Tips on holiday tipping when you're broke

How much do you tip the person that cuts your hair?

Is your budget being blown by holiday tipping? Marketplace Money host Carmen Wong Ulrich talks to etiquette expert Thomas Farley about how you show your appreciation during the holidays without going broke

On top of charity and giving back to our communities, here's one more way we give this season: Tipping

You may be happy to show some extra gratitude for the helpful folks in your life, like those who cut your hair to taking care of your kids to walking your dog. But you have a budget, we all do.  

That's why etiquette expert 'Mr. Manners' Thomas Farley shares some of his tips for holiday tipping:

What if you don’t have enough money to tip as much as you'd like?

“If you feel you can’t give anything, you are just aboslutely tapped out, you have no budget, you can still do something," Farley says. He suggests a card or something homemade. "You might want to just indicate in the card, 'This has been a really difficult year for me financially. I’d love to give to you like I have in the past, unfortunately I can't, but I hope you know that’s not a reflection of the great job you’re doing. Somebody getting a card like that is not going to have that resentment versus somebody who just gets nothing from you at all."

Find something unique

"In the case of a day-care worker, or a babysitter or a nanny, involve the child. Have the child do a homemade card too, that is something that’s really special," he says.

But don't go overboard with cutesy ideas. "What I really do hear a lot of from folks [like] teachers and dog-groomers, they don’t want any more kiddy-themed items as gifts. They don’t want cute cat calendars if they’re somoene who takes care of the cat," Farley says. They want a gift card, they want the retail gift card, they want some money.

Sharing is caring

If you need gifts for a whole team, Farley suggests catering to everyone's sweet tongue instead of individual gifts. "Maybe it's a plate of fresh-baked cookies. or chocolates," Farley says. "People are working extra hours, they need that sugar rush to keep going. They may even remember your amazing chocolate chip cookies more than they’ll remember a few dollars here and there."

About the author

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the former host of Marketplace Money, APM’s weekend personal finance program.
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I normally tip my mail carrier $50 but I couldn't afford it this year, so to compensate while still trying to show my appreciation for everything she does, I gave her a 20-spot along with a few small items, like a bottle of liquid soap, a high-end chocolate bar and decorator candle in addition to the 'thanks' card.

I was disappointed to hear that this piece put hairstylists, newspaper delivery services and child-care workers in the same category. To be sure, holiday tips are a lovely way to show gratitude for service workers who are helpful and keep us looking our best.

I do not feel it is fair to lump these services together though. Child care workers make on average $9 an hour to care for our children. They often spend more hours with young children than their families do. Can we reconsider how we cast child care workers at holiday time? Our culture owes a debt to child care workers who support families, the economy, and our smallest citizens for a very low wage.

What burns my candle is I have never once had a restaurant server return to thank me for a tip, which is typically 15-20%. Need not be a special trip, just when passing by while I'm still sitting there. Since a tip is not obligatory, and if not 5 or 10%, it sure seems appropriate. Presumably it would be rude to look at a charge slip or cash while at the table, but surely they look when back at the register. What ever happened to "thank you?"

Actually in response to segment on gift cards (can't find it listed)...Amazon gift cards have a couple of added bonuses, I've found...one, you can do it online at the last minute and have it sent via email. But even better, two, you can keep track if people have used your gift card yet. This has been very handy when I've sent it out to relatives across the country. After a year, I look to see who hasn't used it, and have it sent to them again. Usually people have forgotten and appreciate the reminder. If the card remains unused a very long time, and maybe you lose contact with the person, you can reabsorb the gift card amount into your own Amazon account. I don't know if any other cards have these options. They don't seem to advertise this process, but I have found it through the order history page. Also, if you write them and ask, they will tell you how to do it.

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