From Bad Tipping to Financial Infidelity, America’s Money Secrets Revealed

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Few topics are harder to talk about than money — but money speaks volumes about who we are.

“When it comes to money, our character becomes evident,” said Cassie Alongi, a real estate broker and co-founder of We Buy Any House in California. “Whether we are prudent or spendthrift, rational or a squanderer, selfless or selfish. Just give a man money and let’s see what he becomes.”

Learn: How Much Cash To Have Stashed at Home at All Times
Find: 10 Items That Are Always Cheaper at Sam’s Club

Alongi is not being sanctimonious — she lumps herself in with that assessment, too. “At some points, I have found myself saying ‘keep the change’ as if I have been programmed to always say so. Some other days, I just don’t feel a reason why my money should remain in your hand or give you a tip.”

In a survey of more than 1,000 American adults, GOBankingRates explored the nooks and crannies of money etiquette, and the results of what people were willing to share about this taboo subject might change how you feel about your own money manners.

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Eating Out: Should the Quality of Service Determine the Tip?

To say that restaurant servers depend on tips is an understatement. While the federal minimum wage is still an unlivable $7.25 an hour, the minimum hourly wage for tipped workers like servers is an almost comically low $2.13. That amounts to about $17 for an eight-hour shift.

The good news for servers is that when they do a good job, most of the population is eager to reward them. About 75% of the study’s respondents tip at least 18% for good service, which is three percentage points above the standard baseline of 15%. About 41% tip 20% and more than a quarter leave extra-generous tips of 25% or more.

If the service is bad, on the other hand, about one in three still tips at least 18%. However, 44% leave 10% or less — or even nothing — if they’re not impressed with their server.

Even if the service is lousy, we’re told the Scrooges are in the wrong on this one.

“It is never advised not to tip at all,” said Rachana Adyanthaya, business etiquette and image consultant and founder of cr8mychange.

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Keep in mind that it’s not just the server you’re punishing. Servers usually tip out bussers, who typically work harder for less money, and sometimes dishwashers, who are even lower down on the totem pole. Also, you’re often punishing the wrong person — servers have little control over when the food comes out or if the kitchen gets an order wrong.

“Personally, it would be better to address the issue directly with the server or the manager to find some resolution,” Adyanthaya said.

Take Our Poll: Do You Tip for Service?

Other Tipped Workers Often Get Left out in the Cold

About 95% of the study’s respondents reported tipping servers, 58% tip bartenders and 53% tip rideshare and taxi drivers. But fewer than half of the people polled leave tips for:

  • Bellhops
  • Hotel housekeeping
  • Hotel room service
  • Valet drivers
  • Spa and salon employees

You have to make only $30 in monthly tips to be knocked down to $2.13 an hour instead of the less-awful standard minimum wage. The occupations listed here typically all meet those criteria, so why do people close their hearts and wallets to them, but not to those who serve them food and drinks?

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“There is a lack of clarity as to how much to tip and when a tip is appropriate for services such as bartenders, taxis, valets, spa/salon and room service employees,” Adyanthaya said.

It also might be that those kinds of professionals are victims of the times.

“In an increasingly cashless society, people may not have cash on them,” Adyanthaya said. “And so these services may get overlooked.”

So… What Do You Make?

Asking a friend or co-worker how much money they earn has always been one of the biggest social faux pas. It remains so today, although about 1 in 5 now think it’s OK to pop the question to both colleagues and chums.

In nearly identical 80/20 splits, large majorities still think salary inquiries are taboo. According to cognitive psychologist John F. Tholen, Ph.D., author of “Focused Positivity, “It’s all about how you ask.”

“Although it might be a violation of etiquette, asking a personal question is always at least acceptable so long as the asker is prepared to gracefully respond when the person asked declines to provide the requested information,” Tholen said. “Normal sensitivity would also require that the request for such personal information be preceded by a qualifying phrase such as, ‘I know that it is really none of my business, and I’ll completely understand if the answer is ‘no,’ but…'”

The reason for the inquiry often has as much to do with how you frame the question.

“Although a person’s financial affairs are personal, and it would usually be crossing an etiquette boundary to make such an inquiry, there are at least two circumstances that would justify doing so,” Tholen said, citing the following:

  • When a close friend or relative complains about their income or asks for financial advice or assistance.
  • When you suspect an inequity in pay or want to use the information to negotiate a higher wage.

What’s a Wedding Worth?

Someone else’s big day can be a big expense for the guests, so how much are you supposed to spend on a wedding? A little more than half of the study’s respondents cap it at $75 — under $50 for about 1 in 4. Roughly another 30% will go up to $150, but most of those top out at an even hundred. About 8% go up to $200 and much smaller percentages spend $200, $250 or beyond.

“Although no formula can precisely determine the most appropriate amount to spend on a wedding gift, carefully considering each of these four factors should help most come to a reasonable decision,” Tholen said.

  • How close you are to the couple being married and members of their immediate family: An aunt of the bride, for instance, would be expected to spend more on a wedding gift than a neighborhood friend of the bride’s mother.
  • The history of prior exchanges of wedding gifts between your family and the family of the couple being married: When another family has been especially generous in gift-giving, we may wish to reciprocate to signal equal appreciation.
  • How much you can afford to spend: Reasonable people understand less expensive gifts from those who have limited discretionary income to spend.
  • How much you want to communicate special affection or appreciation to the couple being wed and/or their parents: The greater the value and thoughtfulness of a wedding gift, the greater the respect and affiliation signaled.

Other Findings

When dining out in a large group, nearly identical percentages — about 41% each — either split the check evenly or divvy it up according to what each person ordered. About 18% take turns covering the entire bill.

When it comes to lending money to family members, only about 62% actually expect the person to pay it back. Roughly 38%, on the other hand, don’t let familial relationships force them to treat a loan as a gift.

Finally, 3 out of 4 people in a committed relationship have never hidden a major purchase from their spouse or partner. That, of course, means that 25% have — although it’s unlikely that they did so because they believed they were practicing good money etiquette.

A Note on Age and Gender

Gender-based divides appear in nearly all of the studies that GOBankingRates conducts. This study, however, was different. With a few rare exceptions — men tend to spend a little more on wedding gifts, for example — men and women responded the same way to the same questions in nearly identical percentages in almost every category.

Different age demographics tracked unusually close to each other too, although younger respondents were more likely to break the patterns. For example, 25- to 34-year-olds were least likely to tip poorly for bad restaurant service and were most likely to go above and beyond if service was good.

Unsurprisingly, older generations were most likely to adhere to traditional etiquette norms. The likelihood of asking friends or coworkers about their salaries, for example, decreased incrementally with age — about 40% of Gen Zers were OK with it compared to less than 5% of the 65-and-up crowd.

More From GOBankingRates

GOBankingRates surveyed 1,004 Americans aged 18 and older from across the country between July 21 and July 24, 2022, asking nine different questions: (1) How much do you tip when restaurant service is bad?; (2) How much do you tip when restaurant service is good?; (3) How much do you typically spend on a wedding gift?; (4) When going out to dinner with a large group, how do you split the check?; (5) Have you asked your closest friends how much money they make?; (6) Have you asked co-workers how much money they make?; (7) If you loan a family member money, do you expect them to actually pay it back?; (8) Have you ever hidden a large purchase from your partner or spouse?; and (9) Which service workers do you regularly tip? (Select all that apply). GOBankingRates used PureSpectrum’s survey platform to conduct the poll.

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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