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Tooth Fairy economics ain't nickel-and-dime

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By Anna Jane Grossman
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(LifeWire) -- Shannan and Marty Boyer of Park Hills, Kentucky, faced a sudden financial quandary one evening. Their 5-year-old, Sean, had just lost his first tooth, and the Boyers realized they didn't know the Tooth Fairy's going rate.

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Sean Boyer was overjoyed to get $5 from the Tooth Fairy: He'd expected a quarter.

"My husband was like, 'Maybe we should give him a twenty?' And I said, 'No! I used to get a quarter!'" says Shannan Boyer, 32, a publicist.

They settled on $5, only to find their son in hysterics the next morning last December.

"He flipped his lid! He's like, 'I thought the Tooth Fairy only gave quarters! I'm going to be rich!'" she says. "So then we had to backpedal. We said, 'Well, um, she probably does normally give just a quarter, but this was because it was your first tooth."

Call it the Tooth Fairy conundrum. When a child puts a tooth under her pillow, there's a good chance her parents are in the next room scrounging through their wallets and scratching their heads.

And for divorced parents, Mom and Dad run the risk of doubling up or making each other look stingy. Pre-emptive negotiation is key, says New York book editor Joshua Kendall, 32, father of 6-year-old Sophie.

"When the first tooth came out, my ex-wife was out of town, but I called her husband so we could decide together how much to pay for each tooth," says Kendall. "We decided it'll depend on tooth size."

A quarter doesn't cut It

At a time when it's common for middle-class kids to receive pricey video game consoles and MP3 players as gifts, some families worry that a few quarters or even a dollar just won't be special enough to match their child's excitement over that gap in his mouth. They also fear too much money could teach children that, in life, making bank is as easy as losing a tooth.

Tiffany Bass Bukow, founder of MsMoney.com, likes the idea of using the experience to introduce the concepts of money and value. Parents, she says, can use the loot from that first visit to show a child how to divide up money for spending, saving and charity.

But she cautions against giving too much. "In general, I think people are overspending on their children, and that's part of the reason why the generation coming up doesn't have a great work ethic."

According to a 2006 survey of 150 mothers conducted by eBeanstalk.com, an online toy store, the Tooth Fairy is giving an average of $2.64, with 60 percent of respondents reporting that they give less than $3 per tooth.

Stray too far above the average and you're bound to frustrate some other parents on the block.

"If one kid gets $20 and tells the kids at school, then other kids go home and are upset they got less," says Dr. Rhea Haugseth, a pediatric dentist in Marietta, Georgia.

She tries to keep the peace on the playground by dropping hints for parents during routine visits: "When a kid says they've gotten $20, I'll say, 'Wow, you must've been the only kid to lose a tooth that night, because usually she only brings one dollar.'"

However, those who stray too far below the average -- or, at least, below their child's expectations -- might find they have some explaining to do.

Valuable lessons

When his youngest son asked why he got $2 when some other kids at his Los Angeles school got $20, branding specialist Rob Frankel decided to make it a business lesson.

"I told him it was actually a franchise, and that we were in a $2 territory. My wife did all she could to keep a straight face," says Frankel, 50. "I was like, 'Do you know what a franchise is? Well, McDonald's doesn't actually own each McDonald's ...'"

Gerald Kimber White, 39, a publicist in Norton, Massachusetts, also turned the event into a kind of Finance 101. Two years ago, his son Henry, then 6, announced that he wanted the cash the Tooth Fairy would give him for his first tooth, but he wasn't ready to part with the pearly gem.

"So I said I'd buy the tooth for him for $1 and would keep in a drawer so he could visit it," says Kimber White. "But it turns out that the conventional wisdom among first-graders was that the Tooth Fairy gives $2. So he had to figure out what the value of the tooth was to him. Was it worth an extra dollar if it meant losing access to the tooth? Or was it better to have a little bit of money and visiting rights?"

In the end, Henry went with the latter option.

"I liked his decision process," Kimber White says. "And I like that I'm getting a better rate than the Tooth Fairy." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Anna Jane Grossman is a freelance writer in New York City.

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