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Post: The Moneyist: How much should I tip my housekeeper? My husband says that we should tip the bare minimum. I say 30%. Who’s right?

Dear Quentin,

I am a mother of one child and have a busy career. How much should I tip my cleaning lady? My husband says that we should not tip her that much, probably around 10% to 15%, as we use an app and don’t get the same lady every time.

She also doesn’t do a deep clean, and she uses all of our stuff, like our mops and cleaning liquids. I feel like we should tip people 30% for the trouble of coming into our home. Plus, I want to tip in person with cash, not on the app.

I’d like her to feel that the money is coming from me. Plus, if she continues to work for us, I want her to feel happy coming to our home and to do a good job. My husband says we should just go the most efficient route and tip the minimum on the app.

Who’s right?

Big Tipper

Dear Big Tipper,

There’s a lot of trust involved when you invite someone into your home on a regular basis, especially when they have keys and have access to your most personal belongings. For that reason, you should choose a housekeeper who you like — and who does a good job.

It’s a good idea to stick to one person, because you will build a relationship with them over time. They’ll get to know you and your family and your routines. Similarly, you will have more flexibility and rapport if you employ the same person every week.

My take is to tip your housekeeper at least 20% every week. So if you pay her $100, tip her $20. Or give her a tip at the end of the year that’s equivalent to at least three weeks’ pay. If you do tip her weekly, buy her a personalized gift for the holidays. 

But by all means, if you feel 30% is fair, that’s generous, and there’s no right or wrong answer. There’s no rulebook. Everyone takes a different approach. (Emily Post suggests a small gift or a week’s pay as an end-of-year tip. That seems a little too modest for me.)

‘People want to be paid fairly, they want to be appreciated, and they want to be seen.’

That commitment also comes with an expression of goodwill. People want to be paid fairly, they want to be appreciated, and they want to be seen. If she is going to the trouble of cleaning up after you every week, you should go to the trouble of getting to know her. 

As you build a relationship and a safe space for conversation, it’s never a bad time to elevate things beyond the merely transactional. Ask her about her family and her story. You will likely learn a lot, and it will give you new respect and admiration for her. 

I was a houseguest for two months during the early days of the pandemic. I was usually at home when the housekeeper arrived, and I learned a lot about Georgia, the former Soviet republic, and about the years of poverty and political instability after the Soviet Union broke apart.

‘Too often, cleaning staff in offices who work in the off hours are overlooked.’

She said they had a very unreliable electricity supply in the 1990s, when Georgia was an independent state once again. Her children, she said, belonged to “the lost generation.” Her young son once came home with a machine gun that was left behind by Russian forces.

She told me her Georgian name and showed me FaceTime videos of her family back home. She had never met her grandchildren and was saving money so she could build a house in Georgia for her extended family and return there one day.

Too often, janitors and cleaning staff in offices who work in off hours are overlooked. They come in after most people have gone home and work silently. If you are ever working late, it’s a gift, a privilege and an opportunity to get acquainted with the after-hours staff. 

So I’m with you: Tip generously, provide supplies (they are heavy to carry around) and stick with one housekeeper who can rely on you for regular work. And recommend her to friends. Word of mouth is powerful and, as any freelancer will tell you, every little bit helps. 

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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Also read:

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I didn’t feel well last month and asked my housekeeper to stay home. I am nervous about having her come back. She asked for ‘unpaid wages.’ What should I do?

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