My Handyman Says I Should Tip Him $20/Job. Seriously?

Dear Penny,

I had a handyman with two helpers do remodeling in my house over a period of many months. Sometimes, all three came to my house; sometimes, he sent one or the other to work at my house. 

The last job he did for me, he said on his way out the door that he had been doing work for someone who would hand him $20 every time he finished the work. So he wanted me to know that his prices were going up and he was charging me per diem. He basically left indicating that he was not for hire again. The only indication that he was expecting a tip for his work was the story he told. 

I have very seldom used a handyman, and I have never thought about tipping them. I have asked several people if they tip handymen, and it has been a 50-50 split on the answer. 

Since he was the owner of the business, should he have included a tip in his bill? When he sent the other individuals to do work, if I asked about a bill, they referred me to the owner and left without a tip. Are we supposed to guess whether people are supposed to be tipped?

-P.

Dear P.,

If your handyman thinks he can command an extra $20 per job for his services, he should charge customers accordingly. In no way would I begrudge anyone for taking the best-paying work they can find. But what he shouldn’t do is expect his customers to get the memo via ESP that he wants more money.

If only there were a reasonable standard for when tipping should be a norm. In professions where workers have long depended on tips for their livelihoods, like serving and bartending, gratuities are non-negotiable. They’re also a nice gesture when someone truly exceeds your expectations, particularly if they probably aren’t raking in a fat paycheck.

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But it’s different when you’re dealing with a business owner. If you can’t justify your price increases and instead rely on the goodwill of customers to boost your profits, you don’t have a viable business.

Still, I don’t blame you for second-guessing yourself, given that tipping culture has gone wild in the past couple of years. So I polled roughly 10 friends and acquaintances about tipping in this scenario just to confirm you and I aren’t the lone cheapskates. The consensus was clear: The overwhelming majority of people aren’t tipping their handyman — not because they don’t value the services they provide, but because they expect them to increase their rates to reflect their market value.

One of the big problems with the proliferation of tipping is just how much knowledge is expected of the customer. You’d probably be more inclined to tip someone making $12 an hour than someone making $120 an hour, but you often have no ballpark guesstimate for what a worker is earning. Some employers don’t even allow for tipping. And of course, a huge factor in the decision is what everyone else is doing. You don’t want to be a cheapskate, but you also don’t want to give away money when you’re not obligated to do so.

At some point, you have to wonder: Is it ever acceptable to simply pay someone to do a job at the rate you mutually agreed upon?

The fact that your handyman didn’t give you the option to simply pay the higher rate is odd. He may not want to accept future jobs from you for any number of reasons. But he could have communicated that by saying he’s not available, rather than dangling one client’s tipping habits over you.

The way your handyman dealt with this was unprofessional. I also think he did you a favor, though. I have no idea if his story about the customer who tips $20 per gig is legit. But you place a high level of trust in someone you hire as a contractor. I’m not sure I’d trust this guy, and I wouldn’t want to deal with someone who communicates so ineffectively — particularly in the event that a dispute would arise.

Find a new handyman. Ask your friends or neighbors for recommendations. While you’re at it, ask them what they pay for their services and whether they add on a tip.

Meanwhile, I hope the customer who tips your previous handyman $20 per job has plenty of work available for him. Because with his approach, that person may wind up being his only customer.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].


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