NEW YORK -- This holiday season, a leaner budget might clarify which people truly make a difference in your life. The challenge will be figuring out how much to tip them.
Determining what to give during the holidays, if anything, likely will be more complicated than in years past. Even if money is tight, it's hard not to feel guilty about skimping on the usual year-end bonus. You also might worry that not tipping will create an awkward tension or result in shoddier service.
Still, you won't be alone if you scale back. About a quarter of respondents to a recent Consumer Reports survey said they planned to tip less this holiday season than they did last year. Just 6 percent planned to give more. If you're among those on a tighter budget, here's how you can save without appearing cheap.
Before you start doling out money, you might be curious about what others are giving.
There are no hard-and-fast rules, but year-end tips generally are the cost of a single session. So if a haircut costs $40, that's how much you could give as a tip.
In addition, holiday bonuses generally are reserved for people upon whom you've relied for at least six months, said Mary Mitchell, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Etiquette." Don't feel obligated to tip a hairdresser you've only been to a few times.
For someone like a paper carrier who doesn't charge per delivery, ask others what they're giving if you're at a loss. Practices usually vary by region, however, so don't use your sister in Wyoming to gauge what you should pay in New York City. You also shouldn't feel pressured to keep up with others.
Remember that some workers have guidelines on what they can accept. Mail carriers, for example, can only take non-cash gifts valued at $20 or less. That could include a gift card but not personal checks in any amount. Alcohol isn't allowed, either, even if it's worth less than $20.
Teachers generally can't accept cash, either. The rules vary, however, so be sure to check with the school. There also could be guidelines on tipping other employees, such as bus drivers and teacher's aides.
One way to save is to focus on those you feel must be tipped
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