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'Tis the Season to Tip: Here's How Much to Give

Thanksgiving has come and gone, but the season of gratitude continues in the form of tips or gratuity.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, but the season of gratitude continues in the form of tips or gratuity. It’s a gesture that has, for many, been passed down from previous generations.

Kiernan Faulhaber, 41, grew up in Pittsburgh and watched as each year during the holidays her mother gave a small gift or tip to the family’s longtime mail carrier and garbage man. She does the same now for her mail carrier, garbage team, her daughter’s bus driver and elementary school teacher, and her hairstylist.

“These are hardworking people and I want to show my appreciation for all that they do,” said Faulhaber, a mother of 4.

Faulhaber isn’t alone in her holiday season benevolence., a website that helps match caregivers with families, found that 70 percent of people surveyed plan to tip this holiday season, some as much as $400 by the end of the year. But it’s not all cash tips. The survey found that 60 percent of folks will give a combination of gifts and cash and a whopping 77 percent of people will hand out gift cards.

Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert, said gift cards are a great gift alternative to give folks from mail carriers to bus drivers who can’t legally accept cash, but she reminds gift givers to put some serious thought into the process.

Read More: A Guide to Holiday Tipping: What to Give Your Hairdresser, Doorman and Others

“If you happen to know your bus driver is into golf, then a gift card to a golf shop is appropriate,” said Swann. “They really need to be personalized and thoughtful.”

“You want them to feel that you know something about them,” added Swann.

For folks like her mail carrier, Faulhaber chooses gift cards for local coffee or bagel shops, “so they can grab something during the day or before their route starts.”

Meg Rosan, 34, an attorney based in Washington D.C., gives her building concierge a gift certificate to a local eatery that Rosan knows she frequents. For elementary school teachers, often one parent will collect money from the class and purchase a large group gift certificate to a spa or local restaurant—some place that encourages the teacher to really take a break from the classroom.

When it comes to cash tips, like the $20 Rosan gives her paper boy, Swann says it’s important to let the recipient know that they have gone above and beyond this year and the money is a way to recognize their actions. It’s why she says slipping the cash into a holiday or thank you card is imperative.

“A holiday tip isn’t charity,” said Swann. “These are people who have made your life easier throughout the year and you appreciate what they’ve done for you.”

“Generally, the more intimate the service, the higher the tip,” said Swann.

Faulhaber gives her hair stylist, whom she has been seeing for 15 years, a very generous cash tip, and if she’s in the baking mood, she’ll also include some brownies or cookies.

But when cash and gift cards aren’t appropriate, there’s a sweet and simple alternative. When it comes to her son’s high school teachers, Faulhaber eschews a gift and the two teens, instead, sit down and write thank you notes.

“I think the teachers appreciate hearing from the students,” said Faulhaber.

Lizzie Post, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast, agrees that budgeting for the holiday tipping season can be overwhelming and costly, and said a heartfelt thank you note is a perfectly acceptable substitute.

Here are some general guidelines to follow this holiday season:


  • Doorman: $25-$100
  • Garbage workers: $5-20
  • Hairstylist: $10-60
  • Pool cleaner / garden worker / personal trainer: Equal to the cost of one session or service


  • Mail carrier: $20 gift card or gift worth no more than $20
  • Bus driver: $10-20 gift card or gift worth no more than $20
  • Nursing or elder care provider: Small gift
  • Teacher: Group gift