Your No-Stress Holiday Tipping Guide

We asked a panel of experts for Philly-appropriate advice — and a panel of tippees about how much they really get.

Photo by Shutterstock

Photo by Shutterstock

I’ll save the line about how the holidays cause anxiety, because duh. But, according to our experts, figuring out how much to give to those people who basically make our lives run a little more smoothly year-round doesn’t have to add to that stress.

First, know that “one instance” is a reliable rule of thumb. “It means that on the high side, your tip is one session to your personal trainer, a week’s pay for a housekeeper, etc.,” says Michael Parise, of Copper Beech Financial Group in Moorestown.

Next, when trying to figure out who gets a tip, it’s the “people who really provide a service that you count on,” suggests Gail Madison, founder of The Madison School of Etiquette and Protocol in Huntingdon Valley. (So, don’t shove your few extra bucks in the tip jar at your hoagie shop.)

Lastly, cash and gift cards are king. “Don’t give little junky gifts — no one wants those” says Madison. “I was a teacher, and I can’t tell you how many cheap bottles of perfume I got. Give a gift card or cash. Tailor it to the person. If they like to read, get an Amazon card.”

Feeling a little strapped this year? That’s okay, too. “I don’t think it’s the time to make yourself crazy,” says Madison. “It’s about what you can afford.” And remember that appreciation comes in more forms than money. “Put your heart into,” she says. “And always do a handwritten card, saying how much you appreciate them. That is worth its weight in gold.”

What to Tip Personal Trainers

Etiquette Coach Gail Madison Says: “One or two sessions.”

Which Translates To: Training sessions cost around $50 to $80 an hour, so $150 at the most.

What They Really Get: “Just yesterday I received a gift card for a mani and a pedi,” says one Center City trainer. “Usually I get gift cards to health-oriented places like Whole Foods, Lululemon, City Sports. Some clients will give $100 cash. The best one I ever got was a two-night stay at a resort spa in Atlantic City.”

What to Tip UPS/FedEx Drivers

The Etiquette Coach Says: “There are no-gift policies, but if someone delivers regularly, a small gift card is nice. Just no alcohol.”

Which Translates To: Twenty bucks would be very generous. Think of it as treating them to a nice lunch.

What They Really Get: “We aren’t allowed to accept cash tips,” says a Rittenhouse FedEx guy, “but around Christmas, I’ll usually get baked goods from people who I deliver to often. I got a gift card to go out to dinner once and I was pretty surprised.”

What to Tip Mail Carriers

The Etiquette Coach Says: “Postal workers aren’t allowed to accept anything above $20, as a rule.”

Which Translates To: Don’t give anything they have to haul around on their route. Twenty is on the generous side. Put it in a card in your mailbox so they can’t refuse.

What They Really Get: “I’ve gotten tens or twenties in cards or gift cards to places like Starbucks,” confirms a Washington Square–area mailman.

What to Tip Building Doormen

The Etiquette Coach Says: “Talk among the residents — sometimes people pool gifts or sometimes the building has a policy, so you don’t want to be in error. Otherwise, in the city, $100 to $200. Two hundred if they do a lot for you, like hail cabs and bring in groceries.”

Which Translates To: If the doorman walks your mutt and helps with dry cleaning, you are probably going to want to make sure he/she knows that you are thinking of them specifically. So, contribute to the group gift, but give your guy something extra, like $50 at a minimum.

What They Really Get: “Everyone gives money together, so some years are better than others,” says a Rittenhouse-area doorman. “A few people will give something beyond that. One year I got $300, but I had to work for it.”

What to Tip House Cleaners

The Etiquette Coach Says: “A week’s salary. If they come every day, then maybe there is something that has value in their lives, like buying their children gifts or books for school. Giving is about being focused and thoughtful, not just throwing cash at people.”

Which Translates To: These people are in your house around your most beloved things (family jewelry) and incriminating stuff (sex tapes, Viagra). Don’t be skimpy. Two cleaning sessions … so anywhere from $180 to $400 is generous.

What They Really Get: “We’ll usually get one week’s or month’s pay, so around $100 to $120,” says a South Jersey house cleaner. “Sometimes families will do less one year, but everyone’s situation is different.”

What to Tip Daycare Teachers

The Etiquette Coach Says: “Don’t skimp … this is the person who looks after your child! And don’t buy cheap gifts that nobody wants, like scarves or bad pocketbooks. If cash feels tacky, get a gift card to a good restaurant in the area or a Visa gift card. If everyone in the school is going in on a gift, you can contribute something you feel adequate and still give additional gifts.”

Which Translates To: One Jersey mom said that people she knows actually give $10 Wawa gift cards to THE PEOPLE WHO TAKE CARE OF THEIR CHILDREN EVERY DAY. Shame on you, South Jersey! Seventy-five to $100 for main teachers and $25 to $50 for assistants seems appropriate. Visa or Amex gift cards are ideal, and a little less tacky than cash.

What They Really Get: “I have been fortunate,” says a Delaware County daycare worker, “because the parents in my class take up a collection and I get between $300 and $400, as does my assistant. (There are 20 kids in my class.) That, however, is not the norm. Most daycare workers hope for $25 cash or gift card per student. Typically they get less, like a $10 Starbucks or Wawa gift card or lots of candles, mugs or ornaments that they usually regift. My strangest gift was wrinkle cream. Yes, I took offense!”

What to Tip Regular Babysitters

The Etiquette Coach Says: “One session of babysitting.”

Which Translates To: In Center City, we’re talking $12 to $16 an hour, so $50 is nice, especially if your sitter doesn’t mind when you show up 15 minutes late and drunk, or when you hand her a kid with strep throat.

What They Really Get: “One year I got a T-shirt with a boy band on it,” reveals one Northern Liberties sitter. “I think it was 98 degrees. It was so random. ”

What to Tip Nannies

The Etiquette Coach Says: “Probably a week’s pay.”

Which Translates To: This is an expensive one — possibly $400 or more. But again, this is someone who is with your precious child and has free run of your home on a daily basis. (The good ones might even wash your undies.) What’s $400 in the long term? Think of it as insurance.

What They Really Get: “Once I got a spa package that I thought was a great gift, but ironic, considering I worked like 80 hours a week,” says a a Center City nanny.

Additional reporting by Regan Abato and Elena Hart.