It's lovely having an army of people to enrich the lives of your children every day: tutors, day care providers, teachers, dance instructors, soccer coaches, the babysitter... Until you realize it's the holidays and you have to tip them. All of them.
"I don't want to sound resentful, but this time of year I feel like people have a siphon into my wallet," said Ann Brenoff, a senior writer for The Huffington Post who has clarified that her frustration does not a Grinch make. "I enjoy gift-giving. What I don't enjoy is being made to feel like I have to give. And there is a certain amount of pressure on moms."
That pressure comes in all shapes and sizes: there's the group gift for the teacher you're not required to contribute money to, but feel you must, because who wants to be the one person not giving? Then there are the parents who give the teachers an Hermes scarf. That most likely makes you feels insecure or downright inadequate because, damn it, you knew there was something on your to-do list you meant to take care of. If you live in Alabama, don't worry, you're off the hook because they just made it illegal to give a teacher a gift beyond something of little intrinsic value, like an ornament, even around the holidays.
The good news is, there is protocol for this craziness -- and yes, it has been adjusted to take the abysmal economy into account -- and it's not as overwhelming as you might think. So who gets what?
"The holiday times are when we say thanks and show our gratitude. It should be meaningful," said Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder of The Etiquette School of New York. "And it should be what we can afford to give. That's the first rule: do not go into debt." Napier-Fitzpatrick suggests a gift in the range $25 to $50 for teachers.
Since there are ten of them, you should prioritize. Napier-Fitzpatrick suggests you consider which teachers your child has more special relationships with, and give accordingly. Alternatively, consider giving a gift to the homeroom teacher only.
If you're looking for specific gift suggestions for teachers, check out HuffPost's guide to affordable picks here.
Day Care Providers
The appropriate value of a gift depends, in part, on where you live, pointed out Nelson Barber, a professor of hospitality management at the University of New Hampshire. New York City is not a small town, and vice versa. Generally, daycare providers should get between $25 and $50 per person.
But there are 10 of them, too! Yes, but (deep breath) again, you don't have to pay all of them.
"What we suggest is that you find out if there are one or two people that have spent most of the time, or significant time, with the child," said Barber. In terms of what end of the spectrum your gift should be, "It depends on some of the things they’ve done for you. Have they stayed late because you're running late? If they accommodate you, you might want to go on the higher end," he said.
Nannies and Babysitters
"Typically, if a nanny has been with a family for a year or longer, one to two weeks of pay is a holiday bonus," said Erin Krex, president of First Class Care, a Chicago agency that places nannies and other domestic service providers. One week's pay is typical, but if your nanny has been with you for a long time and goes above and beyond -- and you can afford it -- then two is appreciated.
For a nanny who has been with you under a year, give one day's pay per month of service. For part-time babysitters, Krex said it depends on how frequently they come, but go with one typical night's pay.
And if, like many people, you worked more hours for less money this year, don't panic. Odds are, the people who are in your home all the time already know this.
"Most nannies get a sense. If they're working full-time, they know that that the family is cutting back," said Krex.
Then, in a note, express clearly how much you appreciate the nanny and what a great job she has done so the smaller bonus is not taken as a reflection of performance.
Barber added that it's also acceptable to hint at that fact by saying something along the lines of, "We can't thank you enough for all you've done for us, especially during this difficult year." In her head, point taken.
Coaches, Activity Instructors and Tutors
Some experts said you don't need to tip coaches, period. Others said it it's fine to give a small gift, but no cash. For instructors and tutors, you're already probably paying them a lot, so a small gift of appreciation is appropriate, but again, no cash.
But "Gift" Still Seems Pretty Vague...
Both Barber and Napier-Fitzpatrick stressed that if something has been lost in the tipping and gift-giving world in recent years, it's the value of sentiment. A gift card to a great local restaurant or a cute boutique that seems in keeping with someone's taste has the value of "I thought about what you might like" attached to it.
And that brings us to the last point: these are people who interact with your children. That means your children should play a role in the gift. They should help you pick something out, or create something hand-made.
Even if you're in higher education, like Professor Barber, thoughtfulness from a student is always appreciated. He said he will never forget the time a graduate student from Taiwan brought him a bookmark from her hometown.
"You could have given me any gift but that was so special... It wasn't just, 'Here's a Franklin or a Benjamin or a Lincoln.' It was something more personal, and I loved that," said Barber. "I still carry that with me today."