Personal Finance

Dos, don'ts of holiday tipping: Sentiment trumps cents

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As the year winds down, the stress winds up in an attempt to juggle family obligations, holiday parties, and finding the just right gifts for loved ones.

The desire to show thanks to those who help us during the year only adds to the mix. But holiday tipping doesn't have to be a source of confusion or anxiety.

Straight from the experts, here are some holiday tipping dos and don'ts:

Do recognize good service

Lizzie Post, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, said that holiday tipping is a simple but important thing to remember.

"It's one of those wonderful American things where we really do like to say, 'Thank you' to the people we work with or sometimes that we don't even see but really have an effect on our lives," Post said. "It's about recognizing good service; it's about participating in a season of giving."

Experts recommend not looking at holiday tipping as an obligation but rather narrowing down a list of service providers you have a genuine desire to thank.

Do think about your budget

Narrowing down the list can also help you budget for the expense.

Experts say consumers shouldn't feel compelled to break the bank when it comes to tipping during the holidays and that it's all about the sentiment behind the tip or gift.

"It doesn't have to be anything big. It should be something thoughtful," said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas. "Everybody has a different budget, but when you're giving from the heart, you're not looking for something equal in return."

Experts say that gifting home-baked goods or something else that shows off your skills can make for an affordable, yet equally thoughtful, gift.

In fact, one expert recommends gifting homemade items for teachers and principals.

While you want to show your gratitude and appreciation for your children's educators, offering them a monetary gift can often be mistaken for bribery. Instead, opt for "something home baked or a nice card showing appreciation," said Gottsman.

Do follow gift-giving policies

This same rule also applies to mail carriers. The U.S. Postal Service does not allow them to accept cash, checks, gift cards or any other form of currency. However, they can accept snacks or small gifts that do not exceed $20 in value.

Gottsman said it would behoove tippers to check the gift-giving policy of any business.

"The last thing we want to do is make someone feel guilty for not accepting a gift," she said.

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Post said that no matter who you're tipping, it's important to remember that "it's not supposed to be something that is going to buy your service for the next year."

Don't tip or gift professionals

It's also important to note that you should not tip or gift anything to professionals like your doctor, dentist, lawyer or accountant.

Post said this rule stands no matter how much any one of these people may have helped you throughout a particularly difficult year.

"If they have been particularly useful or helpful to you this year, then you want to say thank you with a card," she said.

According to the Emily Post Institute's website, tipping professionals could be perceived as inappropriate.

Don't tip seasonal workers

Another important thing to remember is that there's no need to double your tips, Post said.

A lot of people take seasonal summer jobs and usually receive tips at the end of the season. If you've already tipped someone such as a landscaper or a pool attendant at the end of summer, there's no need to go out of your way to tip them again at the end of the holiday season.

Post clarified that significant holiday tips and gifts are meant for year-round workers such as hairstylists, personal trainers, babysitters, housekeepers, etc.

Do personalize it

This tip is especially relevant when considering tips or gifts for service providers with whom you have a relationship.

For example, teachers, nannies or day care employees who work extensively with your children should receive a handwritten holiday note from your kids. You should also opt to gift something personal to housekeepers, caregivers or extracurricular instructors such as piano or dance teachers who have known your family for a long time.

Don't stress

Experts say, often, just doing your best is good enough and it's the sentiment that truly matters.

"Some people don't even holiday tip," said Post. "So if you're even thinking about it, you're a step ahead of the other guys."