‘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”.
Filed under: Christmas