Bedbugged! is a column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
It is now three years since I first discovered bed bugs crawling across my brand-new mattress, and two since I escaped. I now find myself—three apartments and three beds removed—finally ensconced in habitable living quarters, unpacking, on the verge of emptying the last of my things from storage and finally adding up the finances of the experience.
I’m estimating a portion of this because in that far-off, addled state I did not keep all the receipts I normally do. But I kept enough to know that all told, including everything from doctor visits to exterminators to giant Ziploc bags and everything in between, I must have spent a good $5,600 at least.
As I sort through receipts and look back, I realize that there are two levels of bed bug expense: the one in which you keep your cool, and the one in which you don’t. In other words, there is an extra cost to freaking out.
I was a living example of this with my initial hysterical tactics, throwing out my bed, sofa and assorted other goods with little review.
Granted, I hadn’t paid for the things (they’d come with the apartment), and they were riddled with bed bugs, but if they had been worth saving, it would have made more sense to treat them.
Too often I’ve read entries on Bedbugger.com or heard people talking, saying that they immediately discarded half their furniture when they learned their abode was infested. There is simply no need. These things can be decontaminated.
In addition, I did things that, if I had stopped to think my situation through and kept my cool, would have cost me less.
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For instance I ran out and spent $380 on dry cleaning before buying the Packtite for $289 and realizing that I could have simply baked my dry cleaning in the thing and saved that $380.
The extermination money -- well first there was the $200 for TC, the complete loser PCO who came in the very beginning, then about $1,400 for John Furman’s Boot-a-Pest, for a grand total of $1,665.
After the first infestation I bought an air mattress for $150, then a bed for a total of $778.61, including a $99 anti-bedbug cover. I left both those behind when I moved.
There was nothing wrong with the futon mattress, but bringing it would have meant getting professional treatment, and I didn’t want to pay for that.
In 2010 I bought yet another bed -- this time a full instead of a queen, for a tiny bit less money, say $650 (I’m guesstimating here), plus a second air mattress for another $150 or so. That brings the total bed money to $1,728.61 for two years.
I spent at least $220 on an assortment of Ziploc bags, plastic containers and other storage items—and that’s just from the receipts I remembered to keep—and another $33 or so on biodegradable laundry bags, 91% rubbing alcohol and other supplies, for a total of $250 on the miscellaneous stuff.
Storage fees to date will have totaled about $1,100 by the time this column is published. That’s over about two years since I first started stashing treated, sealed items in a space shared with my neighbors.
Then there was the pity-party money. Rather than hunker down and cook at home, moving my plastic bags of possessions out of the way, I decided to use my ordeal as an excuse to try out all the restaurants in my hood.
Granted, that was fun, but 20 pounds and a hundred or two dollars later, I can see that I could have sucked it up and “lived” in my kitchen.
There were also things particular to my situation that I lost money on. I relate them here because everybody has their version of those. For instance I left a washer that had come with the apartment. I’d bought it from my brother when I moved in. I was too paranoid to sell it when I moved out lest it contained a rogue bug. I did not want to be responsible for that, and besides, even if the machine didn't have any bugs in it, I worried about the rest of the apartment if someone came to pick it up. Plus, I was in a hurry. So there went a good $600.
If I were battling an infestation again, I would go about it incredibly differently. For one thing I’d do my best to find the bugs earlier so that I wouldn’t necessarily need to worry about them getting all through my stuff.
I’d continue to sleep in my bed and let the poison work. If for some reason the infestation was extensive, I would simply have my stuff fumigated.
In fact, just yesterday I noticed a mattress outside an attached townhouse in our row, four doors down. Fingers crossed.
Theresa Braine is a NYC-based journalist and bed bug survivor whose work has appeared in the NY Daily News, People, Newsday and other outlets. Bedbugged! is her weekly column about life in the bed bug trenches and how to climb out with your sanity intact.