'Tis the Season to Say Thank You - With the Right Tip

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Bills.com CEO Housser supplies holiday tipping guidelines.

Fruitcake for Aunt Liz - check. A case of tube socks for your basketball-playing nephew - check. HDTV bought at 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving for your family - check. And what are you doing for your newspaper carrier this season?

Tipping at the holidays is a great way to thank people for their service and support throughout the year, said Andrew Housser, co-CEO of free online consumer portal Bills.com (http://www.bills.com). "First and foremost, however, be sure your tips fit within your budget. It is more important to maintain your financial security than to out-tip the Joneses or blindly follow a neighbor or relative's advice."

When considering tips, Housser noted, make certain not to break rules that tip recipients must follow. Some people -- such as teachers, mail carriers, delivery personnel, doctors and coaches -- are prohibited from receiving cash gifts. "A nice batch of holiday cookies, a gift bag of personal care items, or a 'movie night' gift package with popcorn and a video rental gift card can be a welcome treat, as can a gift certificate to a local restaurant where the recipient can take a lunch break," Housser suggested.

For those who will receive tips, here are recommended levels that best say thank-you:

1. Hair stylist - The cost of one hair styling session. If you tip generously all year, a gift is appropriate at the holidays.

2. Babysitter/nanny - One evening's or one day's pay for the babysitter, plus a small gift from your child. For a nanny, one week's to one month's pay, depending how long she has cared for your children and on your geographic area.

3. Newspaper carrier - $10 or more, depending on the level of service.

4. Teacher - A gift certificate for a family activity or a local bookstore often is appreciated, plus a small gift from your child. (Just remember that most teachers' closets are overflowing with apple-themed accessories, though!) The class also might pitch in for a group gift.

5. Lawn service - $20 to $50 per worker. The lower amount is appropriate if someone cares for your lawn only during the summer.

6. Trash and recycling collectors - If your crew is permitted to accept gratuities (call the public works department to check), $10 to $30 per person is a great way to say thank-you.

7. Housecleaner - One day's pay, or a larger tip if he or she has worked for you for several years.

8. Apartment superintendent - $25 to $70. The higher amount is appropriate in larger cities; in a smaller town, the smaller tip might be right.

9. Doorman - $15 to $80. Or combine forces with other tenants to give a more significant gift of pooled funds.

"Of course, all these tips can add up to $150 or more, so plan according to your budget," Housser said. "The most important element is to let your caregivers know you appreciate their work -- at the holidays and all year round."

Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills.com is a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. The company blogs about consumer finance issues at http://www.bills.com/blog. Since 2002, Bills.com has served more than 30,000 customers nationwide while managing more than $500 million in consumer debt. Bills.com is a division of Freedom Financial Network, LLC, whose co-founders and CEOs, Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh, have been named Northern California finalists in Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

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Aimee Bennett
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