A Frugal Person’s View on Holiday Tipping

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The holidays are a great time to give thanks to those around you. But, should you necessarily follow the holiday tipping etiquette suggested by some?

I love this time of the year, the Holiday season that is. I mean, who wouldn’t love Christmas with having little hooligans running around the house? They get so much joy out of this time of year and it can be contagious. I also love the cool, crisp air, the falling snow and the many traditions our family has started over the years to celebrate at Christmas time. The holiday season gives us yet another opportunity to give thanks for how we’ve been blessed and that all that we have. Part of that giving thanks also comes in the form of thanking those around you. But, my question is how can you be frugal and still be involved in holiday tipping? Before I go any further, I understand that some may disagree with me and that’s ok. I want to communicate that I am not trying to be a miser, but engage in holiday tipping wisely without busting my budget.

You Can Go Broke With Too Much Tipping

The media is busting with holiday tipping articles right now. It makes sense because there are no set rules when it comes to holiday tipping and tends to be based off of personal preference. What some articles suggest could possibly add up to hundreds of dollars if all are followed. Now to some, that might not seem like much but that’s a good chunk of money for my family. We already spend a handsome sum (by my standards) on Christmas gifts, so holiday tipping is a luxury that we often can’t fully participate in.

You Can Show Gratitude Without Giving a Tip

If you can afford it, the easy thing is to give your mail person a $20 bill because it takes no time. Gifts that really stick out to me (and mean more to me, as a result) are ones where I know that the giver put time and thought into it. With just a little thought you can express thankfulness without spending a lot of money. You can write the person a nice thank you card. You can also bake them a batch of cookies or some other baked good. If you run your own business that they might use you could also give them a free hour or two of your time. These are just a few ideas and I am sure there are more, but the point is that you can give thanks and still be frugal at the same time.

Isn’t Holiday Tipping a Symptom of Our Entitlement Culture?

Now for the part that might rankle some people. I think the propensity of holiday tipping tends to be an underlying symptom of our entitlement culture. It seems like more and more places I go today the business or person wants a tip. In my line of work, you don’t get a tip for doing your job, you get a thank you at best and usually it’s being told what the client did not like. Why should I give you a tip just for simply doing your job? Take buying a coffee, or going out for ice cream as an example. That item is already costing me $3-$5, why should I throw a buck in your tip jar? That’s a 20-33% tip just for doing your job; I want a job like that! I think it CAN come down to people feeling entitled to getting something for nothing or for simply doing their job.

The holidays are a great time to give thanks to those around you. But, should you necessarily follow the holiday tipping etiquette suggested by some?

Now that I’ve ticked some of you off, let me take a step back. My view on holiday tipping, and tipping in general, is that it applies to those that are already getting paid and usually quite well for what they’re doing. So, sorry Mr. Mail Man, you’re getting a batch of cookies at best because you do get paid well and when you’re too lazy to get out of your truck, opting instead to honk at us to come out when we have a package, then I am not giving you a holiday tip. But, for those I’ve hired to do something personally for me, I will be giving you a holiday tip  – and a nice one at that. I also apply that to those whose livelihood depends on tips, such as servers and drivers. So, if we go out for dinner this holiday season and the server gives us good service, then I’ll give an awesome tip.


I am sure my views on holiday tipping may unsettle some. What’s your view on holiday tipping, do you give to everyone or to no one at all?



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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • I find the whole concept of tipping to be very foreign to me. In Australia tipping is not really a thing that happens all that often (unless you go to a pretty fancy restaurant).
    I realise in the US that many peoples livelihoods depend on tipping, so it’s a bit of an interesting dynamic.

  • We don’t really hire people for services, so there’s not really anyone we employ to tip at the holidays.

    But we do tend to tip waiters and waitresses extra well for their service this time of year, and if we are at a restaurant on a holiday – like Christmas or Thanksgiving – then we definitely leave a BIG tip. We feel they gave up time with their family to make our family dinner easier and feel a LOT of gratitude for that. =)

    • John says:

      We only hire on irregular occasions and that’s where we’d tip them.

      We’re the same way Mrs. Pop during the Holidays. Those servers are their waiting on us and away from their families. We tip quite well on those occasions.

  • Jamie Dickinson says:

    In the UK, we’ll tip at restaurant most of the time, if we’ve received good service. But that’s about it. I’ll take some biscuits and beer over to the garage across the road from us, since 1) they’re really friendly and 2) they have saved use £100’s this year in motor bills.

