Avoid the sickening cost of getting the flu

Coming down with the flu can make you feel more than a little queasyabout your budget.

The flu can be expensive for consumers and businesses alike. During the particularly bad 2012-13 season, the flu cost workers $8.5 billion in lost wages from taking unpaid sick days to recuperate or to care for a sick family member, according to Walgreens. And an earlier report from the pharmacy chain found that many people end up spending more than $250 out of pocket to treat their symptoms.

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Fortunately, reducing your risk of that kind of bill is easy, and cheap.

"We always say, a flu shot is the best way to prevent getting the flu," said Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's influenza division. The season usually peaks in January or February, so even with a two-week window post-vaccination to build up antibodies, you still have plenty of time to protect yourself before it seems like everyone you encounter is sniffling and coughing. "It's definitely not too late," he said.

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Under the Affordable Care Act, a flu vaccination is free for most insured providers. You can also often find freebies through your employer or a local flu shot clinic. But it can be better than free. Some supermarkets and pharmacies are sweetening the deal. Supermarket chain Safeway, for example, is giving out vouchers for 10 percent off your next grocery purchase—just in time to handle Thanksgiving.

Steven A. Rosenberg | The Boston Globe | Getty Images