Few rituals are more awkward than end-of-year tipping. How much do you give your trainer at the gym? What about your regular postal worker or newspaper delivery service? Or parking lot attendants? The list of potential recipients is probably longer than your holiday shopping list, but deciding how much to spend can be even more stressful because there's so much uncertainty about how much, and who, to tip.
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Here's a guide to making sure that you tip well, but not wastefully—and that you still have a happy trainer, newspaper delivery person, and parking lot attendant in the new year.
Postal workers: Postal workers cannot receive cash or any gifts worth more than $20, which is an appropriate tip during the holidays, says Judith Bowman, founder of Protocol Consultants International. You can also give more personal gifts, such as baked goods or a gift certificate (under $20 in value, of course).
Personal caregivers, such as daycare teachers: Cash gifts are definitely appreciated and, in some cases, expected. Consider joining up with other parents to give each teacher $100 to $300. Think of it more as a holiday gift than a tip.
Doormen of residential buildings: Plan on giving each worker at least $20 and sometimes closer to $100, depending on the type of building and its traditions. Ask longtime residents or the building manager if you're unsure. Throughout the year, if the doorman provides extra service, such as bringing up your groceries, tip between $5 and $10 per trip.
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Cleaning service provider: Give the value of one visit. If you usually pay $100 per week, then give at least an extra $100 around the holidays.
Regular hairstylist, trainer, aesthetician, and other service providers: Similar to the cleaning service recommendation, consider giving a tip equal to the value of one visit. This guideline only applies to people you see regularly (more than once a month). Otherwise, a 20 percent tip per visit without an additional holiday boost is standard.
Newspaper delivery person: A gift of between $10 and $20 or more in an envelope will help show your appreciation for all those cold and rainy mornings you can pick up your paper without a coat.
Garbage collectors: This thankless job often gets overlooked at tipping time, but consider giving each worker at least $20. If you leave extra garbage any time throughout the year, then leave an additional $10 to $20 for their effort.
Skycaps, porters, and hotel doormen you meet along your holiday travels: The skycap at the airport typically gets $2 to $3 per bag, says Bowman. If you are running late and they are of particular assistance, then add $1 to $2 per bag. A flat $20 goes a long way in saying "thank you." When in doubt, always tip up. As for doormen at hotels, tip anywhere from $2 to $5. For housekeeping services, tip $1 to $2 per night. There is usually a hotel-provided envelope that you can use for this purpose.
People to skip: Here's some good news for your budget. There's no need to tip the owner of an establishment (such as a hair salon), salaried staff (such as salespeople), full-service gas attendants, furniture delivery people (charges are included), or a flower delivery person, says Bowman.
Final words of advice: Tipping 10 to 15 percent is old-school, says Bowman. The new standard is 20 percent and up. And if you're a regular customer at a restaurant, you might want to consider leaving more to guarantee that you get good service on each visit. After all, says Bowman, the literal translation of "to tip" is "to ensure promptness."
If it seems like tipping rates keep rising, it's because they are—prices are rising. "The cost of living has gone up for people in the service industry, too," says Bowman. "If you want to 'play,' be prepared to 'pay,' especially for exceptional service and personalized attention."
Corrected on 12/14/2011: A previous version of this story incorrectly said postal workers can receive cash tips, which is prohibited.