NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
The holiday season is fast approaching. And while it may bring you a much-needed dose of merriment and cheer, it also can assault your budget with untold expenses.
There are gifts to buy for your relatives, new clothes to purchase for year-end parties and airfare costs if you're traveling out of town. Then, of course, there are all those service providers to reward for tending to your needs all year long.
Doing the tipping dance, though, isn't always easy. We all have different ideas of what quality service means – and of what constitutes a generous tip. In major cities, a 15 percent tip for excellent service in places like restaurants and salons has evolved into a standard 20 percent.
And then there are those situations where someone you'd normally reward with a standard tip has been so naughty – or nice – that you don't know what to do. Here's a little help.
Whom to tip and how much
- Tipping goes postal Obviously, you don't tip your mail carrier every time they bring you the mail. Actually, postal workers are not allowed to accept cash gifts, but some U.S. Postal Service branches look the other way during the holiday season.
A mail carrier that brought your paper in every day with the mail and made sure your photographs weren't crammed into a mailbox merits a tip between $15 and $20 at Christmas or a small gift.
"The rule is that they're not supposed to accept cash," said Gerry Kreienkamp, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service. "But mail carriers may accept a nominal item, something with a value under 20 dollars, like cookies or chocolate, for example."
- Adventures in babysitting You take the utmost pains to ensure your kids receive care from capable people. As such, babysitters and nannies usually expect a generous holiday tip or gift as a way of saying thank you for providing a crucial service.
During the holidays, tipping.org recommends you tip the babysitter two nights pay and a gift as well, if you're feeling especially like Santa. Of course, you can cut the two nights pay if your babysitter's paltry service leaves you feeling more like the Grinch.
If you have a full-time nanny, the expected tip will be greater.
"I typically see one of two things," said Stephanie Breedlove, spokesperson for the International Nanny Association. "People often give a lump-sum bonus, ranging from $200 to $1,000, or they give a significant gift -- an expensive piece of clothing, a stereo, or plane tickets are common examples."
- Tipping the trash collector The person who collects your garbage provides an invaluable service, and should be rewarded in kind. If you always come home to upright, empty trash cans after leaving your trash out for collection, and the service invariably arrives on time, tipping.org suggests each collector receive a tip of $15 to $20.
On the other hand, if they're repeatedly late (or early), or you continually find your trash can lids in a gutter across the street, consider giving less or nothing at all.
- Neither rain, nor sleet... It may be the information age, but newspapers still get distributed the old fashioned way. It's good form to reward your newspaper carrier for all those pre-dawn deliveries. If their service has been only so-so, keep it simple - $5 to $10 will do. But if you get your paper on time, they never skip your house and the paper stays out of the up in the mud puddle, step it up to $20 or more. Some give up to $100.
- Keeping house When you have someone who helps you with housekeeping, a tip at the holidays is generally expected for good service. For alphabetizing your CDs and floors you can eat off of, a cleaning person should receive the equivalent of up to one day's wages, according to Real Simple magazine (AOL Time Warner is the parent company of both Real Simple and CNN/Money.)
A full-time housekeeper might receive a week's pay or more for outstanding and consistent service, according to tipping.org.
- Bad hair days For a successful cut, Tipping.org recommends tipping your hairstylist an amount equal to 15 to 20 percent of the total bill. On the other hand, the best way to convey disapproval is to undertip – and to explain politely that you felt you made it clear you wanted something else.
But you may not be sure whom you should tip in the salon when the holidays roll around.
"The old rule of thumb [at the holidays] was not to tip a salon owner who had many employees and simply earned money from commissions," said Vi Nelson, a spokesperson for the National Cosmetology Association. "Now, the average salon has four people working in it. If the owner is the person styling your hair, it's appropriate to tip them."
If you'd like to give cash, consider giving your stylist the price of one cut as a holiday thank-you for the bounce and style you've enjoyed all year. If you ask and never receive -- you've requested pixie cuts and bobs and layers, but leave with a mullet no matter what -- no tip is necessary.
A new stylist, however, is imperative.
- In your apartment building Apartment etiquette requires tipping building staff at the holidays. But just how much you tip may vary.
Tipping.org suggests between $25 and $100 per doorman and for the super, depending on how fancy the building is and how they've treated you all year. The site also recommends $20 to $30 for a custodian or repairperson that has helped you all year. If you've tipped every time a doorman helps you with groceries or unwieldy parcels, you might reduce the sum.