    Personally, I see little point in topping post man

    • John says:

      Interesting how it’s different in various countries Jamie. We tip a few that we hire for whatever reason (like you do at your garage) because we like to show appreciation for their service.

  • This is the first article I’ve read recently about tipping. I sorta think people shoudl just do what feels right to them. And, when they decide to give someone a gift or tip, think about what you’d want. If I had a client that helped all the time and she gave me some dumb cookies for the holidays, I would think she shoudln’t have wasted her time. Sweet of her, but c’mon, cookies? Doesnt’ America already have an obesity problem? The $20 bill sounds great. Easy for them, great for me…

    I think maybe people shouldn’t feel pressured into anything with gifts or tips — they’re supposed to be gifts, right? WHich means they aren’t supposed to be expected, right?

    • John says:

      I would agree TB, that you need to do what feels right for you and not what’s expected. The problem is that a lot of people expect to be tipped for whatever reason.

      However, you reinforced my point about giving cookies or money. The point is not about obesity, the point is giving gratitude. Giving gratitude can come in many forms other than money. What if the person can’t afford to give $20, but wants to show their thankfulness & loves to bake? My family was in this situation when I was growing up and it allowed my parents to still be able to say thanks without going broke.

      In the end, it’s the thought that counts and many would rather receive something as opposed to nothing at all.

  • Unless you are a waitress/pizza man who is probably making LESS than minimum wage without their tips… I don’t think you should be tipped for just doing your job.. Where you earn tips is when you go above and beyond..

    • John says:

      I totally agree Jefferson. If there in a role like that and I can safely assume they’re making that little then I tip as much as warrants, and quite well at times.

  • Great point! My wife once asked me why I never tip cashiers at starbucks or chipotle. I swear I said the exact same words that you did. I have no problem tipping waiters because they work for tips while cashiers do not. We do not give tips during the holidays but we give cards with our family picture for the year and a heartfelt message. I’m sure that stands out more than a couple extra bucks.

    • John says:

      Thanks Marvin! I feel the same way about tipping a waiter or someone else who depends on the tips to make a living. It does stand out, especially for me as time is so tight for me that it means more for me to give of my time than my money.

  • Catherine says:

    You probably remember my stance on tipping but I’ll say it again. There are very few people I tip for simply doing their job, call me a meanie or cheap but I just can’t justify paying over and above for a service people get paid to do. Having said that, if people go well beyond their scope of job or are overly helpful I will likely tip but never for a postal worker for example- especially here in Canada- they’re well taken care of by the Crown!

    • John says:

      I do Catherine and I am pretty much the same way. I really only tip people that I know are depending on it to make a living like a waiter. For others, they’re already getting paid a decent wage and should not expect a tip.

  • We don’t really hire anything out….so we dont have a lot of people to tip. We do tip our daycare person, though. She is awesome. That is about the only person that I feel compelled to tip.

    • John says:

      We really don’t much either. I can see why you’d want to tip your daycare person, there’s not much more important care you can be receiving than for that of your child.

  • I am not a fan on tipping, but I will tip waiters and waitresses well if they provide me quality service. I want and expect quality service and my tip will reflect it. I don’t show my gratitude toward someone by throwing them cash though, usually I will provide them a compliment. It is free and doesn’t require me to open my wallet. If someone is dependent on a tip, then I make sure to take care of them.

    • John says:

      We’re the same way Grayson. If they depend on the tips as part of their livelihood then I’ll tip and quite well if they give really good service.

  • Cat says:

    I think holiday tipping can get way out of hand – I don’t think I tip anyone. We don’t get postal service to our door, and we don’t take the paper. Our cat sitter is my Dad..hmm..yup, really nobody to worry about!

  • I tip well for restaurant servers and for my hairdresser. I don’t do those things much and factor in the tip. I never tip for take out or ice cream. I would never tip the mailman, never occured to me to do so. He gets a pension. He should tip me. Other than that, I don’t really do other tipping.

  • I never understood tipping the mailman. He is just doing his job and is already getting paid for it. Heck, the postal carriers make more than I do! I only tip servers because their wages are determined based on the assumption of a tip.

    • John says:

      I did not either Edward. Postal carriers make great money and a good pension at that. If the person depends on the tip, then I have no problem tipping at all.

