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Your Ultimate Gift-Giving Guide for Acquaintances

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The holidays are a time for joyful gatherings with family and friends, eggnog, tables laden with food and — if we’re being honest — a good amount of stress. Giving gifts is fun, but it can be a challenge, especially if you’re on a budget. Even so, now is the time to show your appreciation for those who provide you with regular goods and services.

Although there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to holiday tipping, there is a certain amount of etiquette involved. Even if your wallet is stretched a little thin this time of the year, any display of generosity will be appreciated during the holidays. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so for all your gift giving and tipping this holiday season, be sure to check out this tipping guide.

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Gift for Mail Carrier: Baked Goods

If you live in an apartment complex or development, and your mailbox is a slot tucked among many others, you probably never cross paths with the mail carrier. If that’s the case, you can cross your carrier off your list entirely.

But if you periodically wave to him as he comes to your door to deliver mail and want to show your appreciation, the U.S. Postal Service takes a lot of the guesswork out of the matter. You can’t give your mail carrier holiday tips or the equivalent, such as a gift card that can be exchanged for cash. It’s actually against the law. Anything else you might give is limited to a value of $20 per occasion. And no employee can accept gifts surpassing $50 from any one customer within a given year.

Fortunately, you can get a lot of mileage out of $20. Consider chocolates, baked goods or even a simple card to show your appreciation.

See: 31 Great Holiday Gifts Under $20

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Friendly Folks at Your Salon: Personal Gift or Extra Tip

Some relationships lend themselves to shared secrets and juicy personal details. For example, your hairdresser might know more about you than your own mother. If you know her as well as she knows you, finding the right gift should be easy.

Your stylist might have mentioned that her coffeemaker went toes up or that her winter gloves have seen better days. In this case, a personal gift would be appreciated and appropriate. The same applies to your favorite bartender or anyone else who occasionally plucks tissues out of a box for you while nodding understandingly.

If you don’t visit the salon regularly, send over a card that includes a tip above what you usually give. Consider gifting a percentage of the cost of your average visit. In other words, if you spend $75 five times a year and usually tip $15, or 20 percent, consider adding $15 for a total tip of $30 at Christmas. Go for 20 percent if you really like your stylist, visit frequently or arrive late or with a small child. This assumes that you have an appointment in December. Otherwise, it’s probably not necessary to go out of your way to deliver a present.

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Household Help: Extra Cash and a Personal Note

Housekeepers can feel like members of your family, particularly when they’re in your home at least one day a week. But you might not feel quite as cozy with the guy who maintains your lawn and clears your driveway of snow in the winter. Your relationship with him might be a bit more distant because he doesn’t actually work inside your home.

Cash is always appropriate for people who tend to your property. Offer up to a week’s pay for a housekeeper who comes once a week. You’re giving the gift of choice by allowing him to buy whatever he needs. You can probably limit your gift to your lawn service pro to $25 to $50.

If you happen to know that one of these people really needs something within this price range, feel free to substitute a tangible gift instead. The Emily Post Institute stresses that, whatever you give, it should include a personal note expressing how much you appreciate him and all that he does to make your life easier.

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People Who Take Care of Your Kids: DIY Gifts

The people who care for your children are probably high on your gift list — after all, they’re tending to the most precious things in your life. A peer-to-peer site devoted to vintage and handmade gifts, Etsy offers fun and creative suggestions for teachers and daycare providers. You might browse for apple-themed gifts, meaningful books, gourmet foods or coffee gift baskets.

Have your son or daughter make something personal as you supply another gift. It’s a nice touch for your child to get involved. For a babysitter you use regularly or a nanny who lives in or takes care of your children almost every day, follow the same guidelines as you would for other household help.

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Healthcare Providers: Something Relating to Their Specialties

It’s considered gauche and even borderline unethical to give gifts to people in certain salaried professions, notably physicians, therapists and dentists. If you really want to give a medical professional a Christmas gift, it should be small and not too personal.

The American Institute of Medical Sciences & Education suggests a “medical” tree ornament, such as a syringe or stethoscope, or a coffee mug relating to the doctor’s specialty. For your veterinarian, use pet-themed ornaments. Of course, this rule applies only to the practitioner, not the office staff. You can bend the rules a little for people who work in support as opposed to patient care. Although it’s still smart to avoid cash, a thoughtful gift card accompanied by a note of thanks is appropriate for someone you’ve dealt closely with over the year.

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Your Boss and Coworkers: Impersonal, Professional Presents

Rules for office gift-giving can vary considerably from employer to employer, and there’s no single formula to determine what’s OK, what’s too cheap or what’s too lavish. It depends on where you work and the company’s policies.

