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How much should the tooth fairy give?

There can be a lot of blood, sweat and tears when a kid loses a tooth. How much cash should they find under their pillow the next morning?

By Money Staff Apr 2, 2014 11:00AM

This post comes from Janet Bodnar at partner site Kiplinger.

Kiplinger on MSN MoneyOn the occasion of National Tooth Fairy Day (yes, there is such a thing), I received not one but two studies showing that the tiny sprite is taking a bigger bite out of parents' wallets.

Boy holding money from the tooth fairy © Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images
An annual survey by Visa showed that children received an average of $3.70 per lost tooth last year -- an increase of 23 percent over the $3 per tooth left in 2012.

Meanwhile, the Original Tooth Fairy Poll, by Delta Dental Plans Association, a provider of dental benefits programs, found that the average gift climbed to $3.50 last year, up from $2.42 in 2012 -- a 45 percent gain that even beat last year's stellar stock market performance, as Delta Dental points out.

Aside from satisfying parents' curiosity, each poll has an ulterior motive. In Visa’s case, "parents should take this opportunity to talk about saving and smart money habits with their kids, and have the same talk with a perhaps overgenerous tooth fairy," says Nat Sillin, Visa's head of U.S. financial education. And Delta Dental says the fairy's visits present an opportunity for parents to discuss good oral hygiene with their children.

How much to give

Why such an inflated cost per tooth?  Perhaps parents are feeling flush or they're trying to keep up with the Jones kids. Or maybe they just haven’t thought this through. I'm reminded of an episode of "Modern Family" in which Mitchell accidentally slipped a big bill ($100, if I remember correctly) under daughter Lily's pillow because he couldn’t see in the dark. He and partner Cam spent the rest of the show trying to cajole Lily into giving it back.

It seems as if a lot of other parents are similarly in the dark about how much to give. Visa even offers a free tooth fairy calculator -- as an app in the Apple Store and on Facebook -- that makes no recommendations but tells you how much the tooth fairy is leaving in households comparable to yours.

Don't go overboard

You won't need a calculator if you use common sense. One reason the tooth fairy appears to be so generous is that a relatively small number of over-the-top gifts are pushing up the average. In the Delta Dental survey, 28 percent of kids received $5 or more for each lost tooth; in the Visa survey, 6 percent of those interviewed said the tooth fairy left $20 or more -- and 2 percent reported $50. On average, parents who were age 18 to 24 were most generous, leaving an average of almost $5 per tooth.

But in the Delta Dental survey, the most common amount was $1 (42 percent of respondents reported that amount); in the Visa survey, 36 percent said a thrifty tooth fairy left $1 or less. That makes sense to me. The point isn't to enrich your child, but to continue a popular custom (the tooth fairy visits about 90 percent of homes with children, say the two studies).  

Make it special

A little creativity is also welcome. One of my Kiplinger colleagues gives his 7-year-old a dollar bill per tooth because it's convenient -- and to ensure that jingling coins won't wake up his light-sleeping son, who also gets a certificate describing the lost tooth and showing the date. To make it special, you could give a dollar coin or a crisp new bill. On my shelf at work I have a little silver box in which children can store their lost teeth for posterity.

Over the years of writing this column, I've collected many tales from parents about how the tooth fairy operates. One of my favorites comes from a mother whose daughter's name is Elizabeth. Each time she loses a tooth, she receives a British coin with the picture of Queen Elizabeth on it. Says her mother, "The value of the coin is not important to her, but the idea of a coin with her name on it makes her feel special."

