Having a Cold is Expensive

Last Updated on August 13, 2016

I spent the first 2 weeks in June with the worst cold I’ve ever had.

Worse then when I was working at the drop-in daycare and was basically sick the whole time. At least that cold was manageable with over the counter medication.

Medication, however, did nothing to tame this latest cold. I was lucky to get maybe 20 minutes of relief off of each dose, despite trying several different brands.

I’m not sure who I caught this cold from, but I’m guessing it came from one of the kids at my after-school childcare job. Even though “my kids” were all school-aged children who are a little more immune to infections and a lot more independent, I would often end up helping with the pre-schoolers, where there’s a lot more direct contact with toddlers and infants who get sick a lot easier and a lot more often.

It started off with just a minor sore throat. I still went into work, but lost my voice over the course of my 3 hour shift. R had been feeling a little under the weather for a few days beforehand, but it wasn’t anything we were worried about.

Maybe that was a mistake.

I woke up the next morning with a full fledged and brutal cold. Thankfully it was a Friday, and P.A. Day at the school (meaning I had the day off). I spent the rest of the weekend doing little more than sleeping, hoping to be rid of the germs by Monday. And hoping not to get R sick, too.

By Monday morning, I was feeling okay. Better enough to go to work, I thought.

Maybe that was a mistake, too.

I barely survived my 4 hour morning shift nannying, and called in sick for my after-school job so that I could go home and go back to bed.

Because the after-school job was with a licensed day-care, there were strict guidelines about not allowing children who were sick, showing certain symptoms, or who were still in the contagious period to attend. I should have known that those same guidelines applied to me as well.

Sure enough, I only made things worse. R caught whatever infection it was that I had, and we spent 2 weeks basically hibernating – only leaving the house to go to the doctors to get antibiotics.

I thought that maybe, just maybe I would be able to get some writing or blogging done with all this time off, but no. I could barely focus on whatever were binge watching on Netflix, let alone form coherent sentences.

Towards the end of the cold, was my 33rd birthday. Not exactly how I pictured celebrating it, with more laying around on the couch, drinking orange juice and popping antibiotics. But it was still a better birthday than last year

Being home sick with a cold for 2 weeks was not fun. And it ended up being pretty expensive.


Missed Wages

Missing work is the biggest reason that being sick is so expensive.

I ended up missing 8 shifts between my 2 part-time jobs, and R missed 7 full-time shifts. Me missing all that work wasn’t so bad, because it only worked out to about 25 hours at minimum wage. But R missing almost 60 hours of work as the main breadwinner was a lot harder on our finances.

We obviously knew it was coming, but seeing our pay-checks at less than half of what they normally are was depressing and stressful.

Thankfully our finances are in better shape overall then they have been the last couple of years. If this had happened even a few weeks ago, we wouldn’t be able to pay our rent this month.


Medication & Supplies

We tried to treat our colds ourselves, and spent over $100 on over-the-counter medication that didn’t end up working before going to the doctors.

Although we live in the “land of free healthcare” and our doctor appointments are free, we still had to pay for the prescription medication out of pocket, since neither of us have health insurance. Thankfully the antibiotics were affordable, and cost little more than the over-the-counter stuff we had been trying.

Unfortunately, our employers needed doctors notes from us because we were absent for more than 3 days. My doctor charges $20 per note. (Why a price of paper that takes 10 seconds to fill out costs the same as a weeks worth of antibiotics is beyond me.)

We also went through at least a box of Kleenex a day. And whenever I’m sick, I spurge a little and get the kind with lotion in it. Yes, it may cost $1 more per box, but trust me, it’s worth it.


Food & Drinks

This is a bit harder to determine how much “extra” (if any) was spent due to our colds, because we would have eaten regardless of if we were sick or not. We may have actually spent less money because being so sick made us both lose our appetites.

But there was a lot more juice, a lot more Gatorade, and a lot more deliveries. Leaving the house was exhausting, and neither of us were in any shape or mood to be cooking (or cleaning the kitchen) – but we still needed to eat.


Gas & Transportation

On the plus side, we saved a lot of money on gas!

Between our 3 jobs, I can easily spend nearly 2 hours driving and put over 120 km on the car each day traveling back an forth. With Northern Ontario having some of the highest gas prices in the country, the cost of filling up the tank can add up quickly. (Right now for example, it’s about 119.9 cents/litre here but is only 97.9 in Toronto.)

But with this increased amount of daily driving, my 6 year old car is starting to show it’s age just a little, and is requiring more maintenance than I’m used to. Leaving it essentially parked for 2 weeks probably helped us postpone that next oil change for a little while longer.


We were lucky. Even without an emergency fund, we were able to afford this financial set-back because it didn’t result in any medical bills and because it was a short-term, temporary illness.

Not every one is so lucky.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever been sick and missed a lot of work because of it? How did you afford it?

Amanda Kay

Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.

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4 thoughts on “Having a Cold is Expensive”

  1. Knock on wood, but I haven’t had to take time off work for being sick in quite a while. I get the occasional colds but none has been strong enough to make me take off work. Hopefully that streak continues!

  2. Crappy! I got sick like that in February. Couldn’t do anything, was off work for 2.5 weeks. I kept thinking I was better enough to go back and setting myself back a LOT. It was extremely frustrating. Like you said, I wasn’t even able to blog or read or do anything remotely productive, I basically just lay on the couch or in bed, occasionally watching TV.

  3. Are you sure you had a cold? It might have been something more severe if you were out that long. I hear RSV can happen in adults, although being June seems late for it to happen.

    I had my tonsils removed when I was 15, and as a result, I feel I don’t get as sick as often (although I don’t work with kids). I was sick all the time with ear and throat infections before my ENT indicated I had permanently inflamed tonsils that were making me sick.

    Glad you got better!

  4. I haven’t had a cold in like three years or so. I did have a surgery 2 years ago but it was all planned out and I had sick time to use. $20 bucks for doctor notes? I have never heard of that but, here in the US you pay for everything else so I guess they have to get you for something! What a bummer to take a financial hit like that. Being sick is miserable enough.


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