  • I do not participate in holiday tipping. Call me Scrooge if you, want but tipping is for excellent service, not oh I do my job and it is Christmas time.

  • Mackenzie says:

    There aren’t really a lot of people that we tip, now that I think about it. Obviously when we go out to eat, we tip the waiter/waitress, but going out to eat is a rairity for us.

  • This year we gave one holiday tip to one recipient. It’s really just not a thing that comes up for us. We live largely anonymous lives in terms of interaction with the service sector, honestly.

    • John says:

      We run into the same thing Emily. We’ve only hired a few people in the past and once or twice it was during the Holidays and we’d tip them then.

  • Veronica @ Pelican on Money says:

    I honestly didn’t know there was such a thing as “holiday” tipping. I thought – tipping is tipping when tip makes sense. Tipping a mailman? What? Haha. You can probably guess what my policy on this type of tipping is: don’t have one. It makes me furious that some kids set up valet parking at Joe’s Crab shack only to pull my car a few feet into a parking spot. If those kids get anything for holiday, I hope it’s a good lesson on how not to take advantage of people.

    • John says:

      I know, but there is Veronica. I feel much the same way and if the person is already getting paid well then they’re generally not going to get a tip from me. If they’re a waiter, then I’ll tip.

  • Mandy @MoneyMasterMom says:

    So when I’m buying my daughter Jr Kindergarten teacher a gift am I tipping her for managing to keep 23 4 and 5 year old alive?

    • John says:

      I have no problem giving a teacher a gift, especially for those who teach little ones. The fact is they do not get paid nearly enough and it’s the least you can do.

  • Jason Clayton | frugal habits says:

    I try to tip well throughout the whole year. This probably comes from me being a waiter in college and really appreciating a good tip. Now when I go out to eat, I almost always give a good tip.

    That being said, I don’t tip the mailman or anyone else for that matter during Christmas. Maybe I’m missing the opportunity here – but most of my holiday expenses are presents for family and friends (and my boss may get a present too :))

    • John says:

      I do the same Jason. If we’re out for a meal and they give good service then I am going to give a great tip. I imagine being a waiter gives you a keen insight on an issue like this.

  • Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy says:

    The last tips we shelled out were to my hairstylist, and a waitress. If I had exemplary paid staff, like a housekeeper, I likely would give a Christmas bonus. But we do not engage in activities that require much tipping. My haircut was last year and it has been months since we’ve eaten out!

  • My whole thing is not to get upset about it. It seems when the subject of tipping comes up, there are some who are ready to declare war or worse. I just go with the mantra that if someone does a good job, then I tip. I will bake goodies as well if money is tight. Its all about showing your appreciation. Now I always tip servers because their salaries depend on that.

  • Pauline says:

    In Guatemala you get 14 monthly paychecks, one in June and one for Christmas. I won’t tip on top of that, but probably will throw a little party for the workers and their kids. I don’t really get why some professions would get tips and others not. In the case of your mailman it can even lead to worse service because you didn’t tip.

    • John says:

      Wow, that sounds nice getting two extra paychecks! We’ve given a tip to our mailman in the past but it does nothing and don’t even get a thank you for it. It’s obvious he’s unhappy in what he’s doing, but he’s also getting paid quite well to boot.

  • K.K. @ Living Debt Free Rocks! says:

    Good post. I don’t mind tipping for someone who does their job well. What does get on my nerve is when restaurants automatically calculate a 20% tip amount on my receipt. I don’t agree that they should tell me how much to tip. Okay I’m off my soapbox 🙂

    • John says:

      Thanks! I agree K.K. I want to be able to tip what I feel is right. Many times it’ll be 20%, but it will be more if I get great service or less if not so much so.

    • kathryn says:

      I usually leave the same tip amount, regardless of what the meal cost.
      Whether I ordered a $10 or a $30 meal, it didn’t take any more effort to serve it to me.

      I’m sure waitresses make more money than most other people.
      If they didn’t, no body forced them to take a job with “below minimum wage” payscale.

  • Holiday tipping can be so confusing. I agree that it’s become a bit of an entitlement and can be a huge budget buster if taken to extremes. Like you, I don’t receive holiday tips for doing my job (and it will be illegal for me to accept a gift of money) nor do I expect one. I do give special holiday tips, but to those people who I would purchase a gift for – not because society dictates it. I also agree that if money is tight but you want to acknowledge/thank a person, home baked treats are a perfectly acceptable gift – or if this person is in a service industry (i.e. hair stylist) a referral or two is probably more appreciated than a few extra dollars.

