Holiday Tipping

Last updated: December 19, 2008
Present from Evan!
Image by judsond used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

As if the hair stylists, teachers, and newspaper deliverymen in your life weren't enough people to acknowledge in the holiday season, looking after aging loved ones plants new deserving faces onto your gift list. What's the protocol for tipping or otherwise thanking home health aides, geriatric care managers, elder companions, nursing home aides, the woman who tackles Dad's gnarled toes every month, et. al.?

Try this 4-step formula:

1. Consider "The Rules"

Here's what etiquette expert Emily Post (who's actually now a bunch of third-generation Posts, presumably all well mannered) suggests:

  • Home health aides: Gift, unless it's against company policy (then consider a donation to the agency)
  • Personal caregiver: One week to one month's salary or gift
  • Private nurse: A thoughtful gift
  • Nursing home workers: Flowers or food for staff to share (not cash)
  • Live-in help: One week to one month pay in cash tip, plus gift
  • Daycare provider: Gift or $25-$70 for each staff member
  • Housekeeper: Up to one week's pay and/or small gift
  • Yard/garden worker: $20 to $50 each

But these traditional guidelines are only starting places.

2. Factor in reality

Life isn't a textbook. So consider:

  • The economy. Not to let you off the hook completely, but your budget matters -- especially this year. It's a calculus you have to make with your head and your heart, and that's hard.
  • The relationship. The person who spends hours with your parent every day deserves more than, say, the masseuse Mom sees at rehab once a week (who may not require or expect any tip at all).
  • The policy. Some home health agencies and care facilities don't permit their employees to accept cash tips, so check. Again, this doesn't mean they dislike gratitude.
  • The town. It's customary to tip wider and higher in some places (including New York City, where a lot of journalists writing about tipping -- not me! -- live) than others. So don’t just go by what you read. Ask your neighbors.

3. Go with your gut

Ultimately there's no single "right" answer. Ask yourself:

Why am I tipping? Because you feel obligated? In hopes of better service in the coming year? To say thanks? My mom used to shower her mother's nursing home staff with food treats and flowers so they'd be more aware of Gram, as well as because she knew they worked hard. But for one or two of these women, she also knit fabulous blankets -- because she felt deeply grateful and wanted to express special thanks. Which, of course, is the best reason.

What can I do if I'm flat broke? Ask your extended family to chip in. Remember, too, tips aren't necessarily big checks. Think food (a homemade specialty, a treat), grocery or Wal-Mart gift cards, or handmade gifts. Think personal -- one caregiver I know gave new pjs and a robe to an aide who stayed overnight often, plus some custom-made CDs of her favorite kind of music.

Whatever you give, include a quick note.

How much is too little? You tell me. Sincerity always beats generic re-gifting.

4. Just do it (or not)

Given that many service workers are seen irregularly over the December-January holidays, timing can be an awkward part of gratuities. What if your Mom's favorite aide has Christmas off, or Dad will be out of town over Hanukkah? Is it too late?

No equivocating here: This time of year is a season, with a pretty wide latitude for giving. If you missed giving before the actual holiday, give after. Give as a reflection on the past year and the new year.

The "when" is the easiest part.

Who are you tipping this year, and how?

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4 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

almost 2 years ago

It is more then I can do, we don't even get 2,000 a month, were do I get that kind of money. We live on ss. and Im the caregiver. Have a setter in for 2 hours a week that sets and trys to talks him, in other words we talk, alway set, dose nothing and I can't leave her because he fights with her. I was thinking a box of candy and a 10. gift card from Walmart.

almost 4 years ago

We are having the same dilemma. Our dad has an aide 4 hours per day. The first half of the year, his aide was terrific. She went back to school. The second half of the year he had a different, equally terrific aide, and she is still with him. Do we stiff the first one? That's not fair. She also helped him transition from independent living to assisted living, which was huge. I think $500 for a year, for a part time aide, is a good amount. Now the question is how to divide up the bonus. BTW we pay $462 per week for the aide.

Anonymous said almost 4 years ago

We are having the same dilemma in our family. Our dad has dementia and has a caregiver for 4 hours every day. I think that $500 for one person who has attended our dad for the entire year is good, for a half-time aide. Two sisters think that is the amount we should give to the most recent constant caregiver, who has only been working with our dad since the last half of June, when she phased in and the other one phased out. The other one also gave our dad excellent care but worked the first half of the year and we haven't even seen her in months. Do we stiff her? She helped our dad cope with a traumatic move from independent living to assisted living, and I think she deserves as much as the current person. But how much is that? I am thinking $400 each; when I am being miserly I think $300 each would be good. That is still more than the $500 I would pay one single person for a full year, and is a little more than what we pay the agency for the aides per week. How much they actually make per hour, I don't know.

almost 4 years ago

I would like to know how much to tip for a period much shorter than a year. Also, I pay a total of close to $2000 per week for my husband's three caregivers (thankfully, with the help of the very expensive long-term care insurance we were prescient enough to buy). We are by no means wealthy and I could not afford anywhere near that amount of money, or help, without our insurance coverage. I don't feel comfortable asking our children to chip in. Two thousand dollars in caregiver tips sounds extravagant and unaffordable to me. I would appreciate others' specific suggestions about how much to spend, including both cash and gifts.

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