Who Not to Tip this Holiday Season (And How to Thank Them Instead)

published Dec 15, 2016
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(Image credit: Samara Vise)

‘Tis the season for cheer and goodwill to all, but the social rules for tipping get confusing. Many people like to give freely with the thought that tips should represent an entire year’s worth of gratitude for great service, but sometimes, giving a cash tip is ill-advised or problematic for the recipient.

Tipping Is Tricky: Know When You Can’t Tip

When it comes to certain professional or public service officials, ethics and legal restrictions can get in the way of your kind gift. Even with the best intentions, a tip or sometimes even a gift card (especially “cash” gift cards like Visa) could get them into trouble.

  • Police officers and security guards
  • USPS Mail Carriers
  • Lawyers
  • Teachers
  • Accountants
  • Financial advisers
  • Nurses and doctors
  • Your boss or employees
  • Clients and vendors
  • Other highly paid professionals
(Image credit: Emily Han)

The Best Gifts Aren’t Always Money

We suggest you play it safe and give something other than money to these support people in your life. A little creativity and handmade craftiness will show them you care. Here are a few ideas:

Baked Goods

Find out their favorite dessert or snack, and make a homemade treat! Bake chocolate chip cookies for the mail carrier or an apple pie for your attorney.


A handmade card from the whole family is always a sweet gift to receive. Let the kids have fun decorating a DIY card or craft with a reindeer or snowman, especially for the teachers and babysitters who spend time with them.

A Caffeine Fix

If you know they like coffee, give a gift card from a local coffee shop with a new mug or travel cup.

Local Treasures

Every town has hidden gems. Gift your favorite homemade jam from the market or a piece of pottery from a local artist.

Winter Accessories

Knit a warm scarf, gloves or cozy hat to keep them warm in the winter. Bonus if you can make it in their favorite color or a color that matches their winter coat.

A Homemade Meal

Surprise them with a homemade meal for a hard day’s work. Personally deliver a container with a delicious soup or pasta, or fill a basket with cheeses, crackers, sausages and other treats.

(Image credit: Sandra Rojo)


Buy a succulent plant to bring a bit of green to their office. Plants are good for your wellbeing, and cacti are low-maintenance. Don’t give anything that creates more work.


Make or purchase a journal or other stationery. With busy days helping others, it’s important to have space to reflect.

Personalized Gifts

Ask about their hobbies. Give something related to their interests and let them know that you are listening. For example, if they draw, give them a pocket-sized sketchbook. Personalize with their name or initials to make them feel extra special.


Everyone loves fresh blooms occasionally. Include a special note or a nice vase to go along with them.


When all else fails, grab a nice box of chocolates. Who doesn’t love sweets?

Gift Cards

Movie tickets or a bookstore gift card are always appreciated, but be careful this doesn’t cross the lines of what can be accepted.

Some of these may feel like too small of a gesture—especially for the people who really go above and beyond for you and your family throughout the year—but the simplest gifts often have the biggest impact. Handmade gifts reflect genuine appreciation, given from the heart.