Q: I always have a hard time deciding whom to give a tip to and how much during the holiday season, plus I don't have money to throw away. What advice can you offer? - Gretchen Gratuity
A: Dear Ms. Gratuity: First off, you're very generous to even bring up the subject, particularly if your finances are in a bind like so many of the rest of us.
While most recipients prefer a cash gift, you can also pick up a small gift, such as homemade goodies or an ornament for several folks on your list. (Teachers and mail carriers fall within this last category.) If you have the chance to speak with certain service people, try to steer the conversation to what kinds of items they like or collect. According to Consumer Reports, tips include, though some seem high to me because of the belt-tightening measures of our pockets:
• Cash constituting the value of one session or a week's wage to self-employed or lower-wage
earners. For example, falling within this group are hairdressers, newspaper carriers, manicurists, and trash collectors.
• Gift cards are nice presents, assuming the vendor doesn't go under. Always select the card with a well-known vendor in mind. (Mail carriers are able to accept these if $20 or less that can't be exchanged for cash.)
• Charity donations made in the name of the giftee is a wonderful idea, although he or she might prefer the more tangible gift.
• Gifts can be purchased or come from the home and heart. For instance, a bag of gourmet coffee, fresh-baked cookies or even a hand-knit scarf for a favorite serviceperson shows your thanks for their service.
• Peggy Post, etiquette maven, says if money is so tight you can't spend a dime, then a nice note of appreciation is in order. After all, it's the spirit of the holidays that's important.