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It’s December, and that means it’s time to work through your holiday gift list. In addition to presents for family and friends, it’s time to show appreciation for everyone who helped you get through the year. We're talking about holiday tips and gifts for babysitters, dog walkers, in-home caregivers, house cleaners, and perhaps even your hair stylist and manicurist, not to mention the mail carriers and sanitation workers that visit your neighborhood every day.

Between ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic and shortages and price hikes caused by a global supply chain crisis, 2021 has been an unusual year. Service employees worked on the front lines of the pandemic, often for lower pay than white-collar workers who had the ability to work remotely. That's one argument for making room in your budget for an extra big tip this year.

And then there's inflation. If workers didn't get a raise of at least 5% this year, they're probably falling behind because of how quickly prices are rising. That's another good reason to give a generous tip this holiday season.

Here are some more specifics, if you still need convincing about why it's important to be more generous this year — and some advice on how much to give.

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Inflation is making everything more expensive

Consumer prices have grown a record 6.2% this year. Almost all household essentials — from groceries to gas to clothing — are more expensive than they used to be.

In other words, your money doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. So that $100 tip you gave your dog walker in 2020? At today's rate of inflation, it’s only worth about $94 this year.

Rising prices, especially for gasoline, have hit the workers in the service industry harder than most. “As costs continue to rise, it’s definitely affecting childcare providers,” says Morgan Clark, founder of STL Sitter, which employs 425 babysitters in the St. Louis area. “Many of our sitters will work three or four different jobs per day."

That’s a lot of driving between jobs, and with gas prices more than a dollar higher than they were this time last year, the costs can add up quickly.

Not to mention the fact that low-paid childcare workers are quitting their jobs in droves this year. "If you combine the issue of inflation with a staffing shortage, and then you add in a high demand for service," Clark says, "you have a recipe for chaos."

Service workers took on extra risks in 2021

As in 2020, workers in the service industry faced additional risks — and sometimes, additional hurdles — related to the coronavirus pandemic. UrbanSitter co-founder and CEO Lynn Perkins noted that many families asked their caregivers to avoid public transportation and carpooling during the pandemic. Not to mention the inherent risks involved with a public-facing job that doesn't allow a worker to limit their interactions to a small circle of people.

“If they’re being asked to jump through additional hoops due to Covid, I think that’s another reason to give a little more this year,” Perkins says.

Jessica Abernathy, president of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and owner of two petsitting businesses in the Chicago area, pointed out that many pet caregivers looked after animals when their owners were hospitalized with COVID-19 this year. “We’re there for you, no matter what the circumstances are,” she says of petsitters.

Tips are going up, but rates are too

In a survey conducted by UrbanSitter, 42% of 500 parents polled said they are planning on tipping their babysitters more than $25 this year. That’s up from 25% of parents who said the same in 2018. Another survey conducted by CreditCards.com found that 45% of people plan to give bigger tips than usual this holiday season.

UrbanSitter also found that childcare rates on its platform have risen 10.5% over the last year. That means that for families that tip their nannies and babysitters based on an extra week or two’s worth of pay rather than a set amount, an inflation-adjusted tip is already baked in.

But that’s not the case for everyone. Real hourly wages in October were 1.2% lower than the year before, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For most Americans, wage gains haven’t been enough to keep up with rising inflation. So if you haven't begun paying your babysitter more already, now is a good time to start.

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Cash isn't the only way to say thank you

If you don’t have the extra room in your finances for a holiday tip, there are still ways to show your appreciation for the people who helped you get through 2021 through thoughtful words or personal tokens of your thanks.

“Homemade gifts from the kids can go a long way in showing appreciation,” says Sheri Reed, Managing Editor for Care.com. “Things like a scrapbook of quotes from the kids or a heartfelt drawing are always a great idea.”

There’s also the gift of time: UrbanSitter’s Perkins recalls one family that gave their nanny an afternoon off and the use of their car when she was scheduled to work, as a holiday surprise.

Or if your dog walker has a pet of their own, Wag! CEO Garrett Smallwood recommends making a homemade puzzle toy or another DIY pet gift.

Service workers can find other jobs

Regardless of how much you tip, or whether you can afford to tip at all, a tightening labor market means that showing you value the service providers in your life is extra important in 2021. Caretakers and service workers are in especially high demand, and record levels of Americans quitting their jobs translates to more openings and tight competition for workers.

STL Sitter’s Clark says that on her platform, some families are even offering bonuses above and beyond a sitter’s rates to secure services. "Retention should be something that's in the back of your mind when you're thinking about tipping," Clark says.

“If you really like your care provider, this is not a bad year to give a little bit more just because people are starting to look around [for other jobs],” says UrbanSitter’s Perkins. “If this is someone who's really meaningful to your family…show them a little additional love this year.”

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