Should You Tip Your Nanny? How Much? How Often?

tippingEveryone’s seen the commercial of the couple returning from a romantic night out to their moustache’d daughter greeting them in French, pastels and a tinfoil Eiffel Tower to boot. They look on lovingly while tapping out a quick “Merci” and electronic tip to their caregiver. Charming, n’est-ce pas?

However, the world of gratuities can be a murky place to wade into when you are in a full-time nanny/employer relationship. Here are a few things to consider before lightening that wallet.

Household Duties

Unless it is part of your employment agreement or a stated element of the job when hiring, nannies are generally not expected to act as housekeepers. However, sometimes things might be particularly busy at work, or you might have days where you leave in a rush without leaving so much as clean spoon for the nanny to use. If this is an occasional thing and she is helping you out in a bind, a tip will be appreciated. If you have a tight budget and you’re not interested in encouraging an ongoing additional financial mini-hit – and don’t want to reach that awkward point where she does the work unasked for and you decline to acknowledge it with a tip – thank her with the tip and apologize/assure her it was a one-time occurrence.

If the extra hand around the house is welcome and you just hadn’t wanted to turn her off or presume she would be up for it during the delicate nanny hiring process, sit down with your nanny and work out the details of what and when things should be done and come to an agreeable rate. If you have a nanny, you should be legally paying her for her service and you don’t want to run afoul of any tax laws by appearing to be paying partially under the table if the duties become standard. There also might be financial benefits within the tax deduction realm you don’t want to miss by paying out more than you claim.

How Much?

This is subjective, to some degree, but you don’t want your tip to backfire and appear unappreciative. If it’s just an occasional act of her having to take the initiative to pluck the dead leaves and water the houseplants or take your child to the further away park that has the “good slide”, you might consider a small token of appreciation, such as picking up the nanny’s favorite muffin or magazine. If the extra touch is truly nominal (worthy of $2-3), but regularly occurring – if she regularly makes your older child’s lunch for the following day – and you want to acknowledge it, consider adding a little extra bonus to the end of the week.

A day involving any sort of illness with the kids is grounds for a bonus. The worse the sickness, the bigger the tip, including some thought as to whether extra laundry was involved and the likelihood that she might have put her own health at risk in caring for your child. A day covering you as chaperone to a field trip or if a little friend needs to be supervised during a pre-planned hour and a half playdate (in both cases, with her preapproval) could be worth an extra $20. A stop at the market for the shopping your late meeting won’t allow or shifting the furniture to vacuum the entire floor instead of just the area around the play table and highchair might be worth an extra $10.

A teething baby, an inadvertent spill that required a carpet shampoo effort, an assisted homemade birthday card in your honor, your preschooler reporting back that nanny crawled to the top of the tubes course 27 times – these are all judgment calls, but remember the goal is to keep these gem caretakers happy (and in your home!).

How often?

An occasional tip is great. It shows you recognize your nanny for the value she brings to your family and your child’s happiness with her willingness to go above and beyond. But it can become awkward when it starts to feel less voluntary and more like an obligation, so tipping every few weeks (when applicable) is a nice timeframe to avoid setting any expectations.

If your nanny is doing so many wonderful things on a consistent basis that you find yourself regularly reaching for your wallet with a smile, it may be time to set a higher standard on both sides. Thank her for her proactive services and let her know the many thoughtful things she does are noted and deserve to be acknowledged in a more formal way by giving her a raise. If your budget is too tight to create a worthy jump in pay, consider adding in some perks, like adding your nanny to your family’s health club membership, to add value to her compensation. Including a handwritten note mentioning a few of her little actions and what they mean in a card, along with the raise, will encourage loyalty and ensure she feels appreciated and knows how important she is to your family.