Should You Tip Your Garbage Man? 9 Rules for Holiday Tipping

Do You Tip the Garbage Man? Holiday Tipping Guide

By Marilyn Lewis

Ring ring-a-ling, ring ring-a-ling. It's that time again. Time to wonder how much to spend on a holiday gift for your kindergartener's teacher and how much to tip the garbage man ... and the mail carrier, your hairdresser and a half dozen others or more who make your life sweeter and easier through the year.

In the video above, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson tells how to give some holiday love to those who care for us all year long, and how to do it without nuking your budget.

After you've watched, keep reading for nine rules about holiday tipping.

Holiday tipping seems to be on the rise. About 69 percent of 1,300 people surveyed by (an online marketplace for family care services) say they give holiday tips. The issue is, to whom, how much, and with what, should you tip or gift?

1. Spread the wealth. "If money is tight, figure out how much you can afford to spend and allocate it accordingly among the providers on your list," Lizzie Post, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast, tells CNBC.

Here's how to tip affordably:
  • Decide what you can afford to spend on tips and gifts.
  • List everyone you want to tip or gift.
  • Prioritize the people on your list.
  • Allocate how much to spend on each tip or gift.
  • Stop when you've hit your budgeted limit.
  • Plan how to thank those remaining without using money.
2. Stay within your budget. Seriously. Don't throw fiscal self-discipline to the wind for the holidays. There's pressure to keep up with everyone else, especially at this time of year. It's easier to resist, though, by imagining the misery of a holiday debt hangover. FiveThirtyEight writes:

Households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 annually will take an average of 2.6 months to pay off holiday debt, according to [a new] study, conducted by Harris Interactive Inc., a market research company. Lower-income households that make [less than] $50,000 will take an average of two months to pay off their holiday debt. (Households that make [more than] $100,000 will need only one credit card statement to shed the debt.)

3. Exercise flexibility. There's no code of ethics for this. You have carte blanche to use your own good sense.

If you have little disposable income, disregard advice from articles that suggest tipping the doorman ($25 to $150, depending on the relationship, says CBS New York), the dog walker (a week's pay, says Oprah Magazine), the nanny (a week's pay and a gift from your child, according to Oprah), the personal trainer (the price of one session, Oprah advises) or live-in help like a cook or butler (from a week's pay to a month's pay plus a personal gift, Emily Post advises).

Those articles assume a level of disposable income you don't possess, and the advice in them may be inappropriate for someone with less money.

If you do employ a nanny, a personal trainer and other personal service professionals, think about how those people affect your quality of life and tip generously.

Consider this reader's heartfelt post on

The stress that nannies are under is great and when we care more about the children we watch than the parents it is even more frustrating. So take a step back when you come home and think of all your nanny does for you and tip them accordingly or they will be running like I am about to do.

4. If you're unsure, ask around. Wondering what to give teachers at your child's school? Call the office and ask what's recommended and what other parents do. Your hairdresser? Ask at the front desk. Call your garbage company to find out what's recommended.

Don't stop there. Ask your friends what they do. Quiz other parents and acquaintances at the dog park, coffee shop or your kids' soccer games.

5. Don't tip if: A tip is a gift of money (more on gifts below). You've already paid, so this is a recognition of extraordinary service. There's no need for a holiday tip if:
  • The service you receive is nothing special. "There's a certain level of customer service you should expect when you're the customer," Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, tells CNBC.
  • You don't know the person's name. Whether you tip and the amount you give depends on the frequency of service and your relationship. If you don't know the name of your trash collector or your paper carrier, it may be better to give a small gift or something from your kitchen. On the other hand, if a landscaper's employee goes the extra mile every week yet you don't know his name, rethink this rule and give a nice tip.
  • It might be inappropriate. Postal employees aren't allowed to accept cash tips or gift cards. A holiday gift valued at $20 or less is OK, as are gifts worth up to $50 in a year. Teachers typically may not accept cash, so give a gift worth $25 or less. Or, better yet, get together with other parents on a group gift.
  • You tip regularly throughout the year. If you've been tipping steadily every time you receive a service, there's no need to pull out your wallet again at the holidays.
6. Do tip if: It is customary to tip the:
  • Garbage collector.
  • Baby sitter.
  • Newspaper deliverer.
  • Handyman or woman.
  • Housecleaner.
  • Hairdresser or barber.
  • Personal trainer.
  • Massage practitioner.
  • Caregiver.
  • Manicurist.
  • People who groom or walk/feed your pets.
How much you give depends on your finances. If you're not strapped, tip the cost of one session for those you employ regularly on a per-session basis. Give a week's compensation to people who work regularly in your home or for your family.

But remember, if you tip regularly, say you give your hairdresser an extra 15 to 20 percent each time you use her service, you're excused from also giving a holiday tip. Tip extra if you wish, by all means, but a card of thanks will do just fine in this case.

7. When you give cash. Put a cash tip in a card with a handwritten note of thanks. A couple sentences will do. There's no need to write a long letter.

8. When you give gifts. When a tip is not appropriate, give a small wrapped gift and card of thanks. Or give a gift card or gift certificate worth about $20 at a coffee shop, bookstore or online marketplace. Avoid giving gift certificates for necessities like groceries. If you suspect your recipient is hard up, give cash instead.

9. When you don't have cash. Here are alternative ways of saying thanks:
  • Send a letter of praise to a worker's supervisor, Peggy Post, director of the Emily Post Institute, tells Kiplinger.
  • Write a thoughtful thank-you note expressing your gratitude.
  • Give a card or gift made by your children.
  • Give cookies, jam, chocolate truffles, pickles or another goodie you've made.
What are your rules for holiday tipping? How do you say thank you if you can't give cash? Share your thoughts below or on Money Talks News' Facebook page.
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