Personal Finance

Tooth fairy reflects the bite of inflation

When I first saw the numbers, I couldn’t believe it. So I rubbed my eyes and reread the words carefully, and my jaw rattled as it hit the floor.

Kids are now getting nearly $4 per tooth from the tooth fairy, according to a new Visa Inc. survey of more than 3,000 parents.

That’s up 23 percent from 2012, a whopping 42 percent from two years ago and far in excess of the pixie dust I received as a kid.

Visa calculated that a child would gross $74 for a full set of 20 baby teeth. (The survey noted the national average was actually $3.70 per tooth.)

That’s not all. Some lucky youngsters are even finding $20 under their pillows, with a small percentage getting $50 per baby tooth, Visa said.

It’s enough to make any 5-year-old capitalist start furiously wiggling those choppers to cash in.

What’s fueling the spending are slightly better household economic conditions, according to Visa. But the spending also has something to do with what Visa’s Jason Alderman calls the “parental trap.”

Parents don’t want their child to be the one on the block getting the lowest amount from the tooth fairy, he said. Given the way kids talk on the playground, woe is the parent who is on the cheap side, said Alderman, Visa’s senior director of global financial education.

I would add one other factor to the tooth spending spree — grandparents who may be going overboard with their generosity.

The survey noted that how much the tooth fairy will give may depend on where you live. Kids in the Northeast were getting the most, an average of $4.10 per tooth, Visa said. Kids in the West and South received an average of $3.70 and $3.60. Kids in the Midwest found the least under their pillows, $3.30 on average per tooth.

In addition, the tooth fairy left the most in households with parents in the 18-24 age group — nearly $5 per tooth.

All this research begs the question: What’s an appropriate amount to leave?

While the standard advice would be to ask other parents what they’re giving, that could place you squarely in the parental trap. Alderman said he would give his two children $1 per tooth.

He suggested a crisp dollar bill. I know some parents who leave something more unusual — a $2 bill.

Visa has created a free downloadable tooth fairy app that will give parents a ballpark idea of how much to give — based on gender, age, family size, income and other demographics. The app is also on Facebook’s apps page at


Whatever you decide, don’t break the family budget, and remember that siblings will take notice. So be consistent.

While 5-year-olds might not understand much about money, Alderman said gifts from the tooth fairy present an opportunity to learn about coins and dollar bills and what they can buy.

Here’s one more piece of advice from Elisabeth Donati, a financial educator in Carpinteria, Calif.: “It’s not about the money. It’s about the playful and charming idea that there actually may be this fantasy character called the tooth fairy, this flying little human with wings who thinks your tooth is actually worth a nickel or a quarter.”

Or something more.