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covid-19 tipping etiquette

How Much Should You Tip During the Pandemic? Money Etiquette Questions Answered

About 30 million Americans have applied for unemployment since the COVID-19 pandemic began forcing closures across the U.S. in March. Many of those job cuts affected people in the service sector, including personal care — nannies, hair stylists, and many others.

Those of us who are still working have had our lives upended too. But our financial security can vary widely. If you are fortunate enough to have financial stability right now, you’ve probably had conversations about how to help those people in your life who may not have the same financial security. Should you continue paying your nanny if she can’t come to your home? Should you tip when you pick up takeout? How can you help keep your favorite local businesses afloat? 

Crises like this pandemic can remind us that we’re all in this together. We’ve seen news stories about the generosity of people across the world. If you feel inclined to help, consider where your extra dollars will go furthest. You may find it’s in the pockets of the workers and businesses you have relationships with. 

Review Your Finances First

Choosing to continue to pay a nanny or hair stylist, or to spend extra with local businesses, is a personal decision for every household. Before you make any financial commitments, review your cash flow, emergency fund, and other assets and income sources to ensure you can weather this storm. 

If you’ve experienced income loss this spring, make sure to take advantage of the programs that are available to help. Try to defer whatever bills you can.

But if your finances have not taken a heavy hit during the pandemic, you may find that you’re spending far less money than you normally do. Consider helping those who have not been so fortunate. 

Supporting Domestic Workers Even When They Can’t Work

According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, there are around 2.5 million domestic workers in the U.S. This includes nannies, house cleaners, home chefs and more — including people you may have had working in your home up until a few months ago. 

Many domestic workers lack health insurance, paid sick days, paid time off, and unemployment insurance. As a result, many do not have the luxury of being able to build an emergency fund for situations like the one we’re facing now. Missing even one paycheck is enough to force many Americans to visit food banks or ask for breaks on their rent. 

If you normally pay domestic workers who are no longer able to come to your home, consider paying them throughout the pandemic anyway. If you can afford to pay them in full, do so, but even an extra $50 could make a difference to your house cleaner, nanny, or gardener. 

Tipping During the Pandemic

According to the Economic Policy Institute, of U.S. workers with incomes in the top 25%, more than 60% are able to work from home. Fewer than 10% of workers with incomes in the bottom 25% are able to do so. Delivery drivers and food service employees are making it possible for many of us to stay comfortable in quarantine. 

I used to tip food and grocery delivery drivers 5%, but have increased that to 10% during the pandemic. If you don’t ordinarily tip for counter service or takeout, consider doing so now. 

In general, try to tip much more generously than you ordinarily would. Again, it may only be an increase of a few dollars to you, but if every customer tips generously, it could make a big difference to someone whose finances are precarious. 

Supporting Local Businesses 

We don’t yet know what the impact of the pandemic will be on small businesses. But experts suggest that as many as one in five restaurants may never reopen. If you have local restaurants that you love, now is the time to support them. 

Services like GrubHub and DoorDash take a cut of restaurant profits. If you’re ordering delivery, call the restaurant first to see if they have their own delivery service or if they have a preferred service. Takeout ensures that the restaurant keeps 100% of the money you spend (including your tip), so if you feel safe doing so, takeout is best.

Retail businesses are beginning to reopen in some states, but many small shops may be behind on rent or bills. Support local businesses by shopping online or buying gift cards. If you have a holiday gift budget, consider spending some of it now to help keep local retailers afloat, and hang on to the gifts until December. 

If you’re not sure how to help the people who work close to you, call and ask. We’ve reached out to our nanny, former nanny, and house cleaner to see what they need that you might be able to help with. You can also check in with your favorite local restaurants, your hairdresser or barber, your dog walker, and other small businesses who may be hurting. 

Some local businesses may be weathering the storm and will simply appreciate the gesture and good wishes. Others may be able to offer you specifics — asking you to buy a gift card or leave an online review, for instance. 

Our cities and communities are all in this together. How you support those around you is a personal decision, but if you can, do so. It will make a real difference for your neighbors.

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