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The ultimate tips for holiday tipping on a budget


It’s the most wonderful time of the year, they say, unless you’re talking about your finances.

From a money perspective, the holidays put a huge strain on family bank accounts, especially when all of those extras – like year-end tips – push your budget past its breaking point.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit of giving, or feel pressured into having to financially reward everyone with whom you’ve come in contact.

But while you want to find a way to thank everyone at holiday time, you shouldn’t have to deplete your limited cash reserves to do so.

January (and its fearsome pile of bills) is right around the corner.

That’s why I’ve learned to set aside extra funds to cover all of the holiday tips I want to give and to be a little stingy about who I reward.

Well, put in a more positive way, I’ve become more selective about who gets end-of-year tips or thank-you gifts, and to place reasonable limits on the presents I bestow.

Here’s how I suggest you do that.

Reserve most of your tipping for the most critical helpers.

It’s not only about genuinely wanting to do something nice for the most important professionals in your life.

But an extra dose of goodwill and kindness at holiday time is also an investment in your future relationship with these folks.

Here’s an example.

Say you have a private tutor for your child who’s really struggling with math. While you have her on a regular weekly schedule, come midterm and final time, you want to get in an extra session before the exams (but so do her other students).

Put yourself in the tutor’s shoes. Which client are you going to find the time for?

Someone who’s pleasant to work with and gave that lovely Christmas gift or another parent who cancels sessions at the last minute and didn’t acknowledge her during the holidays?

So who makes your top tier?

Some possibilities might include:

  • Caregivers for your children.
  • Home health aides for your aging parents.
  • Others who work for you on a regular and frequent basis such as tutors, therapists, housekeepers and dog walkers.

Gift suggestions: Aim for a monetary bonus that is equivalent to one service call along with a handwritten note. So if you pay your child’s tutor $50 per hour, a $50 check or gift card in that amount would be appropriate.

If you know the person well, you can go ahead and purchase something that you know he or she would love. For example, maybe your dog walker is a big moviegoer – gift cards toward dinner and a movie would be spot on.

Acknowledge a second tier of helpers without going broke.

When you start listing out all of the teachers, coaches, school personnel and personal trainers those obligations can add up quickly.

You can’t simply scratch these names off your list, but at the same time, you have to show some giving restraint.

Gift suggestions: No need to splurge on a flashy gift. You can easily stay in the ballpark of $20 or less per gift.

Although I often take advantage of group gift collections (my sons’ school usually asks each parent to contribute $10 for a class gift), I still like to give a little something extra like an inexpensive box of chocolates.

If you happen to be crafty (I’m not, unfortunately), there are tons of cute DIY gift ideas online that can be made with a few dollar store supplies.

Do as much as you can for the other pros you depend on.

There are a lot of community members that make your day go smoother in some way, and saying thank you is warranted.

Some people who fall into this category are baristas, lawn care providers, your mail carrier and delivery people, hair stylists and barbers.

What they all have in common is that they might not notice if you don’t give them a gift since they serve so many people, but they sure will remember you if you do.

If it’s in your budget, select a small gift. If you’re tapped out, you can get away with skipping some of these folks, but try to budget better for next year.

Gift suggestions: You can’t go wrong with a $10 gift card to a popular coffee house. Or, save money by buying an inexpensive case of wine, or consider making a few batches of homemade goodies so you have something to give out to people. Add some ribbon and a gift tag or label for a nice presentation.

Show your appreciation to everyone else without giving money.

Lastly, there are those with whom you only come in contact a few times a year, but still want to acknowledge.
This could include anyone from your dentist, to the owner of a restaurant you frequent, or your group fitness class instructor.

Gift suggestions: Just send a card or do something meaningful. In the case of a local business or service provider, take the time to write a positive online review, tag them in a Facebook or other social media note of praise, or send referral business their way – all of which have great value to them.

One final tip. Don’t feel compelled to stuff dollars into every tip jar you see on checkout counters while holiday shopping, unless someone was particularly helpful.

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