Last minute tips: Who gets thanked, and how much?

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NEW YORK (AP) ? Don’t let “out of sight, out of mind” influence your holiday tipping decisions this year.

The newspaper carrier who never misses a delivery, the dog walker who shows up each day while you’re at work, the overnight doorman at your apartment complex. You may rarely see them, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t thank them for reliable service.

If you’ve put off these decisions until this week, one reason may be that money is tight. Holiday tipping can become especially worrisome on a limited budget, but one key to remember is that the point is to convey gratitude for a job well done.

“Just because you’re not seeing the person doesn’t mean they’re not doing a good job,” said Thomas P. Farley, a New York-based etiquette expert who blogs at www.whatmannersmost.com . “It means your schedules aren’t coinciding.”

In fact, it’s usually the people performing their jobs well who don’t get noticed. If your paper is wet or missing frequently, for instance, you’re probably all too aware of the carrier’s performance.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind for tipping:

? Treat everyone in a similar position equally

Be especially careful about slighting one member of a staff ? say the overnight security guard at your building ? when you are tipping others who do a similar job. “I would not scrimp there,” Farley said. It’s better to reduce the tips you give to everyone than to leave one or two people out.

? Make it personal

Every gift should include a personal note. This extra touch can help make up for what you view as a lower tip than you might normally give. “I’d make sure to compensate with the generosity of language,” Farley advised.

? Check policies before you create awkward situations

Many schools and healthcare providers will not allow their employees to accept cash. So before giving holiday tips to teachers, daycare staff and home health aides, for instance, make sure they can accept them without running afoul of their employers.

The same goes for the U.S. Postal Service, which prohibits mail carriers from accepting cash or gifts valued at more than $20. Gift cards of that amount or less are acceptable, as long as they cannot be exchanged for cash and are issued by a single store, not a mall or credit card company.

? Tip the cost of one service

You don’t have to worry about inflation or your neighbor’s calculations if you follow the general rule of tipping the amount it would cost for one service ? one haircut from your stylist, one night of childcare from your babysitter, one week from the nanny. Small gifts to accompany a cash tip are also appropriate, particularly if a child is involved.

? You can trim that amount for newer service providers

If you’re visiting a new salon for the first time this week, you need not tip like you’ve seen the stylist all year. Farley said increasing the amount you would normally tip is suitable, and sends the message that you appreciate getting fit into the busy pre-holiday schedule.

? Be wary of dietary restrictions and personal habits

Baked goods, and wine and spirits are always great gifts ? unless the recipient can’t enjoy them. Many holiday cookies, for example, contain nuts that could trigger an allergic reaction. And you wouldn’t want to give wine to someone who doesn’t drink alcohol.

If you’re offering a homemade gift, especially to someone you might have tipped in cash before, a heartfelt note that says, “I want to let you know that you are remembered,” plays an even bigger role.

? You can delay some tips until the New Year

If you’re not due for another haircut until mid-January, you can wait to give a tip until then, according to Farley. “People love getting tips in early December, because it will help them with their own shopping and bills,” he said. “That said, nobody is going to turn down a late gift.”

It’s best, however, to limit any delayed gratuities to those people you don’t see until after the calendar turns. If it’s someone you’re seeing every day, try to find a way to squeeze your tip into your budget as soon as possible.