How Much Does the Tooth Fairy Pay?

Last Updated Apr 5, 2010 2:47 PM EDT

My daughter's first tooth finally fell out, with a little tug from Dad, the night after Christmas. It had been loose for several weeks, then quite loose, followed by holy-God-that's-disgusting loose for a few days. And suddenly, there it was, sitting on the kitchen table, no bigger than a Rice Krispie.

Leah left a note for the Tooth Fairy, advising TF that she'd be sleeping in her brother's room that night, and she put out milk and cookies. (Why should Santa get all the sweets?) We were left to grapple with a question we somehow had failed to ponder in advance: How much does the Tooth Fairy pay?

The next morning, she woke up, rolled over, and there it was: Two dollars on the bedside table! Plus a note back: "Thanks for the cookies. Love, TF."

Tooth Fairy came! High fives all around! Everyone's happy!

Until the next tooth fell out. (This one was plucked by the kindergarten teacher, who is no doubt tired of watching 19 5-year-olds wiggling away inside their mouths all the time.) Leah came home, plopped the tooth on the counter, and started boasting to her brother, age 3: "Two more dollars, coming tonight!"

"Um, I don't think the Tooth Fairy brings the same amount every time," I said.

"Why not?" she demanded.

"Well, the first one is special," I said. "I think when the Tooth Fairy comes back the second time, she doesn't leave as much."

One buck it was. Leah was happy enough, envisioning the dollar section at Target. But it did lead me - belatedly - to survey parents around the country about how much their TFs pay.

No surprise, Manhattan and the close-by Jersey 'burbs lead the way: $5 for the first tooth, $3 for subsequent teeth. Elsewhere, a dollar or two seems to be the norm for the first tooth - often in the form of a special coin, like a gold Sacagawea dollar - with a couple quarters or a buck thereafter.

A few tips from wise TFs everywhere:
  • Stash some singles around the house so that when the night comes, you're not drawing straws with your pajama-clad spouse about who's running to Turkey Hill to buy a lottery ticket and break a $20.
  • Do not, by all means, fall asleep, before the TF finishes her appointed rounds. That can really cost you. "We've had many nights when we wake up to discover that the Tooth Fairy fell asleep before making her delivery," says my sister-in-law, Mary. "My older two have each written to the Fairy asking why she did not come. The price for the Fairy's exhaustion is high -- she has been known to give a couple of dollars for the nights she missed her route.
  • My friend Courtney enters an appointment in Outlook to remind her to stash the dough before she shuts off her computer at night. One time, as her daughter was lamenting that the TF didn't make it, Courtney did a search of the pillow area and managed, unseen, to shove a dollar between the mattress and the box spring. "Oh, look, sweetie, the TF just got a little lost in the dark." (That is parenting brilliance.)
  • It's OK to offer a bonus if there's a lot of blood, an injury, or a trip to the dentist required. Of if your older child knocks the younger sibling's tooth out with the Wii remote.
  • Encourage your child to write notes to the Tooth Fairy. Those notes are priceless. And, they allow the TF to write back - and set the ground rules for future visits. "Congrats on losing your first tooth. Don't expect this much next time."
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