Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Problem of Tipping at Christmas

Are you really obligated to gift everyone who has provided
you with a service this year?
image by digitalart

There’s a certain expectation around Christmas-time that pretty much every single person you had contact with throughout the year needs some sort of tip or acknowledgement.  As lovely as that sounds, for those of us who can barely afford to get gifts for our own families, it can put us in a real bind.

Blog posts and tipping guides abound this time of year, with advice on how to tip everyone from teachers to the person who delivers your mail (who I don’t think I’ve ever met, by the way).  One site that claims to be about frugal living offered tipping advice for nannies, personal trainers and house cleaners.  Clearly their idea of “frugality” is a tad bit different than mine. 

So what am I supposed to do?  When the latest tipping advice suggests $15 to $20 gift cards for teachers, child care workers, and so many others, where does that leave me?  My son is in middle school – he has six teachers every day, and that doesn’t even include the therapists and other professionals who I think deserve tips more than the teachers.  At 20 bucks a pop, that’s $120 right there, over half of this year’s Christmas budget.  I can’t afford to get gifts for my friends this year – it seems unfair to be obligated to gift these other people.

What are the consequences if I don’t tip?  Is each teacher keeping a list and checking it twice, marking off the kids who brought in a gift card and pledging as a New Year’s Resolution to be much kinder to those kids for the second half of the school year?  Will my mail carrier start spitting on my mail if I don’t leave a Starbucks gift card for him in my mailbox next week? 

If you have the means to tip and you really feel like saying “Thank you” to someone who has done an exceptional service for you this year, by all means, knock yourself out.  But if your budget is already strained to the limit and you are only tipping because of a feeling of societal pressure, maybe you should rethink the reasons behind your tipping. 

There’s plenty of ways  to say thank you and acknowledge gratitude without buying gift cards or giving cash.  A nice homemade treat, especially one that your child helped make, is a great way to say thank you.  Better yet – call up the person on the phone and say the words “thank you.”  I bet they’ll actually appreciate that even more than the gift card.  


  1. I don't really have any service people that I rely on during the year that I feel I need to tip, added to that the boys are homeschooled so there goes the teachers gifts. That said, the boys already like to help me bake cookies and other treats to give as gifts to their friends and they like to make things as well, little craft projects, paintings, drawings, ornaments, etc. I have a feeling that if we did have lots of people to tip; teachers, day care people, preschool teachers and helpers, etc. that I would still bake, craft and say thank you in writing, like we do now.

  2. I think that's the best way to approach it. I feel like something along those lines says so much more about how much you appreciate them than a gift card or cash ever could.

  3. Novella warning.

    I'm completely against obligatory gifts for anyone--and that includes receiving them myself. :D

    We do bake for the neighbors--this year instead of just cookies, I'm going to add a loaf of homemade bread and a jar of apple butter. Flour and apples are cheap:), and the jars were given to me:). I'm imagining that most, if not all, my neighbors haven't seen a loaf of homemade bread in years.

    More to the point, I think it's lovely to give one's mail carrier or UPS guy a gift if one has the means. I think it's ridiculous for every parent to give their kids' teachers a gift--talk about raking it in!!

    Even without much ourselves, I do work to find ways to give because I just think that's the right thing to do--but I prefer to give in ways that are more meaningful that an obligatory gift card. I'd rather buy some chickens for a family overseas via WorldVision or donate socks to a homeless shelter than hand out gift cards to everyone. But, at the same time, if I had more $ than I do, I love giving and would love to do random things like pay for people's coffee--not because that's "important," but because it's just a nice surprise.

    Do I sound snotty enough yet? :D Don't mean to be, but I think the obligatory gift-giving is just out of control. But then, I've never been into obligatory anything, really;).

  4. The obligation to gift is one of the things that really takes the fun and joy out of the season for me. It just adds a level of stress to an already hectic holiday. And it bothers me that even people who can't afford to do so get so caught up in it. I do like giving gifts -- sometimes to my own detriment! But people need to be more understanding of those who choose not to -- for whatever reason.

    And I fully support homemade gifts and goodies :)