauge what you should pay in New York City for your delivery of The New York Times (NYT). You also shouldn't feel pressured to keep up with others.

Remember that some workers have guidelines on what they can accept. Mail carriers, for example, can only take non-cash gifts valued at $20 or less. That could include a gift card, but not personal checks in any amount. Alcohol isn't allowed either, even if it's worth less than $20.
Teachers generally can't accept cash either. The rules vary, however, so be sure to check with the school. There could also be guidelines on tipping other employees, such as bus drivers and teacher's aides.

Focus on Key People

One way to save is to focus on those you feel must be tipped.

Last holiday season, for instance, the downturn didn't affect how much housekeepers and teachers got. But fewer people tipped their barbers, garbage collectors, mail carriers and manicurists, according to Consumer Reports.

"The dollar amounts aren't changing so much as who is getting tipped," said Donato Vaccaro, who helps conduct the magazine's annual holiday tipping survey.

Since the economy hasn't improved, Vaccaro said more people will likely trim their lists this year.
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