Holiday Tipping: Who, When and How Much

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If you're confused about how, who and how much to tip this holiday season, you're not alone. Alex Chadwick speaks about the ins-and-outs of holiday tipping with Michelle Singletary, Day to Day regular personal finance contributor and the author of "The Color of Money" column for The Washington Post.


Even experts in etiquette and math are frequently baffled by the rules of tipping. And this is the holiday season when many of us want to be our most generous selves. It only adds to the confusion. Here to help is Michelle Singletary, our regular personal finance guru.

Michelle, how about tipping? It must be mandatory sometimes, don't you think?

MICHELLE SINGLETARY (Personal Finance Contributor): It is never mandatory. It is certainly customary in this country, but tipping by its very definition is voluntary. But because we have a service-oriented economy, lots of folks depend on our tips for their income. So it's--I think it behooves us to understand when it's appropriate to tip.

CHADWICK: And what about this idea of a holiday season special tip for people who help us throughout the year?

SINGLETARY: I think that during the holiday season, you should tip those people who have made a huge difference in your life. In fact, Consumer Reports did a wonderful holiday tipping, and most people said that's when they tip. They tip people who have made an impact in their lives, like the baby sitter who saves your life and lets you go out with your honey, child-care workers, even the person who does your hair and makes you look fabulous. You know, the people who really have some input in your life on a regular basis, those are the ones that, to me, should be at the top of your tipping list.

CHADWICK: And how much do you tip them?

SINGLETARY: Well, you know, the argument is all over the place. Some folks say that you should tip child-care workers as much as 25 to $70 per worker. Now if you're in a day care center, that can get quite expensive. But I think you should tip what you can afford. If you have an in-home child-care worker, just one person, you may think of paying them at least one week or half a week or whatever you can afford. They would appreciate, I'm sure, just about anything that you can give.

CHADWICK: OK. That's the annual seasonal tipping. Can I just ask you, what about ordinary regular tipping? Do you have rules for that?

SINGLETARY: Well, you know, certainly, people who handle your bags--I mean, typically, if you're, say, checking in in an airport and you use the skycaps, it's a dollar a bag. If someone helps you when you get to the hotel, helps you into the lobby, usually you tip them a dollar or two. The pizza delivery person, at least $2, if not--I usually try to do about 10 percent of whatever I get in terms of pizza. If you're fortunate to have a gardener, which I don't, but if you do, at the holiday, at the end of the year, you might tip them 20 to $50. Newspaper carriers, if they are delivering your paper daily, about 15 to $25, because they do deliver it in rain, sleet and snow.


SINGLETARY: And so forth. So, you know, just look at what they do and try to, you know, tip them according to how important they have been to helping you live your daily life.

CHADWICK: You mentioned pizza home delivery. Do you tip people when you go to pick something up? You've ordered takeout and you go to the counter, do you tip then?

SINGLETARY: No, I do not.


(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: One last thing: Who should you not tip?

SINGLETARY: Well, you know, it's interesting. Lots of folks give money to your postal worker. US Postal Service workers are not supposed to accept cash. Even though lots of folks give them money, they're not allowed to do that. But it's certainly appropriate to give them a small gift, maybe some baked goods or something.

And you know another person you should not tip, which will come as a surprise to lots of folks, is your child's teacher. You should not tip the teacher. In fact, I did a column asking teachers what they wanted for the holiday and many said, `I do not need another coffee mug, scarf or fruit basket.' What they really wanted was supplies for the classroom. And if you feel like you absolutely have to give your child's teacher something, then maybe perhaps a gift card or gift certificate in a small amount, because you don't want to look like you're trying to get favor for your child.

CHADWICK: OK, thanks. Michelle Singletary writes The Color of Money for The Washington Post. She joins us regularly for conversations about personal finance.

Michelle, thank you.

SINGLETARY: You're so welcome.

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Join us again tomorrow. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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