What’s a huge topic of conversation this time of year? How much cash you should hand out as a tip this holiday season.

If you’re wondering what everyone else is doing, check this out:

Consumer Reports surveyed more than 1,800 people about their tipping habits. Here’s the scoop:

People most commonly tip housekeepers, hairdressers, teachers, newspaper carriers, aestheticians, barbers, gardeners, mail carriers, school bus drivers, apartment building caretakers, fitness trainers and sanitation workers. New to the list are dog walkers and elder-care workers.

Cash and cash substitutes like gift cards are the most common type of holiday tip. Tips average $40 to $50. Some etiquette books suggest giving your hairdresser the amount of money you’d normally spend on a hair cut.

Teachers, school bus drivers and child care workers most often receive actual gifts as opposed to money.

Tipping varies by region according to Consumer Reports. Northeasterners give the most generous tips and Southerners tend to be stingy, but they give homemade gifts more often than others.

The magazine offers this advice:

  • If you’re not sure how much to tip – match one week/session. If you take voice lessons for $40 an hour once a week, give $40.
  • Be careful using gift cards. These days cards expire and fees reduce the amount of money on the cards.
  • Know the rules. Some workers can’t accept cash. For example, teachers may be prohibited from doing so by the school board. Mail carriers aren’t allowed to take cash either – they can accept non-cash gifts of $20 or less.
  • Presentation. New bills look nicer than old ones and putting the money in a card makes it more special.

Some of it also comes down to the personality of the person you’re tipping. If you know he’s a fan of bike riding, he may appreciate a book of local bike trails more than cash. It’s also a chance for you to be original. How many decorative baskets does your child’s teacher really need?

While you may tip people regularly, tipping at the holidays shows you really care and are thinking about those in your life who make it better. You’re spreading joy to those who bring you joy throughout the year. Generosity and abundance can go a long way in making someone’s day happier.

Published: Nov 7, 2007