12/16/2013 05:00 EST | Updated 02/14/2014 05:59 EST

Holiday tipping a tricky tradition to navigate

Royce David collects municipal curbside recycling from thousands of homes in Halifax every week. During the holidays, at a very small percentage of them, he'll find a little something extra sitting on top of of all those bottles and cans.

He says he receives, "maybe about 10 boxes of chocolates, [or] it might be Tim Hortons cards."

David says when he first started the job four years ago, he didn't get any recognition along his route. But after he'd been around for awhile, he started seeing these kinds of small gifts during the holidays.

Etiquette expert Julie Blais Comeau says that's exactly how gift tipping should work. "You want to think about the length of service, how many years have they been providing that service for you."

Blais Comeau says a housekeeper, if you have one, is a person you should probably tip over the holidays - and the amount may be surprising. She says a general rule is to tip the value of one unit of their service. So if you pay them $85 for a cleaning, that should be the tip you leave along with a small note.

"That card makes all the difference in the world. I think it's nice to offer a tip that is cash, and oftentimes that is what is most appreciated. But it's important to accompany that with a note of gratitude and the holiday wishes that would go along with that," she says.

Of course, holiday tipping can get really expensive if you include people like your barber or hairstylist, dog walker, babysitter, paper deliverer and mail carrier.

For Blais Comeau, the best strategy is to prioritize and reward those who have the most impact on your life.

And the gifts can pay unexpected dividends, too.

Karen Guyash is a mail carrier who often finds candies or cards addressed to her inside mailboxes. She says those small gestures do make a difference.

"I think you're more conscientious that, if it [a letter] is inappropriately addressed, that you recognize the name and you'll make that extra effort to get it to them. As opposed to simply marking 'return to sender.'"