So, how do you figure out who you should tip and how much? It's not easy, because who gets tipped as well as amount, varies greatly by region. Research indicates that people in the Northeast are the most generous tippers, while Southerners the least. However, that's not exactly fair because tips in the South often are accompanied by (or given instead of) a homemade or hand-selected gift for that personal touch.
If you're unsure of whether you should tip or not, and you want to be consistent with what other families do (if you indeed care about local customs or practices), ask neighbors, other parents or co-workers first. Then, be sure to find out any restrictions that could keep a recipient from keeping a tip, causing what should be a celebratory situation to become awkward. If you get the green light that tips are customary and you WANT to bestow a tip, then by all means, do so.
As far as child care providers, teachers and bus-drivers, here is what Consumer Reports says people gave to their service providers last year (based on a US survey of 1,800 people). For child car providers (i.e. family caregiver, nanny, au pair, daytime babysitter, or your child's lead teacher at daycare): 62 percent of people surveyed gave an average gift of $40. For teachers: 59 percent gave an average gift of $20. For school bus drivers: 31 percent gave an average gift of $15. Keep in mind that doesn't mean the others didn't give anything. It just means they may have chosen a different way to show appreciation.
If tipping your child's caregiver, teacher or bus driver, consider the following:
- Matching one week/session is considered the "norm." If your recipient provides service weekly, give the equivalent of one week's pay. Of course, that may not be practical or possible in many cases (such as someone who uses a nanny at $300 each week), but be as generous and thoughtful as your family budget can afford.
- Know any guidelines for cash and non-cash gifts. Some employers have restrictions on cash gifts that may or may not apply to gift cards. Some facilities may even "pool" any cash gifts given to be split among all employees, so if you're not good with that, know this in advance and choose a different type of appreciation.
- If giving a gift card to a specific store or restaurant, be sure that it matches with the recipient's tastes and budget. Don't give a $50 gift card to a steak restaurant that will cost at least $150 for a party of two to eat there. Same holds true with expensive clothing stores, if there is nothing for less than $100 and you provide the recipient with a $20 gift card. Or, don't give a gift card to a video store, only to find that the person doesn't have an account there. You get the point! Remember that you not matching your taste and preferences, but that of the recipient. You don't want to cause extra stress or embarrassment to the very person you're trying to show appreciation or gratitude to!
- Be careful of giving gift cards with fees or expiration dates. Some gift cards actually start deducting the balance after a short amount of time or charge a fee to be used. That's akin to a back-handed compliment, so stay away if the gift card won't be free to the recipient!
- Tip for the right reason, or don't tip at all. Tipping should never be construed as trying to gain favor, increasing your child's popularity in the class, or winning the so-called charitable mom or dad of the year award. It's not at all about you. Giving should be from the heart. If you find yourself looking for a way to bestow the tip with great flair or production, or hoping to have the gift opened when others are present, you're giving for the wrong reason. Discreetly provide your recipient with a tip and do it out of generosity, admiration, and genuine appreciation. Any service provider can tell a heartfelt gift from someone who is giving something because they felt they had to.
- Accompany a tip (cash or non-cash) with a hand-written note of thanks, drawing from the child, or ANYTHING personal. Gift cards and cash, while practical, are still considered impersonal, and traditionalist gift-givers still absolutely protest over the notion that this is an acceptable gift. However, recipients disagree, and while not meaning to sound cranky, teachers and care providers bemoan that they really don't need any more coffee mugs, paperweights, or "I love teachers" anything. Really! Combining a practical and not so personal gift of tickets, gift card or cash with a personal note or drawing pretty well sums up the absolutely perfect present!