Based on the record $52 billion Americans spent over the Black Friday weekend and the more than $1 billion they spent online on Cyber Monday alone, you might think money woes are less of an issue this holiday season.
However, in a recent poll from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 40% of respondents said they aren't shopping at all for the holidays because they're expecting further financial distress in their households.
But while the high rollers are hitting the stores, and the financially shaky are pinching pennies to pay the bills, many people in between are struggling with another seasonal debate: How to handle holiday tipping this year.
It's an uncomfortable thing to ponder, but for some of us, a new strategy for tipping may be in order. Here are some tips:
Stick to Your Budget
"Don't put yourself in the poorhouse," says Cindy Post Senning, a director at the Emily Post Institute, the experts in all things etiquette.
It's simple: Do what you can afford. Don't feel pressured to tip. Tip based on loyalty. If you don't see someone regularly, don't feel compelled to tip, or don't tip as much as someone you do business with on a regular basis. "A tip is based on the relationship you enjoy with the person to whom you are giving a monetary gift," says Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, which specializes in corporate etiquette training.
Think homemade cookies, jams, jellies, bread, candy, potpourri. Make candles, or a book of your favorite holiday recipes. If you knit or crochet, show you care with crafts. You're only limited by your imagination.
Creativity seems cool and cheap, but think about the person you intend to give such a gift to. If they won't be wowed or touched by such displays of affection, think twice. "Creativity is seldom admired or appreciated at the holiday season. Cash is king. After all, how many homemade cookies can a doorman eat and still fit into his uniform?" asks Hilka Klinkenberg, founder of Etiquette International.
The Power of a Simple 'Thank You'
If all else fails, a thank-you card or note is never a mistake, says Klinkenberg -- just don't make it read like something you could have written to anyone. It should be personal, thanking them for a specific deed or deeds, or somehow reflect the uniqueness of what they do for you that you appreciate. Sometimes a personal note is far better than any gift, says Gottsman -- and it's surely better than nothing at all.
If you do go the creative route, give a store-bought gift or cash, a personal note or card should go along with it.
For those who have the means to give, the gift gurus provide a few guidelines.
What Not to Do
"Don't get too personal with gifts like perfume or lingerie," cautions Post Senna.
You also want to be sure the person's organization permits them to receive gifts. Rules vary and can be strict. For example, the U.S. Postal Service doesn't allow its workers to receive cash or gift cards with a value of more than $20; at FedEx, the limit is $75, according to Gottsman. Many schools have policies about teachers receiving cash -- it could be misconstrued as a bribe. Small, inexpensive gifts, or a group gift may be best.
What to Do
For the regulars that always have your back, Klinkenberg suggests tips equivalent to the cost of one use of their service: Thus, give the hairdresser the price of one session; the babysitter, an extra evening's pay, plus a small gift from your child; the housekeeper, up to one week's pay and/or a gift; the nanny or au pair should also receive up to one week's pay and a small gift from your child; the gardner, $20-$50; the dog walker, the equivalent of one week's pay.
Gottsman adds to this list, $10-$30 for the young turk who delivers your newspaper; double the usual tip for your manicurist; a generous basket of holiday treats for the nursing home staffers who take care of your parents or other family members ; $50-plus for your apartment building's doorman, $50 to $100 for for the landlord or building manager; $20-50 for the elevator operator in your building; $20-50 for the building handyman.
Finally, Klinkenberg offers this general guideline: Tip service professionals and give gifts to professionals like teachers.
Holiday tipping doesn't have to be terribly expensive, but it should be thoughtful.