    • John says:

      It can be Shannon and I used to work in an industry where it was not allowed either. We give to a few that we want to show appreciation for but because they’re great to us and it’s what we want to do. Great point on the referrals, that can be the lifeblood for someone running a small business.

  • Great post! It’s so true…..there are so many other ways you can show gratitude besides I gift. I think I will bake my mailman some cookies 😉 Thanks!!!

  • I don’t have an issue with tipping. It is very common where I live and I think I nice bonus. I always give the same amount all year long because I believe people should be appreciated more than one or two days a year. In the industry I work I don’t receive tips but that is partly because I make more money than I would in the service industry. I don’t expect it.

    • John says:

      It can be nice. What I am taking issue with though is the expectation it be done regardless if your livelihood depends on it or not. If they’re a waiter or something like that then I am all for it. But, if they’re already paid well then I generally don’t unless it’s someone I’ve hired.

  • Danielle says:

    I tip in specific situations 1) I know they are receiving a reduced wage to account for tips (servers/waitstaff/bartenders) and they gave decent to great service, 2) When I want extra-special attention or care, like tipping upfront at a hotel or 3) When I know they lose a cut for their work, like a hairdresser. For coffee shops, etc, I’ll throw a quarter or a dime in every once in awhile because I remember what it was like making minimum wage as a student and getting an extra $10 every week. It’s not much but it’s nice.

    Holiday tipping doesn’t seem to really come into effect here in Canada, nobody tips the mailperson in these parts, we don’t even know them since they show up when I’m at work!

    • John says:

      We’re pretty much the same way with the exception of not tipping when we get coffee or something like that. Great point on the hairdresser, my wife runs into that all the time. Thanks for stopping by!

  • I don’t do anything special for the holidays as far as tipping goes. Who invented this anyway? What about those of us who are not in the service business or are self employed? I guess I’m a scrooge at heart.

    • John says:

      I’d like to know myself! We’re self-employed and get nothing in terms of tips, but that’s just fine because we get paid well enough. If you’re a scrooge, then I am too! 🙂

  • John says:

    Holiday tipping is a new concept to me. I consider myself a generous and fair tipper for those who work and rely on tips. But replacing a “thank you” for a tip when they’re already getting paid I think is above and beyond, so they have to earn it. We expect job professionalism and out of courtesy and politeness we say “thanks”. But the whole entitilement thing that seems to be taking over our country is what gets me ranting. 🙂

  • I’m with Glenn on this one John as the concept of tipping is foreign to me as well coming from the UK. Frankly I don’t understand why the owner of the establishment doesn’t pay his employees what they are worth. What would happen if every business did that? Leave a tip for your banker, for the sales person at the mall, etc, etc, etc we’d all be broke and the owners of these places would be rich and sipping margaritas on their private jet to Hawaii… lol… I’m not big on tipping yet I understand that employees are faced with this type of standard in the workplace and rely on them which is common in the US and Canada. It’s not their fault so I tip if I have to tip.

    • John says:

      Yea, I never understand it either Mr. CBB. There’s a line there somewhere and it can be difficult to find since there are no set ground rules. I like to tip a waiter and such when I am out because I know they depend on that, but otherwise I limit it.

  • Hi John,
    You have a very good point. There is absolutely nothing wrong in giving tips particularly during the holidays. However, if you go broke by doing this, then there is something wrong with this. It’s not all culture but being practical as well.

  • I had never even heard of tipping a mail delivery person until a couple of years ago. I used to be one (for a summer) and thought I was handsomely paid!

    • John says:

      I believe it’s more common than many people think Marie. My Dad was a substitute mail carrier a few years back and always got paid quite well.

  • I tip the same for the same type of service people this time of year. I’ve never tipped a mail person, just because I’ve read so many different points of view, and there is no real way I can get mine to my mail person because of how our system is set up. If by chance I’m out to dinner ON a holiday, I tend to tip, or tip more because that sucks to have to be working. But that’s about it. Great article!

    • John says:

      Thanks Tanya! I tend to be the same way, especially when out on a holiday because they’re away from their family serving mine so I’ll give more as a tip.

  • Justin@TheFrugalPath says:

    I really only tip the person who cuts our hair and servers. It just seems odd to tip someone who makes a good salary, has healthcare and, in many cases, has a pension. Servers/hair stylists often earn less than min wage so I tip based on service.

