The tooth fairy seems to leave a little less around here than she does at other houses. What’s up with that? Is there a 1-800 number I can call and lodge a formal complaint?

There is a child in my daughter’s class who gets a crisp $10 bill for every tooth she loses, except for the front 4 which earned her $20 each. Suddenly that shiny toonie my kids find under their pillow has them questioning why the tooth fairy likes her teeth better than theirs.

It would be a whole lot easier if kids came with a parenting manual. Chapter 7 could have a section on finances. Here we’d find an allowance rate chart which would spell out how much a 7 year old would earn each week and how it was to be divided. Another section would cover seasonal events. Here we’d find the going rates for teeth, suggested amounts for Christmas gifts and appropriate budgets for birthdays.

It doesn’t work that way. Life isn’t fair. Every family has a different set of financial circumstances. Some kids will always have more.

Recently in the post 8 Ways to Simplify Christmas, Aluminum Case wrote this:

…. Limiting gifts for children can be a problem too. You know the kids are going to go compare what they got with their friends. If they get a much smaller haul than their friends, it could lead to bitterness towards you.

Will they really be bitter if they get less stuff? Will they resent me once they find out that I am the tooth fairy? Is it really my responsibility to pay the going rate in the tooth fairy economy? Should I be contacting the parents of my kid’s friends to make sure we’re buying the same number of Christmas gifts?

It’s not about keeping things equal. I am more concerned with their character development and appreciating what they have rather than focusing on how much less they get.

My kids have never been to Disney and there is a distinct possibility we’ll never go. Nowhere in the parenting manual does it say that to fulfill my parenting responsibilities I have to buy them lots of stuff or take them on expensive vacations. In truth, some of the most well mannered respectful children I know come from families that live simply.

Every family must make their own priorities. There is nothing wrong with taking kids on expensive vacations, buying them loads of stuff at Christmas or leaving crisp $10 bills under their pillow from the tooth fairy. It only becomes an issue when the expectation is that every parent must do the same or the kids will cry foul and be bitter and resentful towards them.

Perhaps years from now I’ll look back and wish we’d bought more stuff and gone on more vacations. Perhaps one day they will be bitter and resentful over our life choices. It’s still too early to tell.

When I look around at some of the most remarkable people I know, the amount of loot they accumulated in their childhood has very little correlation with how successful and satisfied they are in life now. I take comfort in knowing that for now we’re making the best choices for our particular situation and while others are making the best choices for theirs.

Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.


  1. Michael James on December 21, 2009 at 9:04 am

    When people, including kids, complain that something isn’t fair, what they usually really mean is that they want more for themselves regardless of what is truly fair. Learning to control envy is an important skill. Differences in tooth fairy payouts are an opportunity to learn that not all rewards in life are equal for everyone. Sometimes you get more than others get and sometimes you get less. Learning to accept this and to work hard for the things you truly want is important. If your daughter were to get less tooth fairy money than her brother, that would be too much to take (and would be a real issue of fairness), but getting less than a classmate is just a life lesson.

  2. andrewbpaterson on December 21, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Kathryn, your posts almost always make me reflect on myself and my views of money. I love them!!

    As far as the topic at hand goes…I think that comparing oneself to others is to be avoided at all costs. Comparing oneself to someone else who’s “worse” (at personal finances, in the workplace, at sports) is a cowardly way to inflate one’s ego. Comparing oneself to someone else who’s “better” (more money, has angel kids, is better at public speaking) will hinder any forward progress by making one feel like they’re not good enough.

    How to pass this message to one’s kids, though…I’ll let you know when my 4.5 month old gets older!

  3. Caitlin on December 21, 2009 at 11:51 am

    I agree with Michael James up there – since it’s a classmate, it’s a life lesson. Probably not a fun one on the part of your daughter, but an important one.

    What my parents, er, I mean the toothfairy did was make my tooth fairy gifts “special”, because the amounts were not large. I got a nice shiny 50 cent piece (as opposed to two quarters) for the teeth I lost, with the exception of the first molar where I got a shiny silver dollar. This was before loonies and toonies, so a dollar coin was a novelty, and so was 50 cents in a single coin. My friends/classmates may have gotten more, but I don’t remember. What I do remember is feeling that my coins were “special”.

    I actually still have all the coins the tooth fairy gave me. ;)

  4. This is why I signed up with ING Direct on December 21, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    I think this issue ties in with the work – reward issue. I’m strongly in favour of making children get used to the earning money psychology. Then they will appreciate that much more what they obtain as gifts. Otherwise, they don’t recognise the value, and that brings problems in itself.

  5. Four Pillars on December 21, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    $10 for a tooth? Wow, let’s hope the kids of the world don’t unite and unionize. :)

  6. FrugalTrader on December 21, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    When I was younger, the toothfairy would give me $0.25 for each tooth.. the power of inflation!

  7. Alexandra on December 21, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    I also think $10 seems a little steep for a very young child.

