The Tooth Fairy Is Leaving Less Under Pillows These Days

The average amount that the Tooth Fairy gives kids is down 10% from last year.

Uh-oh. Just what we need: another negative stock market indicator. This one comes from a surprising source—the tooth fairy. On average, according to the Original Tooth Fairy Poll, she is bringing $3.91 per tooth, down more than 10% from the previous survey, which is sponsored by Delta Dental Plans Association, a dental benefits provider. The group says its poll has tracked the movement of Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index for 12 of the past 13 years; the latest survey was taken between mid December and mid January, as the market was plunging.

Much like stocks, the tooth fairy’s generosity has been on a downward trend since last year. Visa’s annual Tooth Fairy survey, released last August, showed that children are receiving an average of $3.19 per lost tooth, down 24 cents from 2014.

Even in the wired age of social media, the tooth fairy visits 86% of homes with children, according to the Delta Dental survey. Parents may also be interested in a list of the sprite’s vital stats:

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--She’s most generous in the Northeast, according to both polls, bringing $5.27 per tooth in the Delta Dental poll and $3.56 in the Visa survey.

--She’s most likely to visit homes between 10 p.m. and midnight (Delta Dental).

--Moms are most likely to be enlisted as the fairy’s helper, according to Delta Dental.

--But Visa reports that dads are more indulgent, leaving $3.63 on average versus $2.87 for moms.

--Nearly 20% of respondents in the Visa survey reported that the tooth fairy left a $5 bill, and 5% said she left $20 or more.

--Nevertheless, $1 per tooth is still the most popular amount, reported by 32% of parents who responded to the Visa survey.

Guidelines for giving. Aside from satisfying parents’ curiosity (and making a cute story), each poll has an ulterior motive. Delta Dental wants to encourage good oral health—and is pleased to report that, aside from cash, 40% of kids received toothbrushes and 33% got toothpaste. Visa thinks the tooth fairy’s visit is an opportunity for parents to talk with children about saving and budgeting. To help families figure out how much the Tooth Fairy should give based on households similar to theirs, Visa offers a free app for Apple and Android devices and a Facebook calculator.

Personally, I’m with the one-third of parents who give a buck per tooth. But here’s a thought. February 28 is National Tooth Fairy Day, and it comes hard on the heels of America Saves Week. If you prefer to give $3 or more, how about earmarking a dollar for kids to spend as they wish and the rest to save in a special tooth bank? When your child has lost all 20 baby teeth, he or she will have at least $40 stashed away. And because the process could take a while, you could even add extra for interest. A nice little incentive to save.

Tips from parents. Remember, though, that the purpose of the tooth fairy is not just to enrich your children but also to continue a popular custom and mark a special occasion. So consider using a little creativity. Over the years of writing this column, I’ve collected a number of tooth-fairy tales. “In addition to money, the tooth fairy brought pixie dust (silver glitter) when she came for my son’s first tooth,” writes one parent. Says another, “I leave $5, two new toothbrushes that light up, and a travel-size toothpaste and mouthwash (the fairy is kind of tiny).”

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.