The Tooth Fairy is holding her purse strings a bit tighter.
She left 8% less this year - or an average of $3.40 for every lost tooth she finds under a pillow - down from $3.70 in 2013, according to a survey from Visa out Thursday. Still, she's leaving more than she did in 2012 before tooth inflation rose 23% from 2012 to 2013.
"She's had her wings clipped a little bit," says Jason Alderman, Visa's vice president of global financial education. "Even though it is down, this is the first real decline we've seen even during the recession because Tooth Fairy inflation has far exceeded the rate of traditional inflation."
What the tooth fairy does or doesn't leave may be a signal not only of our economic state of mind, but also our cultural attitudes. Visa began tracking the Tooth Fairy's going rate in 2009 as a way to help parents regulate how much they're giving for teeth and to help teach kids about money management. But the Tooth Fairy's generosity may also be loosely tied to consumer confidence - as the "Tooth Fairy" feels more exuberant with her spending, kids are more likely to reap the benefits.
In 2013, the Tooth Fairy frequently left children with a $20 bill but she's cut back on that type of spending this year. Only 3.6% of Tooth Fairies left $20 or more, down from 6% in 2013. On nights when the Tooth Fairy is supposed to visit, Alderman says fathers are more likely to panic and leave whatever they have in their wallet whereas mothers are more deliberate in determining Tooth Fairy spending. Fathers reported the fairy left an average of $4.20 while moms reported $2.90 - a 45% difference.
"There is no value in having the tooth fairy be excessive," Alderman says. "That kind of sanity and stabilization has brought down the average and that's a good thing."
Alderman first started tracking the Tooth Fairy's spending habits after his own children lost their first teeth. He says their fascination with the magical money left by the fairy provided a great opportunity to talk about saving versus spending. The only problem, he says, was that he had no idea what the going rate for a tooth was. He didn't want his kids to be the ones short changed by the Tooth Fairy but didn't want to overspend her resources.
Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University, says she hasn't seen any indication that kids on the playground compete to see who got more from the Tooth Fairy. She says the conversation is always about the fact she visited and the excitement of losing a tooth.
"Losing body parts can be disconcerting and it's turned into something magical and fun with the tooth fairy," Yarrow says.
Yarrow says children are more fascinated by coins than paper money. So silver dollars or quarters are more exciting, and even trinkets in place of money can do the trick. Alderman says he's settled on $1 per tooth.
Money aside, perhaps it's the toothless grins following Tooth Fairy surprises that determine the true value of a lost tooth.