If holiday tipping is an aspect of apartment living that gets you stressed out, you're not alone. As December rolls along, many renters find themselves in the position of not being quite sure how tipping is supposed to work at an apartment building.
Even if it's clear which people merit a tip from you, how much to give could seem like a riddle. You don't want to give too little, of course, but you also don't want to later regret that you gave more than you needed to.
Here's some guidance to help you tip confidently and take the guesswork out of this potentially awkward aspect of the holiday season:
Whom to Tip
Here are the folks who are probably expecting a tip from you:
- Mail and package carriers. Every apartment dweller with a legal address gets mail throughout the year from a carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. When tipping a mail carrier, keep in mind that federal ethical rules bar postal employees from accepting cash (or cash equivalents, such as gift cards), however they may accept gifts (such as baked treats) valued at as much as $20. If you also get packages from a private company, such as FedEx or UPS, consider tipping delivery folks if you deal with them frequently, particularly in connection with a home business.
- Building staff. The most likely candidates for a tip are the doorman and super, if your building has them. As for other building staff, you should consider tipping them only if they do a lot for you over the year and you don't tip as you go. One example could be a parking attendant who does his job well and goes out of his way to look after your car or offer directions or parking advice for guests.
- Your own cleaning service. If you hire a person to clean your apartment on a regular basis, he or she will probably expect a tip around the holidays.
When to Tip
Since it's called "holiday tipping," most people tip in December, or at least after Thanksgiving. If you're going to tip for the holidays, it's best to do so before Christmas, otherwise people may wonder if you forgot about them.
Of course, if you live in a building where renters customarily tip at another time of year, it's best to follow that building's conventions.
Why to Tip
Tipping around the holidays has become traditional at apartment buildings across the United States. Although the people you tip get paid to do their jobs, the purpose of giving a tip is to show that you particularly appreciate what these folks do for you, and that you're happy to help spread holiday cheer.
Also, your token of appreciation and act of generosity will hopefully encourage the recipients to show you the prompt attention you deserve when, for example, an issue with a package or repair request inevitably arises.
How Much to Tip
The main reason people get stressed about holiday tipping is they're not sure how much to tip each person. Tip too little and you risk offending recipients and appearing stingy; tip too much and you may later feel like you foolishly wasted some of your hard-earned money. Plus, if you try to correct an overtipping mistake by tipping less next year, don't expect the recipient to react with understanding.
So, what's a well intentioned apartment dweller to do?
Here are some guidelines to follow so you can feel confident about the amount you tip:
- Tipping is a personal decision based on your situation. In deciding how much to tip, take into consideration factors such as how many people live with you, how much you interact with the recipients, and if you live in a luxury building. If you choose to tip, you should probably give each recipient $10 or $20, at the least. You might, however, choose to give $50 or $100 to a certain person, and building staff at luxury buildings in large cities often get much more. Also, if you moved into your apartment recently, you're not expected to give as much as if you've lived there all year. Finally, a person you hire to clean your apartment regularly will likely expect the amount of a single cleaning session as a tip.
- Find out what others do. If you're new to an apartment building, ask your neighbors what they do for tipping. If you're worried that you'll come across as too nosy, then instead pose the question as what's done in the building or what they think you should do. If you're not friendly with any neighbors, you can find some to ask when checking your mail or in other common areas. Chances are, some neighbors will be happy to offer you suggestions.
You can also ask friends and co-workers who live in other apartment buildings what they do for tipping, and compare it to what neighbors in your building told you.
Finally, here are some general tips on tipping to keep in mind:
- Write it down. Whatever you choose to tip, it's important that you remember what you did so you know for the next year and don't inadvertently give less (or more). Jot down what you tipped, e-mail it to yourself, or put a note about the amount in your December calendar for next year.
- Think before changing the amount. Before you raise the amount you tip, think about whether you can commit to maintaining the higher level going forward. Also, if you tip more this year and go lower next year, the doorman or mail carrier will probably notice and wonder why.
- Don't just hand over cash. Give cash in a holiday card or thank-you card. This way, the act of tipping won't appear just as a money exchange but as a gesture to convey holiday greetings as well as your sincere thanks for all that the recipient has done for you. Also, if possible, give the tip in person, so you can also say thank you when giving it. If you're new to an apartment building, this also helps the doorman or super get to know you.
For even more tipping tips, watch my live interview with NBC New York's Erika Tarantal on holiday tipping etiquette as well as my talk with NBC New York's consumer reporter Lynda Baquero.