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The Timeless Holiday Dilemma: To Tip or Not to Tip?

A quest to answer a this age-old question.

The holidays are a time when the act of giving comes with joy as well as complications.

Many of us buy gifts for people we know. We enjoy seeing a friend or family member open a present we selected. It's satisfying to send off a special fruit cake to someone deserving in another time zone. 

Giving gratuities is more complicated. It has become popular to give a little something to people in service industries, people we rely on. From postal carriers to personal trainers, the list can be long.

The basic questions are: Who do I tip and how much do I give? It's a matter of opinion among most people, and various factors come into play: the level and quality of service; what your budget allows; and friendliness and familiarity with the person to name just a few.

John McClain, who owns a fleet vehicle maintenance shop in St. Peters, has developed a formula. 

"There are many factors on how I see tipping during the holidays," he said. "As a shop owner, I like to tip large commercial accounts to show appreciation for the work that they bring my business. I generally like to give gift cards, because I feel that they're a little more personable."

McClain said that people should be careful to not tip beyond their means.

"I have to budget what I'm able to give," he said. "I'd love to tip everyone who provides me with work or services. But it can get very costly, very quickly."

McClain is also on the receiving end of the tipping process, as a newspaper carrier.

"I get holiday cards with cash or gift cards," he said. "It's a nice gesture that shows me that people are happy with the services I'm providing them."

There are a number of tipping guides on the web. The Original Tipping Page even has section devoted to Holiday Tipping Guidelines. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Custodian or handyman: $20 to $30
  • Newspaper delivery person: $15 to $25 (daily)
  • Cleaning person: a week's pay or more

Other services tend to garner tips equal to the cost of one visit. Some of these professions include hairdressers, personal trainers, and lawn care crews.

Rita Bachmann, an at-home hair stylist in St. Peters, echoed these guidelines.

"I've been getting tips for the holidays for years," she said. "It's usually from friends that I know or people that I've worked with for a long time. In my experience, most tips amount to what a normal visit costs."

But, she said, it is not appropriate to ask for tips during the holidays.

"I don't think that it's right to ask for anything," Bachmann said. "I certainly am thankful when people do tip me during the holidays, but I never make people feel like they should tip me. It's sort of an unwritten rule."

For Jen Bray, a special education teacher at , tipping during the holidays is a must.

"I tip anyone who provides a service to me," Bray said. "If you can afford the service, you can afford to tip."

There have been various studies and reports recently showing that more people are becoming more likely to give during the holiday season. Convio Inc., a Texas-based software maker, recently issued a report stating that 74 percent of adults plan to donate to charity in November and December. Giving has even gone high-tech. Convio also reported that online donations are expected to reach perhaps more than $6 billion, up 30 percent from last December.

Etiquette experts have suggested that holiday tipping is on the rise also. And while many provide guidelines about what proper holiday tipping practices may be, they generally agree to tip only what you can afford.  The Emily Post etiquette site calls holiday tipping, "holiday thanking."

And it should come from the heart.

"I think it is a good idea to tip anyone, not just through the holiday season, but all year round," said Cyndy Kleeschulte, a paraprofessional at Fort Zumwalt East High School. "I feel most people who have a job that relies on tips, they work harder than someone who doesn't rely on tips. The majority of these servers work with the public which is in no way easy, more challenging if anything. If I sense they are stressed or overworked or just having a bad day, I tip more."

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