There is no shortage of signs the economy has got a case of the jitters.
GDP in decline is a major one, as is a slowdown in consumer spending, and in job offers.
Those are the big ones, but under the surface, there's another indicator that the economy may be softening, and you can find it under a young boy or girl's pillow at night. Yes, it's Tooth Fairy giving, and these days, the maven of chipper choppers is leaving less and less in exchange for those pearly whites.
According to Delta Dental, in Oak Brook, Ill., Tooth Fairy giving was down 10.32% to $3.91 in this year compared to last, and gifts for the first lost tooth, typically higher than average, also took a nosedive: the largess for an inaugural baby tooth is down 9.23% this year compared to last -- almost matching the 8.2% the S&P was down through the first six weeks of 2016. Delta Dental reports that Tooth Fairy giving has served as a good economic indicator, historically -- the company says it annual poll has tracked with the S&P 500 for 12 out of the last 13 years.
The S&P 500 and Tooth Fairy giving continue to flag this year.
But that's not to say the dollar-under-the-pillow experience amounts to chump change. The same survey reveals the Tooth Fairy left a total of $256 million for lost teeth in 2015, up almost 1% from 2014.
No matter the gift-giving status, parents shouldn't take Tooth Fairy finances lightly -- the experience is one of the first money lessons children receive.
"The Tooth Fairy can deliver a powerful lesson about finances from an early age and be a great way to make losing teeth less scary for kids," says Jennifer Elliott, vice president of marketing for Delta Dental Plans Association. "Discussing the importance of good oral health habits with children is crucial, even before the loss of the first tooth, introducing the Tooth Fairy can be a great way to start those conversations."
Fair enough -- but what's the correct amount of cash to give for your son or daughter who busts a bicuspid or is missing a molar? The short answer is your mileage may vary, depending on your parenting philosophy and your income.
"I'm a mother of three boys -- 7, 7, and 10," notes Amy Raskopf, a pharma industry professional based in Darien, Conn. "As you can guess, between normal growth, sports, falling from trees and the occasional rogue elbow, the Tooth Fairy is a frequent flier here." Raskopf opts to pop $1 under her kids' pillows, but she does so using a gold Sacajawea dollar for every tooth. "They're valued at just $1, available at the local bank with an advance call, and look like serous treasure to the kids," she says. "The boys love them, and it doesn't break the bank."
Other parents give more. Way more.
"The majority of my clients, when acting as tooth fairies, give $20," notes Jenna Rogers, a certified financial planner with Mission Wealth, a financial services firm based in Santa Barbara, Calif. "However, they talk with the child about spending only $15 and saving the rest in their piggy bank. Starting this habit at an early age really helps set them off on the right path for a successful financial future and before they know it they have a savings set aside that they built themselves. It's such a rewarding feeling."
April Masini, a New York City-based relationship and etiquette expert, says not to make the rookie parenting mistake of giving a dollar for the first tooth, two dollars for the second, three for the third and so on. "You'll be on the hook for big bucks if you've got more than one child," she points out. "Instead, put one dollar under the pillow with regards from the Tooth Fairy. The money should be a token celebratory gift and not a windfall."
Masini adds that a parent's toothless wonder may become subject to peer pressure if other kids on the block get up to $100 a tooth from the tooth fairy. "Don't worry," she says. "It's a character building and won't be the last time your child gets something that doesn't seem to stack up -- whether it's a Christmas present or a graduation present. Keeping up with the Joneses is all smoke and mirrors, so focus on your child and your family, not dental peer pressure."
So chomp down on that, Main Street America. Playing Tooth Fairy for your kids doesn't have to break anyone's bank -- and you can also leverage the experience to teach your kids about money -- one tooth at a time. And given the current decline in the S&P lavishing riches on your kids may not be the most prudent or in vogue move on the block.