My Last $100: The Cost of the Common Cold

Pho, orange juice, and a book to keep me company.

Photo credit: Kaz K, CC BY 2.0.

While powering through my to-do list, I notice a tickle in my throat. Feeling lackluster, staring into the middle distance, I struggle with summoning the energy to complete menial tasks. Meanwhile, most of the office travels to faraway places. Saturday wine tasting catapults me into full-blown sickness, which I have, somehow, managed to elude for four years.

What does a temp worker with limited paid sick leave do? She drives her bloodshot eyes to work, and tries to instant-soup and green-tea the germs away.

My immune system punishes me for Monday. The next morning, just the idea of moving hoards my energy. The 16-hour work days, saladless weekends, and forgotten vitamins rap me on the shoulder. Every part of me hurts. The type of sick where, when you put your hair in a ponytail, the pores on your head object—long moans, little stabs that make your brain container feel like a pincushion. I celebrate summer solstice by binge-watching Dear White People (all of the stars!) wrapped in blankets, trying to stomach my liquid-and-sodium-only diet.

Money spends a lot quicker when you’re not making any. Here’s how my last $100 disappeared on pho, orange juice, and assorted comforts.

  • Book: Before my own cold arrives, I watch my partner complain about earaches and chug Emergen-C. Knowing that whatever he has is my future, I stop by a bookstore for something to read while I recuperate. Sherman Alexie’s new memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, is already 20 percent off for Father’s Day, and I save another 20 percent with a coupon. Then, because I’m a member, they deduct another 10 percent. $17.62.
  • Plants: Both of us crave a nap and ibuprofen at this point, but we also have a promotion for $10 off a $40 purchase at our local nursery. We buy a Lily of the Nile for our yard (drought-tolerant for our first California summer), a planter, and three succulents to fill our empty pots (RIP, wannabe-green thumb failures and the plants we left in Hawai‘i). While we demolish four boxes of facial tissues, the plants brighten our home and purify the air a little, too. $38.18.
  • Gas station treats: My partner and I venture outdoors for supplies. Because he gave me the plague, I, a couple days behind him, fill my cart with anticipatory purchases, including six soups, two sparkle waters, saltines, and Spam (a comfort food for my preemptive welcome-back-to-solids meal). I volunteer to pay for the entire haul, which consists of his tea and all of my food. After swiping my club card, I obliviously start bagging the groceries, and he continues following the instructions on the PIN pad—buying me approximately $33 worth of soup. I don’t notice until I search my purse for the receipt while he laughs. As he pumps gas, I buy him a Choco Taco and three lottery tickets, my sorry-babe offering. $6.29
  • Pho: Since pho is magic for under-the-weather folks and one of my favorite meals, I (a self-proclaimed noodle fanatic) carry out a large pho ga with extra chili paste, hoping it works wonders. $13.02.
  • Groceries: After calling in sick twice, I buy strawberries and raspberries for smoothies, orange juice, and latte dessert bars between doctor appointments. $11.96.
  • Gas: After putting off errands for a week, I finally check the air pressure in my tires and semi-fill my tank. This marks my induction back into the land of adulting. $19.93.

Luckily, my manager allows me to make up several hours to alleviate the dent in my paycheck. (Contractors like me have to wait until the week’s funds are distributed before applying for paid sick time through the temp agency.) After the check processes, I will submit a form to request payment for the remaining 12 hours I missed; in the end, I’ll only have a lag in payment.

If needed, I can borrow money from savings, but actually being ill was not how I envisioned spending these financed moments. I daydreamed of a long weekend, or a “me day” or two. If either of those occur in the near future, they will, unfortunately, be unpaid. For now, the pinch on my budget will be temporary: both the $107.00 I spent and the smaller paycheck I have to plan for.

Still, after skipping a week’s worth of social outings (our traditional Sunday appetizers downtown, a happy hour) and most food in general, I predict I’ll be okay money-wise. The two days of rest broke my fever, and my lingering sore throat, cough, and runny nose seem to be attempting their slow exit. To help vanquish them, I crush roasted seaweed religiously because I never got this sick near my part of the Pacific.

By day, Connie Pan works an 8 to 5 for money. By night, she contributes to Book Riot, serves as the senior editor of Ms. Aligned 2, and revises her novel manuscript. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Carve, PRISM international, The Fiddlehead, Rosebud Magazine, and Bamboo Ridge. Follow her on Twitter @panlikepeter.

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