The economy may rise and fall, but holiday tips should not.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- 'Tis the season to show your appreciation for the help you've received throughout the year. And when it comes to saying thanks, cash is best.
"Holiday tipping is really holiday thanking," said Daniel Post, a spokesman for The Emily Post Institute and the great-great grandson of Emily Post.
"It's a great way to remember the people who really support us in our lives -- that can be the person who takes care of your kids and your home or the person who plows your driveway or the doorman in your building," said Post.
About 70% of Americans said that despite the current economic situation, they have not changed their tipping habits, according to a recent survey by Bankrate.com. Meanwhile, 16% of respondents said they will tip less this year because money is tight.
"That's a reflection of the financial difficulties that many people are experiencing whether it's prolonged unemployment, reduced income or dealing with things like foreclosures or other late payments," noted Greg McBride, Bankrate's senior financial analyst.
In that case, it's important to remember that holiday tipping is "never an obligation but it really is an opportunity to show gratitude," Post said.
With a limited tipping budget, start with those closest to you -- even "if it is with little personal gifts like handcrafts or baked goods," Post advised.
"These are the people that change diapers and plow snow at 3 a.m. so you can go to work," said Jodi R. R. Smith, author of The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners.
As for what to give, cash is generally preferred, said Post. "Not to beat around the bush but people love to get money."
The appropriate amount is "roughly the equivalent to a single service," he said, whether that is a week's pay, a day of housekeeping or a personal training session. And those tips should be distributed any time between Thanksgiving and New Year's, he added.
If you have had an economically down year, if you have lost your job, or if money is tight, consider tipping what you can and then including a note that says "this tip is not reflective of your service but rather of my budget," Smith said.
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