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Holiday tipping: How much should you give?

/ Source: TODAY

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From the babysitter to the doorman to the maitre'd at your favorite restaurant, America's booming service economy has had one stunning result: More people to tip at the holidays. But who do you tip? How much do you tip them? And has all this year-end handing out of cash gotten a little out of control? 

Who does get tipped?
People who provide you with a service on a regular basis. That means your list of people to tip really varies from the next person's. If you use a dog-walker, subscribe to a newspaper that gets delivered, visit a masseuse, and use the same babysitter every Saturday night, those people should go on the list.  

When is a gift more appropriate?
I think this is something you'll know in your gut. The more personal a relationship, the less appropriate handing over a wad of cash likely is. But one way I think you can tell the difference is to ask how you compensate this person on a regular basis. Take the difference between your child's teacher and your child's tutor. You don't pay the teacher — so giving cash is crass, a gift is better. You do pay the tutor, so an extra week's pay is appropriate.

Are gift cards an okay substitute?
If you don't feel comfortable giving cash, then sure. But remember if the person wants to use the tip to pay off credit card debt or to save, they can't do that with a gift card. Be sure the gift card is highly usable — i.e. redeemable at a lot of places, not just one.

What's the difference between a tip and a bonus?
A bonus is something you give to people on the payroll. (Taxes are usually taken out of bonuses.) Tips are generally off the books certainly of the giver — and sometimes of the recipient as well.

What if you simply can't afford all of this tipping?
I'd write a lovely, grateful note and give it with a small gift — something homemade is fine — or with a tip that is smaller but something you can afford.

Tips on tipping
Note: There are regional differences in how much you are expected to tip.  If you're new to an area ask your friends and neighbors for guidelines.

Daily (or biweekly) service/little relationship: $15 — $30
These are the people who provide you a regular (i.e. frequent) service, but with whom you have little if any personal interaction.

  • Trash collector
  • Parking attendants
  • Newspaper carriers
  • Postal carriers (if you're set on breaking USPS guidelines)

Weekly or monthly service/more personal relationship: Cost of 1-2 visits
These are people who know the details of your life, who work hard to give you the type of service and attention that are important to you (rather than generic to everyone they serve).

  • Manicurist
  • Barber
  • Hairstylist/colorist
  • Dog walker
  • Personal trainer
  • Housekeeper
  • Once-a-week babysitter
  • Landscaper
  • Children's service providers (private coaches, tutors, sports teachers, etc.)

What if you're the type of person who only gets their hair cut once every three months?
Then you can reduce the tip to half a visit — or give a small gift if you're more comfortable.

Daily service/tight bond: 1-2 weeks pay
These are the people without whom you couldn't function. If they don't show up you can't get on with your day. If they were to feel unappreciated and quit, you'd be in deep trouble.

  • Nannies/full-time babysitters
  • Home health aids
  • Property managers
  • Personal assistants
  • Housekeepers (full-time)

People you need things from in the future: Varies
These are the folks with whom you need/want to curry favor. They're the ones who you want to go above and beyond for you if you're ever in a huge jam. Ask around to find out if there's a going rate — then try to at least meet it.

  • Building personnel (doormen, supers)
  • Maitre 'D at favorite restaurant
  • Snowplow operators

Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including "Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .

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