Christmas Tipping: The Paperboy

newspaper‘Tis the season to thank your service providers, and even though I don’t have a home delivery newspaper subscription, I know quite a bit about how to figure out a decent guideline for tipping the paperboy, whether it’s a 13-year-old on his bike or an adult who drops it off at 4am by car.

The kid on his bike
My brother did this in the mid-80s for a few years, and I have to say, it was a great education at a young age for how to run a business. But I’ll stick to tipping…at the time, the local paper came out 6x a week and cost about $2.25. Most people tipped him 25-50 cents a week, and at Christmas would tip him about $10. People who didn’t tip during the year usually gave him a $15-25 tip. I remember my mathematically-talented but fiscally-challenged mother explaining to him that the first kind of tipper wasn’t being cheap because he was actually getting $20-35 from them, it just wasn’t all at once. Hopefully all parents are this good at explaining the pros and cons of instant gratification.

Pre-dawn Home Delivery
My father did this 1994-2004, and my mom would tag along on the weekend runs (they were scheduled at a more normal hour) to keep him company, hold coffee, help him bag, just hang out. How cute is that, right? Anyway, in this situation where you’re paying a monthly bill from a news delivery service, there’s no real opportunity to tip throughout the year, so it’s all about the Christmas bonus – from you.

First, let me tell you about who is delivering your newspapers, since it may affect your generosity. My dad did this for two news services in NJ and qualifies as one of the major “types” in this business – very bright (double major bachelor’s, MBA) but also very PTSD from Vietnam and unable to fit into an office environment, though he did try in the 70s. Another type is retired people, some well into their 80s, who either can’t make it on their retirement finances or can’t bear sitting around waiting to die. And yet another type do it as an extra job to either pay down their debt or it’s just the only way they can contribute to the family finances without incurring childcare costs (most services promise delivery by 6am, so their spouse is still home).

I’ve got news for you – it’s a tough way to make money. You’re up at 3am to get to work around 3:30-4am, where you assemble and bag up your papers before hitting the road. How much you earn is based on the number of papers you deliver, which works out to be $120-200/week for 15-25 hours of work in the dead of night. You do this as an independent contractor, so no benefits, no gas allowance, and you have to pay both chunks of social security. Do it long enough, and you need rotator cuff surgery (during which my father had a stroke and died 6 days later). The job is only worth it for those Christmas tips. Of course, I would argue that it’s not worth doing at all, but I’m assuming not all people die from arthroscopic surgery. Oops, took a dark turn, but I’ve been missing him a lot lately.

Here are some good guidelines to follow, based on my father’s actual experience. Given the astronomical price of gas for the majority of 2008, consider throwing in a bit extra if you can afford it. My dad had a large route in a wealthy area and had four memorable customers who tipped him $100, one of whom was named Mr. Poor (we all got a kick out of that). However, most people tipped $50, and weekend-only customers tended to give $20-30 but were the most likely not to tip at all.

Oh yes, there are non-tippers, and the adult “paperboys” would wait until about Jan 5th (giving people a chance to get back from trips and catch up on such tings) before exacting TIP REVENGE. You know you’re on the receiving end of this treatment when your newspapers aren’t so well-bagged, thus getting wet around the edges. And instead of finding it next to your car as per your instructions, you’ll find it under your car. This will go on for a few weeks until the manager gets swamped with complaints and tells the paperboys “Tip revenge is officially over”.


10 Responses

  1. As you know, I’m still struggling over whether to tip or not tip my guy. After reading your comment and post, though, I am starting to lean towards tipping. I was thinking more along the lines of $20 but I guess I should consider double+. (I’m still ticked off at him, though!)

  2. Ah yes…your post from about 10 days ago is the reason I wrote this. Christmas tipping is a huge source of confusion, and so many people lie if you ask them what they do for the paperboy, doorman, babysitter, etc.

    Your situation is distinctly different due to the property damage – just consider “letting it go” as an act of kindness, because the paper delivery folks were hit especially hard this year with gas prices. Besides, maybe your current delivery person is different from the one who broke the pot…though if that happened in the last 3 months, it’s probably the same person. Although it’s a high turnover profession, no one quits their route too close to the big annual tip haul!

  3. This will sound stupid, but how do you tip your paper boy/guy? I don’t have a mailbox at my door and am not up at the hours that our papers get delivered.

    I also get the wrong paper around 20% of the time, which doesn’t endear me to my guy…

  4. Maybe you could write the delivery person a check and put it in a Christmas card and mail it off to the paper office. In addition to wishing him a Merry Christmas, ask him to Please deliver you the correct paper in the new year! Maybe if he realizes you’re thinking of him at Christmas he will be more careful with you getting the right paper!

    Merry Christmas!

  5. SaraL, the standard practice, as I understand it, is that the paperboy puts a card in your newspaper in early December, and there’s usually a return address. Honestly, the paperboy should be making it as easy as possible to remember him/her at Christmas!

    The one time I was in a position to tip, I lived in an apartment building – I just left an envelope on my doormat very late the night before. I got a thank-you note the following week, so I know she got it.

  6. I’m so bad about knowing when to tip!

  7. I considered doing a route to supplement, but the pay is about 90 dollars every TWO weeks, no gas, no mileage…4 cents a newspaper Mon-Sat and 10 cents a paper on Sunday. The manager told me the majority of the income in through tips, which concerns me because most people don’t know you can tip, or should tip the paper boy.

  8. Dear All:

    Nice article, but it doesn’t really demonstrate how to come up with a number. This is how I’ve decided to calculate it. My newspaper costs $12.00 a month. 20% of that is $2.40. $2.40 times twelve equals $28.80. So, roughly speaking, I owe the paper dude about $30.00 this year. Actually I owe him about $60.00 because I didn’t tip last year due to the very same problem of not knowing what to give.

    Debbie in CA

  9. Here’s the thing about tipping. Regardless of your ideology you should always tip your service providers well. Whether it be the guys who get up in the middle of the night to do the jobs you don’t want to (collect the trash, deliver the paper etc) to the house cleaners, to the yard boys, anyone that you have an ongoing relationship deserves a tip.
    As a Republican, you realize that these people are out there working. They are doing the non-glamerous jobs, the ones that you wouldn’t want to do, the ones without any glory and they’re doing it for little pay. You want to reward this type of person for not taking the easy way out and just going on welfare like some others have done. Welfare is easier and sometimes will bring in as much or more cash on a weekly basis.
    As a Democrat, you know that those who have been given much should pass some of that benefit on to those who have not as much. You aren’t giving a handout here, you’re helping out someone who is already helping you and usually its someone who needs it.

    It’s important to be a good tipper to your waiters and waitresses but its also important to remember every service industry you interact with (papercarrier, trash man, hair stylist, massage therapist, etc).

    • Actually, Bryan, I do think there’s something screwy about tipping v. fair wages. Is the only way to get people to do these jobs to dangle in front of them the possibility of random huge tips (which never balance out the stiffers)? I don’t see that working too well outside of Vegas. And most wait staff and paper deliverers I know live paycheck to paycheck – and yet they have no idea (moreso wait staff) what they’re going to make on any given shift.

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