(AP) - Holiday tips are a way to thank the people who make your life easier. So why is it so hard to figure out whom to tip and how much?
Guides published by etiquette experts don't always agree on what's appropriate. What people actually do is another matter altogether.
Only about half of Americans give any holiday tips, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey, and those who do tip often give less than the amounts recommended by etiquette experts. For example, 56 percent of those who had housekeepers gave them a tip, and the median amount was $50. The manners mavens at the Emily Post Institute suggests the tip equal the cost of one visit, which according to HomeAdvisor averages at $167.
Plenty of people don't even realize that holiday tipping is a thing. Others want to tip but struggle with budgets already strained by other holiday spending.
"From an etiquette standpoint, we try not to say, `You have to do it exactly like this otherwise it's wrong,"' says etiquette expert Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont. "There are so many varied relationships that we have, or our budgets might not be able to accommodate it the way our hearts would like."
Ideally, your holiday tipping list would include everyone who makes your life easier by providing you with regular service throughout the year -- but if you get a lot of help, that can get expensive. Here are some guidelines that may help you decide whom to tip, and how:
1. CASH IS OFTEN BEST, BUT NOT ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED
If you can afford to give only a few dollars, a small gift or homemade item may be a better way of expressing appreciation. Post remembers her parents baking cookies and making candy for their mail carriers, garbage collectors and newspaper delivery folks. Of course, not everyone is good in the kitchen -- or welcomes homemade goodies.
2. MATCH THE TIP TO THE RELATIONSHIP
The amount you give can reflect the quality and frequency of your interactions. You might tip an occasional babysitter the equivalent of one evening's pay, for example, while a live-in nanny could get a bonus equal to one week's pay, or more. A small gift in addition to a tip is a nice touch when the relationship is more personal.
A tip roughly equal to the cost of a single visit might be appropriate for:
--Dog walkers and groomers
--Hairstylists or barbers
--Massage therapists, facialists and manicurist
For others, Post says, amounts can vary:
--Yard and garden workers ($20 to $50 each)
--Trash and recycling collectors ($10 to $30)
--Handyman ($15 to $40)
--Package deliverer ($20, if allowed; check with the company)
--U.S. Postal Service mail carriers (small gift only; no cash, per USPS rules)
--Day care workers ($25 to $75 each for those who work with your child; check with facility)
--Newspaper deliverer ($10 to $30)
--Building superintendents ($20 to $80)
--Doormen ($15 to $80)
--Parking attendants ($10 to $30)
3. NOT EVERY HELPER SHOULD BE TIPPED
If you tip someone regularly throughout the year, a holiday tip may not be necessary. Cash tips also aren't appropriate for certain people, such as professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants) and anyone who works for an entity that prohibits them. For government workers, for example, a tip can look like a bribe. Check with nursing homes, home health care providers, package delivery companies and day care centers, especially, before tipping individual workers. Post suggests that instead of tipping your children's teachers, offer to buy classroom supplies or go in with other parents on a gift or gift card.
4. MAKE IT PRETTY
Fresh, crisp bills tucked into a card with a handwritten note? Classy. Wadded bills thrust at the service provider on your way out the door? Not so much. Ditto leaving an extra-large tip on a credit card receipt. Something's certainly better than nothing, but putting some care into your presentation can demonstrate that you really do appreciate what they do for you.
5. TIP EARLY
In the past, I've scrambled to deal with holiday tips. This year, I started writing thank-you notes before Thanksgiving and plan to deliver the tips by early December. Tipping as early as possible in the holiday season means the people you're trying to reward have extra cash for their holiday spending -- which may include giving out their own holiday tips.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet .
Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet , a certified financial planner and author of "Your Credit Score." Email: firstname.lastname@example.org . Twitter: (at)lizweston.