Give the gift of money: A tipping guide for the holidays


For many Californians, the holidays are a time to show gratitude through thoughtful generosity. For loved ones, we may want to spend the time searching for that perfect present or planning a sweet surprise. But for people outside our circle of friends and family, including the service workers we rely on all year, money might be the most versatile gift.

In the past, some Americans have seen giving money or a gift certificate as impersonal. But Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert and the founder of the Swann School of Protocol in Carlsbad, Calif., points out that in some cultures, money is a common gift — witness, for example, the Asian practice of handing out cash-filled red envelopes or the Panamanian traditions followed by Swann’s family.

A 2021 Zelle report tracking American holiday trends found that money was the most desired gift to receive for the holidays, almost twice as popular as experiences or tangible gifts. (In the same report, money was listed as the number one source of stress during the holidays.)

“We’re starting to see that shift of acceptance,” Swann said. “Now, it is absolutely socially acceptable to give and receive money as a gift.”

But who should we be tipping during the holidays — and how much?

During the pandemic, tipping increased because people understood the risk that many service workers were taking. Swann expects to see a similar spirit of generosity continue throughout the end of the year.

But no matter what you decide to give, always tip within your personal budget, she said.

Swann collaborated with the digital payment network Zelle to create a new holiday and tipping guide that was released Tuesday. Here are some highlights:

  • For childcare, she recommends giving a babysitter one evening’s pay and a gift from your child; for a nanny, one week’s pay plus a gift; and for each daycare provider, $25 to $50.
  • For pet care, she recommends $25 to $50 (or the cost of one session) for the dog walker and $15 to $25 (or the cost of one service) for the groomer.
  • For house cleaners, she recommends a holiday tip that’s up to the cost of one day of work.
  • For building staff, she recommends tipping parking attendants $25 to $75, landscapers $25 to $50 and maintenance workers $20 to $30.
  • For personal care — including hairstylists, massage therapists and personal trainers — she suggests tipping up to the cost of one service or giving a gift.

Other tipping advice

Prioritize the individuals who have helped you throughout the year. It’s more important to go above and beyond for a parking attendant who works at your office building than for a restaurant valet whom you’ve had minimal contact with. Think about the “hairstylist who fit us in [their schedule]… the babysitter who stayed longer without asking questions, or the housekeeper who did something extra,” Swann said.

Don’t be afraid to be forward. Gifts don’t always have to be a secret surprise. “It’s perfectly fine to say, ‘Hey, I have a gift for you, and I just want to confirm your email address because I’d like to send you a little something,’” Swann said. “The surprise and delight of getting that extra amount is already great.”

Personalize the money. If it’s someone you often chat with, you can add a note such as “I know you’ve been saving toward a new designer bag” or “I know you like your own self-care services, and here’s some money for that” to show that you’ve listened and done a little bit of research, said Swann.

Coordinate a group gift. This could mean gathering fellow parents from the school to go in together on a present for the teacher. It could mean choosing an amount that you can afford to give to salon staff, and dividing it between the person who does the hair washing and the one who does the styling and cutting. Or it could mean buying a selection of baked goods for all the nursing home employees to enjoy.

Zelle’s holiday guide to tipping & gifting also includes suggestions on how much to tip all year round.

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