How Much Should I Tip for the Holidays?

N E W  Y O R K, Dec. 11, 2001 -- The holiday season is a time of giving and gratitude — and for most of us that means tipping everyone from the apartment building doorman to the person who delivers the Sunday newspaper.

Americans paid out an estimated $14 billion in tips last year, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The gratuities flow particularly fast around the holidays, when tipping becomes as common as mistletoe and eggnog.

Tipping dates back to the Roman Empire, but to this day, not everyone quite understands the rules and customs of tipping. Here are my suggestions on tipping etiquette: how you should tip, who you should tip, and how much you should give.

Tipping Guidelines

When tipping with cash, you should pay it directly to the individual. For those who live in communities where there are "tipping funds," as is common in high-rise buildings, give the tip directly to the individual who provides the service. Putting a face to the gift makes the act more meaningful and more memorable for the individual receiving the tip. A personal card is not only proper etiquette, but also ensures your gift is not lost in the holiday shuffle.

Here are the categories of people you should tip. (There is also advice on who you should not give cash tips to.)

Personal Care: This category is for the individuals who help with your personal grooming — those who save you from bad hair days or fix the broken nail in an emergency. For frequent customers, the proper holiday tip for a hairdresser, barber, manicurist or massage therapist is equal to the price paid for one visit. For a $40 haircut, give a $40 holiday tip. For non-regulars, an appropriate holiday tip ranges from $10 to $25.

Child-Care Givers: Baby sitters who come from time to time should be awarded the equivalent of one day's earnings. Give day-care providers a nice gift or gift certificate instead of cash. For a full-time nanny, the "holiday bonus" should be equivalent to one or two weeks of salary.

Mail Carrier: While those who live in homes may know their mail carrier by name, those who live in apartment buildings should not overlook their mailperson's importance just because they have never met them. A resident of a high-rise building is at the mercy of their mailperson when it comes to receiving mail that lacks an apartment number. A holiday tip ranging from $5 to $20 is a nice reminder to the mailperson that you appreciate their hard work. Federal law prohibits U.S. Postal Service employees from accepting cash or cash equivalent gifts worth more than $20.

Newspaper delivery person: Similar to the often-anonymous mailperson, your newspaper delivery person can decide the fate (and often the condition) of your morning newspaper. No one enjoys reading a rain-soaked front section, so reward your delivery person with a holiday tip in appreciation of that daily effort to deliver the paper to your door in good form. A tip between $10 and $20 is appropriate. Follow this same rule for laundry delivery persons and garbagemen.

Apartment doorman/building superintendents/custodians: Appropriate giving levels in this category span quite a range. For those living in urban settings where they rely on a doorman or custodian to receive packages, hail cabs and act as security personnel, a tip ranging from $50 to $100 is appropriate. The same holds true for a building's maintenance person who is on call 24 hours a day and is willing to come to an apartment in the middle of the night to fix a maddening, leaky faucet. Meanwhile, for those who have little interaction with their doorperson, a gift of $25 to $50 is sufficient.

Cleaning Person: It is customary to give a day's wages to a cleaning person for every day they clean per week. Give the equivalent of one or two weeks' wages to a full-time cleaning person.

Personal trainer: An appropriate holiday tip for a personal trainer is equal to the price of one session. Of course, if your trainer makes special arrangements just for you, or comes five days a week, consider a more substantial cash gift.

Dog walker/pet groomer: It is common to give a holiday tip equal to the price of the given service, but people have a tendency to give a little more to the caretaker of a beloved pet.

It is important to remember that giving money is not always the right thing to do. In fact, tipping professionals like physicians, teachers, accountants and colleagues is inappropriate. Instead, try a thoughtful gift or gift certificate to thank the professional for their hard work and service.

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital Management in Chicago, is GoodMorning America's personal finance expert. Click here to visit her Web site, Ariel Mutual Ariel associates Matthew Yale and Anne Roche contributed to this report.