If this isn’t your first holiday at the business, you likely already know the rules. Otherwise, if you’re celebrating your first Christmas with the company, find out well in advance how gifts are exchanged, if they are at all. For example, the office might organize a Secret Santa or set a spending limit on gifts.

Regardless of your office’s specific policies, it’s wise to keep work gifts professional. Forbes suggests that if you would give it on Valentine’s Day, it’s not appropriate for Christmas. If you’re friends with a coworker and want to give something more personal, consider exchanging items away from the workplace. Gifts to bosses and managers are frowned upon within some companies because they can create competition among employees, so do your research before offering up a present to your direct superior.

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Your Pet Sitter or Dog Walker: Cash or Small Gift

For many, your four-legged friends are an essential part of the family. Don’t overlook Fido’s caregivers this holiday season. Veterinarians, kennel providers and groomers need love, too, by way of Christmas tips or gifts. Emily Post suggests providing a gift up to the cost of one session or one week’s pay. You can either offer an extra tip or something relevant to the profession like a car wash if they frequently transport your pup.

Self-care items also go a long way as people always love a way to unwind and often don’t splurge on themselves. Consider a home spa product, a Starbucks gift card or even a nice bottle of wine.

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Your Handyman: A Small Gift

A good handyman can truly keep your home afloat. He drops everything on a dime at any hour of the night to fix that annoying leaky sink or help you completely reimagine your living room. If your handyman is your right-hand man and always available, be sure to show your appreciation this holiday season for his willingness to come over in a pinch and regularly save the day.

Depending on how often he helps out, you can offer a gift valued at $15 to $40 — perhaps a new tool or a gift card to a home improvement store. Similarly, a variety of craft beers to unwind likely won’t go to waste.

Related: Gift-Giving Ideas for Tight Budgets

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Home Healthcare Aide: Cash or a Donation on Their Behalf

A personal caregiver is responsible for the most intimate of tasks, often without boundaries. Tending to incontinence, mental degradation and loss of bodily functions can leave little to the imagination, but a good home aide will clean and make your loved ones feel comfortable without judgment or strife.

For someone taking care of a sick family member, cash or a physical present likely cannot fully express your gratitude, but words can. This is why you should take the time to write a heartfelt note of appreciation along with your gift. Tread lightly though as agencies might have different rules on gifts and tipping. Always make sure to check their policies first. If gifts are not allowed, a donation to a relevant charity or cause on the worker’s behalf is a thoughtful workaround.

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Your Paper Delivery Person: Cash or a Small Gift Card

Every morning, before the crack of dawn, your paper delivery person makes sure you have one of your morning staples delivered each day right to your doorstep.

Thank him this holiday season with a little something extra, such as a cash tip or a small gift card to a place like a gas station or grocery store. Some delivery people will even include a self-addressed envelope so you know where to send your tip. They spend quite a lot of time in their cars — racking up the miles, and the expenses that are associated with it — so a gift that can go toward gas money or vehicle repairs is likely much appreciated.

Uber, Lyft and Taxi Drivers: A Larger Tip

Drivers get you from point A to point B — and sometimes C and D — saving you the stress of navigating traffic or paying parking fees while you’re away and providing a safe alternative when you’ve had a few too many holiday cocktails.

Although there’s no standard tipping etiquette for holiday rides from Lyft, Uber or a taxi service, anyone working over the holidays is probably under added stress. If your driver works hard for her money, consider tipping a bit extra.

For all ride-share apps and taxis, a RideGuru tipping guide suggests 10 to 20 percent of the final fare as an ideal amount any time. Around the holidays — and especially on the actual days such as Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve — consider upping the tip to 20 to 25 percent.

Your or Your Child’s Teacher: A Gift Card or Thank-You Note

Many teachers work tirelessly to ensure each student receives a strong education. They also often spend a good deal of their own funds on supplies for the classroom, shopping on their own time.

Rather than purchase a “You’re the Best Teacher”-type mug, which are overly common, consider gifting your or your child’s teacher a gift card to Target or an office supply store. Gift cards that fund self-care, such as for a bath and body store, can also make great picks. Not all teachers can accept cash or gift cards valued at $50 or more — particularly those working in public schools — so if you’re thinking of going that route, check to make sure it’s allowed or stick to $50 max. There are definitely affordable gifts your teacher actually wants.

A handwritten or thoughtful thank-you note can also go far. More than anything, many teachers want to feel acknowledged and appreciated.

There you have it. Pour yourself some eggnog and enjoy the holiday season — you’ve got this handled.

Up Next: The Worst Gift Cards to Buy This Holiday Season

August McLaughlin and Lauren Monitz contributed to the reporting for this article.