How to Tip for the Holidays—and What to Do if You Can’t

holiday tipSpouse, check. Kids, check. Your favorite co-worker (or five)—got them covered, too.

But there are a couple more stockings you haven’t stuffed yet. You still have to show your appreciation to the doorman, the housekeeper, the babysitter, the dog walker—you know, those folks who help your hectic life run a little more smoothly.

Knowing how much you should tip, however, always feels like a guessing game. According to CNN Money, much of the decision depends on how long you’ve used someone’s services, how essential the service is to you, the quality of service you receive and where you live (urban dwellers should expect to tip a little more).

But if you’re still unsure (and we can't blame you if you are), here are some guidelines for typical end-of-year gifts:

Profession Tip
Housekeeper/Cleaner A tip of one week's pay or less, or a gift
Beauty salon staff Individual tips (or cards and gifts) for each person who works on you, all totaling the amount of one salon visit. (It's not necessary to tip the salon owner.)
Mail carrier Small gift whose value does not exceed $20 (postal workers are prohibited from receiving any amount of cash and gifts whose value is greater than $20)
Superintendent A tip of $20-$80, or a gift
Handyman A tip of $15-$40, or a gift
Doorman A tip of $15-$80 (if multiple doormen, $15 or more), or a gift. Because the range of $15 to $80 is so large, you should find out what is typical in the building. If you're new, ask longer-time residents for guidance.
Garage attendant A tip of $10-$30, or a small gift
Newspaper delivery person A tip of $10-$30, or a small gift
Dog walker A tip of one week's pay or less, or a gift
Yard/garden worker A tip of $20-$50 for each, or a small gift
Personal trainer/ Massage therapist A tip of one session's cost or less, or a gift

Remember that there’s another huge consideration here: your own budget. Understandably, if you’ve had to cut back on your family’s spending, that also means you’ll have to cut back on what you spend on everyone else. You may not be able to tip all the folks you want to, or not as generously as you normally would. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave anyone empty handed. Here are some alternate ways to gift that might be a little easier on your budget:

Pick a new holiday to celebrate. Choose a different occasion to tip that doesn’t fall around the holiday crunch time. Pick a fun alternate date like Lunar New Year or President's Day. You can show your gratitude and have some fun with it at the same time—plus, you’ll have some time to replenish your gift fund.

RELATED: 10 Ways to Make the Holidays Better—and Not Break the Bank

Offer your professional expertise. Maybe you can’t give a $50 bonus, but you can always offer up the equivalent based on your skills. Volunteer to give feedback on a child’s college essay, gift 30 minutes of personal training or offer an hour of free legal consultation. The more personalized you can make this gift to the recipient’s life, the more valuable it will be.

Pass along tickets. Got court-side seats that you’re not using as part of your season ticket package? If your recipient is a sports lover, these could provide him with a great night out.  Not into sports? You can do the same if you subscribe to movie or theater programs that allot you a certain number of tickets a year.

Make a D.I.Y. gift. If you make gifts for your relatives, there’s no reason you can’t for your service providers, too. Just make sure that it’s a thoughtful, useful token of appreciation. If your dog walker braves the freezing cold to take out Fido, a hand-knit scarf can go a long way. And if you're stumped, baked treats are always a hit.

RELATED: 12 Gift-Worthy Cookie Recipes for the Holidays

Don’t underestimate the thank you note. In the electronic age, taking pen to paper seems extra special. There are few people who won’t appreciate a thoughtful, handwritten thank you note.

  • MMConnor

    Please remember your trash and recycling collectors. They have hard, dirty jobs, whether it’s 0 or 100 degrees out! At least $10-20 per worker.

  • LucidDreamer119

    My husband has been going over seas to Iraq and Afghanistan working as a US soldier who is tipping him? I have to tip my mailman $20 to walk around my neighborhood delivering mail why doesn’t anyone tip soldiers in their area? Seriously this tipping thing is disgusting I can see for maybe a hair dresser but even then at $80 for a hair cut with $25 tip each time…is more really needed? Since 2002 my husband has been in and out of war zone countless time sometimes for as long as 24onths straight who tips him? The mailman is federal employee good salary good benefits. Why does he require a tip?? I tip my UPS man instead. But I’m done and fed up with lack of appreciation for our hard working soldiers! (Happy stinkin new year hubby leaves again Dec 27! For 10-15 month over in hell! No one is giving him tips! Sure I have a tip for everyone… don’t join the military!

  • Carolyn

    I usually love LearnVest articles, but where did you come up with these guidelines? I have to tip my beauty salon the cost of one service, $110 cut and highlight + tip, but I only should tip my handyman $15-$40? That’s less than one hour of labor….these guidelines have no backing.