Holiday Money Etiquette: Everything You Need To Know for the Season

Beautiful young women are hugging and sharing presents after shopping.
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It doesn’t matter how much you spend this holiday season, as long as you can truly afford it. But as you make your spending decisions, GOBankingRates is here to offer advice on everything from gift-giving and tipping to cutting costs on holiday shopping.

A new GOBankingRates survey has discovered that the majority of Americans (80%) plan to spend more on holiday shopping this year due to inflation. If you’re not careful, holiday spending can easily cause you to go into debt. Stay on track all season by taking a look at this guide covering everything you need to know about holiday planning, shopping and budgeting this year.


There are many factors that go into gift-giving, so it’s important to set ground rules with family, friends and neighbors to get on the same page, said Jodi RR Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, based in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

“Some families pick names out of a hat or have a gift exchange or only give to those under [age] 25,” she said. “Talk to each other and decide what works for your situation.”

The GOBankingRates survey found that the majority of Americans spend less than $60 on friends and family members. 33% of people are even planning to purchase fewer gifts this year, so don’t feel bad if you have to change traditions to save money.

Make Your Money Work for You

There are also affordable ways to celebrate the season with your neighbors.

“Some neighbors exchange cookies or have a potluck party for the holidays,” she said. “Others have special homemade items which they gift instead.”

Still not sure how to navigate holiday gifts? Use this guide to learn who you really need to give to and how much to spend.

Budgeting isn’t the only tricky part of shopping for holiday gifts. You also need to choose something appropriate for the recipient and the occasion. Use these unspoken gift-giving etiquette rules to get it right every time.

While getting together to exchange gifts, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to inadvertently put your foot in your mouth. Before you hit the party circuit, read this advice to make sure you don’t accidentally ask money questions that might be deemed tactless.


Another aspect of holiday spending that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is end-of-year tipping. If you have the funds, giving cash to service professionals is a much-appreciated gesture.

“The end of the year is your chance to show your appreciation to those people who make your life easier,” Smith said. “Tips are dependent on your relationship with the individual and the norms for your area, as well as your budget. Tips should be crisp, new bills placed in an envelope with a card or note of appreciation.”

To make it easy, Smith said tipping in the 10%-15% range of what you’ve paid for the year is appropriate for almost all service professionals. Of course, this might not be as easy to calculate for everyone, especially those you don’t pay directly. Use this guide to help you sort out how much you might want to tip those you help you throughout the year.

Make Your Money Work for You

However, if you tip the person each time they perform their respective service, an end-of-year tip is not necessary. In this case, it’s perfectly acceptable to give them a small gift instead — or if they can’t accept tips, consider a gift here as well.

But not giving anything might be considered rude. In the same GOBankingRates survey, 36% of Americans admitted to not tipping extra for the holidays, while another 25% say they tip an extra 5%. Many service workers might be missing out on tips entirely, as 50% of people don’t tip their mail carrier, delivery driver, doorman or garbage collector. Watch out for these rude tipping habits you don’t want to be guilty of.

If you can’t afford to tip this year, she said that’s OK, but you should still make some type of gesture to show gratitude for the hard work the person does throughout the year.

“To skip the tip is to imply to your service providers that they are not valued or have done something wrong,” she said. “Instead, write a heartfelt note thanking them.” She said you should also include a small token of appreciation, such as homemade cookies, a coffee gift card or a small gift. “When your finances are fluid again, please do tip them,” she said.

And don’t forget to tip during other holiday events, like if you’re traveling.

Make Your Money Work for You

Holiday Cards

Another staple of the season, holiday cards likely fill your mailbox during this time of year. If you’re someone who enjoys sending cards, you want to make sure you don’t offend anyone by inadvertently leaving them off the list.

“Letters and cards are a wonderful, low cost, way to keep in touch with those near and far,” Smith said. “Especially these days, it is truly lovely to receive something special in the mail.”

Since the cost of sending holiday cards is rather low, she recommended practicing kindness and being more inclusive.

“The guideline is if you are including a third or more [of a certain group], you should include everyone,” she said. “So, if there are 20 kids in my child’s class and we are sending cards to 10, we really should be including everyone.”

Consider using this guide to help resolve any other potentially awkward situations.

If you don’t go into the holidays with a plan, expenses can easily skyrocket and etiquette faux pas can occur. Minimize stress this season by creating a budget and sticking to it.

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