Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive


Q: My partner and I live in a large co-op apartment building that employs a staff of about 10 guys. We've always made a point of tipping the staff at Christmas. Money is tight this year (for obvious reasons), and we're already discussing cutting back on the gift exchange with our families. We don't want to stiff the building crew, especially since they really do an excellent job. At the same time, we're going to end up spending more on their gifts than on our families'. I don't doubt they could use the money as much as we could, but is there a less expensive way to show our appreciation without being stingy?

Nuttin' for Christmas

A: That depends. Do you like getting your mail?

Here's one way to think about it. When you go out to eat, I doubt you'll ever leave a greeting card in lieu of a tip, just so you can afford dessert. You know the wait staff makes less than minimum wage, and subsists on tips. So conscience demands that you do the waiter test whenever you contemplate cutting back on tips: Are these building staffers being paid a living wage?

The other reason you wouldn't blow off the wait staff is that tips aren't gifts. They're compensation - voluntary, but compensation nonetheless. If there's a cultural expectation that a job well done will be rewarded with a tip - and if you aren't already on the record as being a conscientious objector to that expectation - then I don't think it's fair to pull back on your compensation to the building staff just because it pinches you more than usual lately. The staff, after all, is still holding up its end of the bargain.

Finally, if you cut back on staff tips the way you never would in a restaurant, then you're basing your calculations not on the quality of service in your building or even on your priorities, but on what you feel you can get away with.

In other words, unless it's impossible, please give the 10 guys what you think they have earned. As the Whos down in Whoville remind us every year, even canceling the family gift exchange wouldn't mean you were canceling Christmas.

Marrying friends make her wonder when it will be her turn

Q: I am generally happy with my life (work, home, pets, family, friends), but every now and then I wonder when I will get married - when will it be my turn? Many friends are getting hitched and I feel left behind. I'm 31, FWIW. Sometimes it bothers me and sometimes I couldn't care less. Do you think this is a natural reaction as we grow older and seek companionship?


A: I think this is a natural reaction as we are surrounded by friends getting hitched. If everybody who walked by you were eating a cupcake, even if you didn't want one yourself just then, you'd wonder why everyone had one but you.

But while peer frenzies are common, they're also a great way to find yourself separated from your better judgment. Summon a little extra willpower to help keep you focused on doing what's right for you, and one day you'll realize you haven't seen anyone with a cupcake recently. (They need both hands to push the stroller.)