More from Kiplinger

Apr 2, 2014 2:31PM
We used to get a dime for a tooth, fifteen cents if it was a molar. That was in the '60's and there were six of us kids. But that was the only free money we ever got. No allowance, no nothing. If we wanted money we had to earn it by doing real work and lots of it. As a teenager I used to get a dollar for mowing the lawn...a whole acre of grass. I got fifty cents for washing the car by hand, a 9 passenger station wagon, in the winter (upstate NY). I got ten cents a day to wash the dishes by hand for eight people...three cents for breakfast, three cents for lunch, and four cents for supper. Seventy cents a week but I had to save some to buy a bicycle. In 2 years between the ages of 8 and 10, I saved up $20. My father paid the other $20 and I got a Schwinn Tornado. I still have that bike. Kids today don't know the meaning of work or the value of money.
Apr 2, 2014 2:03PM
I got a quarter per tooth in the 80s. My kids get a dollar per tooth today. $5.00 per tooth or MORE?!? That is just ridiculous.
Apr 2, 2014 3:59PM
My three girls were surrounded by friends whose parents went overboard with money and gifts from the tooth fairy.  This led to a lot of comparison among their peers.  We always left a dollar coin and a foreign coin.  The tooth fairy travels around the world so it made sense that she would have money from other countries.  The kids had no idea what the exchange rate was which made comparisons difficult and added an element of discovery and surprise.   We would learn about the country and made a tooth fairy passport book with our findings. Friends and relatives were all too happy to donate leftover money from their travels to the cause.
Apr 2, 2014 3:26PM
My kid got $20 once because the dumb tooth fairy didn't have change. Then he thought that was the going rate so was very disappointed the next time. Life of a single dad!!!!
No more than a buck. The teeth are going to come out anyway
Apr 2, 2014 3:35PM
My kids get Obamabucks and cash them in on false promises
Apr 2, 2014 3:24PM
I normally give my kids a dollar. Sometimes I give them silver dollars, or a 2 dollar bill to keep it fun.
Apr 2, 2014 2:22PM
Why is it necessary for us to vote on everything ?  If the parents want to give a nickel or twenty dollars, that's their business. Aren't there enough contentious things we can all disagree about without creating more.
Apr 2, 2014 1:29PM
When I was a kid, my siblings and I got only a dime for each tooth. Then my kids got a dollar for each tooth and now my grandkids are getting $5 a tooth.. Looks like the tooth fairy had to take on an extra job helping Santa and the Easter Bunny to shell out more doe.
Apr 2, 2014 3:51PM
The tooth fairy only comes if the behavior the day before was good. No being naughty, having a tooth come out, and receiving any type of reward! The tooth fairy even left a note once, telling our daughter that she will not take her tooth until she's well behaved. Worked like a charm! (and a buck a tooth is plenty in our house)
Apr 2, 2014 4:18PM
The going rate in our house is $1 per tooth, unless you had to have it pulled by the dentist. Then it's $5. Why $5 to have it pulled? Because when my son was young and had a dental issue as a result of a genetic condition, the dental assistant told him the tooth fairy would bring him $5. (The tooth fairy hadn't even crossed my mind at that point!). We were scraping by, my husband was in school full time, and I remember having to borrow $5 from my mom until payday the next day. I seriously almost kicked her when she told him that!
Apr 2, 2014 4:07PM
I wonder how many people from Kentucky are reading this and wondering what the tooth fairy is.
Apr 2, 2014 4:43PM
I wish I would have seen that Modern Family episode! My daughter got a $20 due to my sleepiness and fumbling in my purse in the dark.  I tried to convince her that it was an advance on the rest of her teeth. :-) 
Apr 2, 2014 2:58PM
I'm surprised there isn't a tooth tax yet.  I'm betting politicians are plenty ticked they aren't getting their cut.
Apr 2, 2014 3:45PM
The tooth fairy leaves $1 in our house
Apr 2, 2014 5:33PM
At my age the tooth fairy doesn't give $3.70 for a tooth. She needs to give a gift certificant payable to  a specialist for a crown or implant. *sigh
Apr 2, 2014 4:49PM
We give our daughter a $2 bill, you don't see those every day and it's right around the national average of what the Tooth Fairy is giving out these days. You can go to the local bank and swap out those singles for them. ;)
Apr 2, 2014 3:52PM
We give our kids a new dollar coin per tooth.  It's perceived as special by the kid and costs only a buck.  We've heard no complaints.  I'm one of the 42%.  Spend a buck but make it special.
Apr 3, 2014 12:55PM
I used to only get 50 cents.... but then again that could actually buy something.  It could buy us a couple pieces of candy.  with candy bars being over $1 each, it makes sense that the tooth fairy would see the same inflation.
Apr 5, 2014 1:19PM

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