Taboo Tuesday: What do you give the dog walker or the piano teacher for the holidays?

Never mind family and friends! Sometimes the most challenging holiday gift on your list is the one you need to get for your kid's teacher.

Or your dog walker.

Or your mail carrier.

Or…well, you get the idea.

Let's face it, no one wants to look like the cheap parent sending their kid to school with a present for their teacher that falls short of what everyone else in the class is giving. At the same time, you don't want to look like you're that parent trying to show up the rest of the class with the most extravagant gift on the teacher's desk at the end of the holiday.

But identifying that middle ground can be tricky.

If you're going to be buying gifts for the people in your life who provide a regular service, or for someone you want to thank during the holidays – whether that's a swimming teacher, a music tutor, a dog walker, or a babysitter – the question is: how much is enough?  

READ: Three upgrades to traditional holiday budgeting advice

To help identify the right gift for all the helpful folks on your list, the TD Newsroom spoke with Toronto-based etiquette expert Lisa Orr.

"Tip too little or give no tip at all and you might feel embarrassed," Orr said. "And if you tip too much, you question whether you overspent. Sometimes you just aren't sure whether a person should receive a tip as a year-end or holiday gift."

So, what's the right amount you should be spending on a holiday gift for someone who performs a regular service for you or your family, and who you want to thank at the holidays?

To help you answer that question, here are a few tips and tricks to consider:

Who gets a gift, and who doesn't?

We all tend to feel a little more generous around the holidays, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to get a present or a gift card at the holidays.

Your child's swimming teacher or music tutor? Maybe. Your accountant? Maybe not.

"People who look after you or your family closely should be the ones to receive some sort of holiday or year-end tip or gift," said Orr. 

READ: Three simple tips to help you save on Black Friday bargains

This includes babysitters, nannies, dog walkers, work and personal assistants and cleaning personnel.

Tipping and holiday gifting tends to be reserved for personal services, not professional services, such as doctors, lawyers or dentists, Orr said. Oftentimes, a card or a note of thanks is enough for these individuals.

How much is enough?

Once you've decided that you would like to give a gift to your kid's teacher or your dog walker, the next question is how much should you be spending?

One guideline Orr recommends is that a gift should work out to the cost of one visit or one service. For example, if you routinely pay your babysitter $40 to watch the kids on a Friday night, a nice holiday gift might be a gift card worth roughly $40. The same could go for dog walkers, cleaning personnel, or educators/coaches who work with your kids.

For those who help you the most, whether that's a nanny or a personal assistant, Orr said a gift or bonus equivalent to one week's salary makes for a nice holiday gift.


How much or what should you give during the holidays? Here are Orr's suggestions:

Assistant
Gift or bonus equivalent to one week's salary
Babysitter
Gift or bonus equivalent to one visit if regular service
Barista
If desired, leave about 10-15% of service (although it might be hard to get that tip directly to the barista)
Bus driver
Not required, but a gift card for about $10-$20 if it’s a regular driver who you want to recognize
Cleaning personnel
Gift or bonus equivalent to one visit if regular service
Dog walker or pet-sitter
Gift or bonus equivalent to one visit if regular service
Dry cleaner
Not required
Mechanic
Not required
Nanny
Gift or bonus equivalent to one week's salary
Newspaper carrier, mail and/or garbage personnel
If it's someone you know well enough, a small token gift in a $10-20 range can be appropriate
Tutor
Gift or bonus equivalent to one visit if regular service

What if money is tight?

If your budget is limited but you still want to show your gratitude, don't shy away from homemade gifts such as baked goods. Never underestimate the joy you can spread with a tin of freshly baked cookies from a family recipe.

If your budget is stretched over the holidays, waiting to give that extra tip or gift early in the new year is also acceptable, Orr said.

Does it make sense to team up with others?

For some of the special people in your world who have a big impact on your daily life, such as your child's teacher, it might make sense to join forces with other parents to give a group gift.

"Gift as a group, so that the teacher receives the most value," Orr said.

One option might be to team with other parents and contribute money at the beginning of the school year for two collective gifts for the teacher—one that is given during the holidays and the other at the end of the school year.

If a collective gift is not option, is it okay to ask other parents what they are gifting the classroom teacher?

"Yes, because your intent is to make sure you’re getting the right kind of gift for the teacher, so it’s completely appropriate," said Orr. "This way, other parents may be able to share insights about what’s happened in prior years too."