What My Kids Learned about Money from The Tooth Fairy and Some Really Big Pumpkins

March 14, 2019


Last weekend over breakfast, the second of my four sons called out the Tooth Fairy for what he perceived to be jaw-dropping incompetence. She had completely neglected to leave his older brother any money for his lost tooth.  

Older brother had done his part. He’d suffered through the loss, delicately tucked the pearly white under this pillow, and yet come morning – nothing.  

While my first born was mildly disappointed in the fairy’s failure to visit him the night before, he was nowhere near as outraged as his younger brother. And that’s probably due to the way my two oldest boys, only one year apart in age, think about money. It’s about as far apart as you can get. Birth order, it seems, has had much greater influence over their financial perspectives than my wife and I ever could.  

One boy knows, to the penny, how much money he has at any given moment. Call him up right now, and he could tell you exactly how much more he needs before he can buy the next great Lego set to hit the shelves (and pay the sales tax, too). His older brother, not so much.  

My boys are parented by a banker and a teacher, so they’re used to unwittingly wandering into teachable moments. That morning at breakfast, we seized on the Tooth Fairy’s unexplained absence to talk about the unpredictable nature of money and the importance of saving. Even when you are positive money is coming, there are plenty of potential hiccups that can prevent that cash from making its way to you.  

Each of our sons loves to earn money. They all have that in common. They even like to work for it, although “work” is a fluid concept. Last fall, the boys got to sell pumpkins from their grandpa’s fledgling patch in Williams, Iowa. While they had tried their hand at weeding earlier in the season, they really had no idea how much actual work went into the planting, nurturing and harvesting of the Iowa State Fair-sized behemoths my dad has somehow managed to coax out of the soil. Because the boys were going to profit from the sale of the pumpkins, my wife and I thought it would be smart to sit them down and talk about all of the expense – mainly Grandpa’s blood, sweat and tears – that went into creating them. (We can’t help ourselves… teachable moment!)  

The other thing the boys share is their affection for banks. We’ve talked with them often about the value of keeping that hard-earned (and not-so-hard earned) money safe under the protection of people in their hometown they can trust. They love to count their coins and dollars at home and then compare it to the bank teller’s tally when they come in to make a deposit. They also love looking over my shoulder when I check out their balance online or on my phone. It’s even more exciting when I’m making a transfer from our checking into their Young Savers accounts.  

You may be relieved to hear the Tooth Fairy is back in good standing at our house. She did show up that evening and even left behind an apology note for being tardy. As it turns out, she hadn’t had enough money to give the other night. She’d had to work really hard and save up enough to make her gift to our son. “Remember, it’s very important to save your money!” she wrote. Seems the Tooth Fairy, too, appreciates a teachable moment.