    Case in point, I baked a money cake for the kids in our extended family this Chanukah, and the 5 year-old (who has just started losing teeth), ate two pieces and got 75 cents. I made sure all the quarters were the collectable kind (with images from the upcoming Olympics). One of the older nephews collects these quarters and offered to buy the three quarters for a looney. His offer was refused. Why? Because the five-year old didn’t want to trade three “monies” for only one.

    I think if you make the event special and then talk about something special to do with the money, that will be remembered far better than the amount of money the child receives.

  8. Hank on December 21, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    “Every family must make their own priorities.”
    I think you nailed it.

    I want my kids to know what is important: to value people more than things.

  9. Garth B on December 21, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    You’re completely right – we need to educate our kids that each family does things its own way, and that it isn’t right or wrong, it’s just the way it is.

    On a related, but sort of aside, I totally respect your decision about DisneyWorld/Land and was actually a bit skeptical myself. That said, it really was a magical for us and can definitely be done in a frugal way if you search out the bargains.

  10. nobleea on December 21, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    $10? I didn’t think inflation was that bad. I used to get a quarter…that woudl work out to close to 16% yearly inflation for the past decade and a half.

  11. Bryce on December 21, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    $10 seems like a lot. I honestly don;t know if I received more or less than my classmates because either we just didn’t talk about it, or it wasn’t a traumatic experience to find out the tooth fairy was more generous to the rich kids.

    I do remember one year making a christmas wish list by marking down every page in the Sears wishbook toy section and being told Santa doesn’t like greedy kids. 20 years later and my partner says its like pulling teeth trying to find out what I want.

  12. Brendan on December 21, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    I think kids have it way too easy these days.
    10 bucks for a tooth? RESP’s for university? A huge allowance, even though mommy and daddy have a maid service? Seriously, are ya kidding me?

    On one hand I dont want to do the whole “walked to school uphill in a blizzard to and from” speech I got when I was a kid, BUT……..

    Seriously, I grew up with no cable. My dad worked a second part time job so my mom could stay at home and raise us, like a real parent should.
    We lived in a decent neighborhood, were well fed, had swimming lessons/football/hockey/figure skating/whatever activity we wanted to try.

    We had one car, and god forbid we actually walked to school! We were given a basic amount for clothing. If we wanted the latest “air jordan” sneakers we had to make up the difference.

    The real problem is that as a society we value “stuff”.

    I understand that every parent wants their children to have more than they did.

    What does that mean? It shouldnt mean stuff.
    We had more or less the same amount of stuff as my parents did, and certainly way less stuff than some of my friends.

    What my sisters and I did have was a sense of the value of a dollar.

    At this point in my life I can truly say I am better off than my parents were at the same age. Not stuff wise mind you.

    House wise, and savings wise I am further ahead than my parents, and miles ahead of most of my friends, including ones who make almost triple what I do. They have lots of stuff, and travel several times a year, drive new vehicles almost every time they see a new car commercial.
    Other than their stuff, they havent got the old “pot to #$%^ in.

    I disagree with the last paragraph of this article. Personally I see a correlation of people having more stuff as adults and no money sense if they were raised with lots of stuff (10 teeth etc).

    Sure go ahead and give your kids more than you had, but make sure you give them the right things.

    I guarantee today they will appreciate the newest ipods, and video games, but I can assure you as adults they will be better off if you teach them some responsibility.

    Although you want to buy them wings, you are better off teaching them to fly.

  13. Prakash Dheeriya on December 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Deciding how much allowance to give is a very crucial and difficult decision. Should one give to a child for doing chores (which most people expect children should do them anyway) or just for pleasure? Money can be a source of emotional problems down the road so it is very critical that children are taught essentials of money management at a very early stage. I have published 20 books on this subject, and will be doing an after-school series in my children’s school on money.
    If you come across better solutions please do let me know. In the meantime, take a look at my books in the series “Finance for Kidz.”

  14. high_octane on December 21, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    The other kids always had more than me and I attribute that to all my success. Spoiling a kid is the worst thing you can do

  15. Kathryn on December 21, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    The other site for teaching kids about money that is pretty good is ING’s planet orange (on their website). It helps explain the difference between savings, stocks, bonds, investments, inflation and other fiance issues to kids in a fun way. They can complete the whole thing in about an hour.

    I resonate with the comments that suggest it’s better to learn early that the world isn’t fair and that other kids having more motivates them to be MORE successful in the future rather than entitled and spoiled.

  16. JK on December 21, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    I didn’t get to go to Disneyland until my honeymoon – at the age of 26.

    When I was little, I didn’t have much toys and I did complain about that. Looking back, I am thankful that my parents didn’t spoiled me and taught me that nothing comes easy – especially money.

    high_octane has it right… I think people are more driven to succeed if they have less as a child because they know they have to work for it and not be handed with bags of toys or cash.

