How Much Does It Cost to Catch the Flu? We Did the Math

free flu shot
Photo by Sharon Steinmann / The Penny Hoarder
Honest Abe


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“This isn’t prison,” my doctor tells me. “I can’t make you do anything you don’t want. That being said, I highly recommend you get your flu shot today.”

He’s right to expect pushback: Consistently over the past five years, more than half of adults have declined to get the vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I, for one, had never received the shot, even as a child. And I was all set to bolster the statistic this year, too.

That is, until I realized exactly how much my negligence might cost me… and how easy and cheap it would be to avoid a few days of couch-ridden misery.

Here’s How Much It Costs to Get the Flu

Newsflash: Being sick sucks. It feels horrible.

But in case you need more prodding to get poked, you should know the flu can deplete your wallet as quickly as it does your electrolyte levels.

Don’t believe me? Well, consider these costs…

Missing Work

The flu is contagious for a long time, sometimes before you even begin to show symptoms.

And once you do start to feel like death, your grim reaper status gets real: For five to seven days, you can easily infect those around you.

Since you’re likely to experience severe symptoms for at least two, maybe three, of those days, you’re almost definitely going to miss at least a day of work. And if you do the truly conscientious thing to avoid spreading your illness, you may miss up to five — and that’s assuming you’ve got a two-day weekend in there somewhere.

I’m lucky to work at a company with unlimited paid sick days, but if you don’t, your absenteeism could pull a lot of money out of your pocket.

If you make $10 per hour and work 8 hour days, your flu would cost you between $80 and $400, before accounting for taxes and other withholdings.

And if you drag your snot-infested self into work (DON’T DO IT), you could spread your illness to your co-workers or customers — at least the ones who also skipped the vaccine.

Doctor’s Visit

When the flu hits hard, sometimes it’s not easy to simply knuckle down, pound the Advil and “drink lots of fluids.”

You might find yourself schlepping to the doctor’s office for prescription-grade meds, or at least to have them confirm you’re not actually dying.

And even if all your doctor does is repeat the advice above, if your health insurance isn’t great (or existent), you might shell out more than $100 to get the “Why didn’t you just get a freaking flu shot?” side-eye from health care professionals.

Sickbed Supplies and Ripple Effects

Although it might not seem like much, you’re also spending money on that sick nest you’ve created on your couch.

Let’s say you go through two boxes of tissues and half a package each of Dayquil and Nyquil.

Even Walmart’s cheap store-brand tissues cost seven cents apiece, and if you’re like me, you’ll spring for the aloey, mentholated kind, even though they cost more than double.

Listen, it’s my face. Some things are just worth the money. Tissue cost: $6.99

And although it’s completely necessary, cold medicine still ain’t cheap. Medicine cost: $6.98

Plus there are other, less obvious costs to think about: Soup, whether canned or homemade; if you’re really lucky, the time your loved one puts into preparing it for you; blankets and air conditioning, and wear-and-tear on your couch.

At least you’re getting that Netflix you’re binging while you’re half-awake for free, right? (No? Here’s how — and yes, it’s totally legit.)

If you have kids, you’re probably going to pass on your germs to them, so they’ll have to stay home from school for a while. Maybe they’ll stay sick longer than you do, forcing you to hire a sitter so you can go back to work.

Maybe they’ll miss a fundamental math class in seventh grade and you’ll need to hire a tutor.

Or maybe you won’t, and they’ll grow up to be humanities majors instead of super-high-earning coders or computer engineers. Yes, this really does happen — trust me. 🙂

4 Free or Almost-Free Ways to Get Your Flu Shot This Year

Getting the flu is sounding worse and worse, huh?

Wouldn’t it be great if there were an easy way to avoid all this misery and financial waste?

Perhaps you see where I’m going with this.

Best of all, the health care community is behind me. Since they want you to just get your gosh-darn flu shot already, there are tons of ways to get it for free.

And no, it doesn’t hurt — or at least, not nearly as bad as your throat, head, body and wallet might if you don’t get vaccinated.

So now that you realize exactly how inexcusable it is to avoid the vaccine, here’s where to find them.

1. Your Doctor’s Office

If you have health insurance, your flu shot is more than likely 100% covered — so you can just head to your primary care physician’s office and get it there.

If your doctor’s anything like mine, it’ll put a smile on their face.

2. Your Local Grocery Store or Pharmacy

A quick Google search shows that Safeway, Publix, Albertson’s, Walmart, Costco, Walgreens and CVS all offer flu shots — which, again, are almost definitely covered with a $0 copay under your insurance plan.

If it’s not covered, it’ll run you about $15 at Costco and up to $39.99 at CVS and Walgreens.  

Many of these stores even sweeten the deal — after all, they are sticking you with needles.

When you get your flu shot at Walgreens, the company will donate a vaccine to a child in need.

Albertson’s and Safeway give you 10% off your next purchase when you get the shot, and CVS offers a 20% off pass on a purchase of up to $50 worth of non-pharmacy items.

I took advantage of that last one myself, and now I’m stocked with toothpaste and deodorant for at least a year. Way better than the silly little lollipop they used to give you when you were a kid, right?

3. Your Workplace

Your boss knows the flu can cost money — both for you and for the company. If everyone in the office gets taken out at once, there could be a serious productivity lapse.

Check if your company’s offering free flu shots to employees. Sometimes, they’ll even bring in a nurse so you don’t even have to leave the office.

4. Your College Campus

Flu season and finals season… are the same season.

To avoid that disaster waiting to happen, lots of college campuses offer free flu shots. Most times, all you’ll need is your student ID.

Stay healthy this winter, Penny Hoarders! After all, with the holidays coming up, you doubtless have better stuff to spend your money on.

Your Turn: Where will you get your flu shot this year?

Disclosure: Even though we’re all getting our flu shots, sometimes the sniffles are unavoidable — and we’re not about to stop buying fancy tissues. By clicking the affiliate links in this post, you help keep us well supplied.

Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder who totally got a flu shot this year. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.

Honest Abe


Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.