Making money: Tips for holiday tipping, and more

Three top pieces of financial advice — from planning for child care costs to costly retail tricks

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Planning for child care costs

Choosing whom to trust with full-time child care duties can be tricky — and expensive, says Tara Siegel Bernard at The New York Times. In 31 states last year, "the annual average cost for putting an infant in a day-care center full time was higher than a year's tuition and fees at a four-year public college." Throw a second child into the mix, and the costs of full-time day care really soars. To plan for child care costs, "know your numbers." Figure out your income, fixed costs, and savings goals to calculate what you can afford for child care. Consider mixing and matching, perhaps using day care on some days and hiring a shared nanny on others. Factor in unexpected costs, too, such as the "tax- and insurance-related requirements of becoming someone's employer." But also consider tax breaks that can help you defray costs or set aside pretax dollars to pay for child care.

Tips for holiday tipping

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"Few rituals are more awkward than end-of-year tipping," says Kimberly Palmer at USNews. But there are ways for you to show your gratitude without being profligate. Some potential recipients — such as postal workers — cannot receive cash or cash equivalents, but "gifts worth $20 or less are allowed," making do-it-yourself presents ideal. For doormen in residential buildings, research the building's traditions. "Ask longtime residents or the building manager if you're unsure." And for regular service providers, such as hairstylists, personal trainers, or aestheticians, "consider giving a tip equal to the value of one visit," but remember that "this guideline only applies to people you see regularly" — that is, more than once a month.

Costly retail tricks

Be aware of pitfalls as you finish up your holiday shopping, says Quentin Fottrell at MarketWatch. Remember, first of all, that retailers are not your friends. Salesclerks and staff who are "overly friendly" are likely nursing misguided hopes that treating you like a pal will translate into higher sales. And don't shop till you drop. Some "thoughtful" stores punctuate their spaces "with relaxing spaces for weary shoppers to rest their feet" — conveniently placed next to all the inventory they badly want to unload. Don't fall for it, and don't be swayed by offers of free shipping when you're shopping online. Stores cleverly set thresholds with an eye to one purpose: "Encouraging you to buy more."

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