  17. Laptop Briefcases on December 21, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Well I feel honoured to have my quote used in your post, even if you weren’t in agreement with my comment. If you raise your kids right, they do learn to appreciate things more and not get envious. Unfortunately it is only natural for kids to ask what gifts their friends received and compare it against their own gifts. Issues like this show why it’s important to teach kids financial basics even at a young age. If kids are not raised to appreciate finances, they will always be expecting to get just as much as every other kid out there.

  18. Ms Save Money on December 21, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    I was brought up not having lots of presents and going to theme parks – & I never resent it because it’s not about going to theme parks or receiving lots of presents, it’s about how much my parents invested their time with me and that’s a whole lot more important than anything else.

  19. Prakash Dheeriya on December 21, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    The problem with ING’s and other sites is that they cater to adults or youth but never to kids. By the time they are teens, the value system has already been developed, that is, children are used to getting things. As a result, they really don’t know the distinction between a want and a need. Some adults still can’t distinguish between the two, and I include my wife in that category.
    That is why it is so important to teach them while they are young, in kindergarten. That is what I have tried to do, is to teach them while they are young, and to teach them to decide on their own, whether they “want” something or “need” something.
    It is hard on parents to tell the kids that they cannot have something because their kids don’t “need” it. That is why it is important for kids to decide for themselves if they “need” something. BTW, a need is something you must have in order to survive and a want is something that would be nice to have, but not necessary to survive.

  20. Doctor Stock on December 22, 2009 at 3:02 am

    $10 for a tooth? Wow, I’ve got some to donate… Nice post. Especially provocative at this time of year.

  21. Marino_238 on December 22, 2009 at 3:17 am

    The Tooth Fairy still leaves a toonie here at our house which I think is plenty. I really liked Caitlin’s idea of having the Tooth Fairy leave a special coin under the pillow. In the end, the special coin will mean a whole lot more than the $10 bill.

    Kids are always going to compare their gifts to one another and that is part of the learning process. When they come back to us as parents and ask why they didn’t receive as much, we need to take that question and turn it into a teaching opportunity. The lessons learned will linger around a whole lot longer than the $10 bill.

    Merry Christmas

  22. cannon_fodder on December 22, 2009 at 3:26 am

    I think the molar of the story is that we should tell our kids the tooth, even if it won’t be uppereciated. Kids learn from incisor even outside the home.

    We should chew on what Michael James said about kids trying to grind parinse down about what is fair – do you think it is accidental?

    Brace yourself, but I think he’s on the cuspid of a crowning achievement which bridges our understanding. You might be enameled with brushing off kids whining by thinking them as holely selfish. Doing that could prevent a positive outgum in their later years – I’m pretty denture about that.

    Straightening out our kids is sometimes numbing but always the white thing to do. The depth and breath of these lessons means we have to pick our battles, but we should never just give them lip service.

    As the cavity of these situations grows, we will never be at a floss for bite-sized words of wisdom. At some point, the significance will crest and the scope of the root problem will be capped.

    Well, I have to get some filing done before giving my colleague Flo a ride home – she is smiles out of my way.

  23. Prakash Dheeriya on December 22, 2009 at 4:14 am

    Canon Fodder
    Your post is very hilarious! Worth every bit!

  24. Caper in NL on December 22, 2009 at 9:59 am

    I think this article is very timely and appropriate. I agree that that children that don’t get ‘everything’ they want have a bettter understanding of the value of work and money. At my house the tooth fairy gives $1 to $2 for a tooth and yes, my kids talk to other kids that get up to $20, but there are also kids that get the same as my kids. I think this does teach kids a life lesson; the lesson is not that some kids are liked better by the tooth fairy; it is: not everyone is treated the same, but people can change things. Although my kids can’t change what the tooth fairy gives them, they can find other ways to earn money (and they do). This lesson can actually put them in a better finanacial position then their friends.

  25. Kathryn on December 22, 2009 at 10:11 am

    CF: If there was an award for the best reply in 2009, I’d vote for yours! Very clever.

  26. Four Pillars on December 22, 2009 at 10:26 am

    CF – brilliant comment! Painful, but brilliant. :)

  27. Alexandra on December 22, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    cannon_fodder – wow!

  28. cashback cards on December 23, 2009 at 10:16 am

    I have heard of some expensive tooth fairies out there as well. I know I will be not one of those. But, it’s crazy to think of $20 or even $10 for a tooth for you kid. But maybe that’s what our economy is moving towards. Next it will be credit cards instead of bills.

  29. Dianne M on December 24, 2009 at 10:02 am

    to Cannon Fodder- your comments made my day. I am still laughing, very clever.

  30. Link Wheels on December 25, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    It is much more important to grow up in a loving and caring family than have more “stuff”. My parents never had much to give except their love and my relationship with them has been nothing but excellent. Spend time with your kids, show them a good time without spending. As long as they have your love and attention that is all that matters.
    Regards, David Pagotto

  31. Alena on January 22, 2010 at 2:30 am

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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