POSTED: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 - 10:00pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 - 10:04pm
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — From your child's babysitter to the person who delivers your morning newspaper, tipping those who help you throughout the year has become a holiday tradition.
Roughly 60 percent of Americans gave at least one holiday tip last year, with house cleaners being the most common recipients, according to a Consumer Reports poll released this month.
"I think of it as an opportunity to say 'thank you' rather than an obligation," said Peter Post, director of The Emily Post Institute and the great-grandson of late etiquette guru Emily Post.
Still, figuring out who to tip and how much can be vexing. Post recommends writing down all the people who provide services to you on a regular basis so you can come up with a tipping budget.
A typical rule of thumb: Give cash or a gift that is equal in value to one session of service, such as a housecleaning visit or one night of babysitting. But with many households fallen on hard times, Post said there are other ways to express gratitude, such as baked goods or a personal note.
"If you can't give a tip, at least provide a card with a nice heartfelt note in it so you could have some way of showing appreciation," he said.
Just don't give your mail carrier any cash. They are barred from taking it. But they can accept food or small gifts worth less than $20, said Post.
Related: Gift cards charging fees of $25 (or more)
Where you live can also influence how much you dole out and what you give.
New York City is an epicenter of tipping, said Consumer Reports senior editor Tobie Stanger.
For example, Manhattan resident Teri Rogers, who offers apartment dwellers tipping guidelines on her New York real estate site, Brick Underground, has a laundry list of people she plans to tip in cash this year, including her building's superintendent, a garage attendant, house cleaner and a dog walker.
Yet, in other locales, baked goods would be more the norm.
"It's very personal. It's regional," said Stanger.