  • “So, sorry Mr. Mail Man, you’re getting a batch of cookies at best because you do get paid well and when you’re too lazy to get out of your truck, opting instead to honk at us to come out when we have a package, then I am not giving you a holiday tip.” Yikes! I hope no ones mail man does that, but I’m sure it happens.

  • Kira @Planwise says:

    I’ve been a server in a restaurant for over four years and I have friends who have made a career out of it for the past ten or twelve. What many people don’t understand about tipping is that if you don’t leave any tip at all, the server is actually losing money from having you eat at their table. Most restaurant servers are required to tip out the support staff (busers, host, etc.) on their total sales, which leaves the server having to pay out from a tip they didn’t receive.

    Anyway I’ve never thought of tipping the mail man or other jobs which I don’t consider to be a service job. If I’m getting a coffee to go I don’t tip, since I feel like I’m just paying for the coffee not for the lady to hand it across the counter to me.

    • John says:

      I’ve heard that before Kira. I think there’s only been once or twice that I’ve never given a tip because we received horrible service. I like to give good tips to the servers, especially when their service is good.

      I am the same way with other things. The mailman is already getting paid quite well and thus his livelihood does not depend on my tip.

  • I like the suggestion of baking or giving services to somebody who you can’t afford to tip. It’s tricky because it’s hard to know where to draw the line when it comes to tipping. It’s beneficial to keep the budget under control by tipping through things like baked goods.

    • John says:

      It’s something my Mom did a lot as it was cheaper than giving out cash tips and we could not afford to do it anyways. I agree, it can be tricky especially as there’s really no set rules to it.

  • I’m with you; people who are getting paid below minimum (or heck, even a buck above minimum) and rely on those tips for everything….I’d even tip them GENEROUSLY. I always do, actually, but the holidays are no time to be stingy.

    If my mail man did their job on a consistent basis I might make them some cookies. But we only get ours about 5 days a week. Which is an improvement from last year. But still not great. Your job is to deliver it 6.

  • I am tipping the women who staff the nursery at my gym pretty heavily this year. I rely on their hard work many times a week, and I wanted to go above and beyond to show them how much I appreciate them.

  • Laurie says:

    John, LOVE this post and the comments as well. I’m finding this quite intriuging, as we’ve only recently left our “un-frugal” life for a new, frugal lifestyle. In our old life, we always tipped the mailman, garbage man, etc., because “everyone does it”.

    We are learning so much from all of you about re-defining how we think, and not making decisions based on what “everybody” does. Thank you!

  • Seanna says:

    If you can’t afford to tip you shouldn’t go out – simple as that. Ditto for vacation tipping. I understand you want to watch the cents, but at the expense of someone else doing their job — even if they are getting a salary, in hospitality, tourism, and the service industry, tips are the name of the game — it provides the incentive for good employees to rise up and maybe give them a better start, be able to provide a holiday for their family, despite them working overtime during the holidays as you relax at your home with a job that gives you conventional time off — this post is just a long justification to yourself about your cheap — errrr — frugalness.

    • John says:

      Thank you for you comment Seanna, but I would like to ask you a question…Did you actually READ the post??? If so, then you would’ve seen this point at the very end of the post:
      “But, for those I’ve hired to do something personally for me, I will be giving you a holiday tip – and a nice one at that. I also apply that to those whose livelihood depends on tips, such as servers and drivers. So, if we go out for dinner this holiday season and the server gives us good service, then I’ll give an awesome tip.”

      It has nothing to do with cheapness, but not giving a tip to someone who is making a very nice salary because it’s expected or because it’s just assumed. I completely agree with your points on the service industry, but then again, you would’ve seen that if you read the post. 🙂

  • kathryn says:

    I personally hate tipping. While we are in Australia, it is not required or expected, becase the employees are paid a fair wage.
    While in Canada, I leave the same tip, no matter how much my meal costs. If something costs $10 vs $40, the server didn’t do any extra work.
    People working for tips are doing this voluntarily. I’d rather the original price be higher and exclude the expentence of any tips.
    Where I worked, I was paid..and never recieved a tip. I just did my job.

    Being frugal, cheap ect has nothing to do with it.
    Do they pay income taxes on these tips?
    I would bet not!
    I’m curious…do they pay taxes on these tips?

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