How to understand your relationship to money

How to understand your relationship to money

Here’s a phone call I had with the Farmer, last summer, when I was at a cello institute with my son:

Me: We have bites everywhere. We are never going blackberry picking again.

Farmer: I don’t have bites. I don’t think it’s blackberries.

Me: They are itching. They are mosquito bites.

Farmer: I think they’re bed bugs.

Me: Country people always think bed bugs! It’s a country thing to think bed bugs are everywhere. I’d know them if I saw them.

Farmer: Well mosquito bites don’t show up two days later.

Two days later, I was up late, reading because I was too itchy to sleep, and a bed bug crawled across my son.

I had a panic attack. I crushed the bug, because that’s what you’re supposed to do to show the exterminator. Blood spills out, and it has bite prongs on top.

The other thing you do is look at the bites, which come in threes, and somehow I had not noticed that the last two days. They were in threes.

I called the farmer in a panic. He is well aware that we lost everything to bed bugs when we lived in New York City.

I tell the hotel they have bed bugs.

They tell me no one can deal with it til morning.

They give me a new room.

I point out that I’ll just bring the bed bugs with me if I go to a new room. I see immediately that I am an expert, from the last bed bug debacle, and the front desk guy knows nothing. I say, “The eggs are invisible and can live without food for 18 months.”

He does not care. I am ruining his peaceful nightshift. I do not scream at him. I am waiting for the appropriate person to scream at.

I cry at night, in bed, with the lights on, making sure no bugs crawl on my sleeping son.

I am going to fast forward now, okay? I’m going to tell you that here’s the hotel industry position on bed bugs: That it is not negligent if there are bed bugs, so they are not responsible for fixing anything that happens as a result of bed bugs.

I see, online, that people are suing the hotel industry. I can tell this is going to be like the lawsuits to enforce my son receiving what is due to him in the public school system for autism: The lawsuit costs more than just paying for stuff myself.

I tell the regional vice president that I do not expect to pay for the nights that my son and I were eaten by bugs.

He says we have to pay. He says he provided a room that was, to his knowledge, safe.

It is clear, though, that the exterminator he hired to confirm that it’s bed bugs found the bed bugs in five minutes and they could do that with every room, and then we wouldn’t have bed bugs in hotels, but the hotel industry doesn’t want to. Even the W has bed bugs.

I see that I’m on my own. I come to this quickly because something that really hurt me the last time I had bed bugs was that I thought my landlord was responsible, and I spent time fighting him.

I didn’t spend time fighting. I put all our stuff in plastic bags to be heated up later. (You have to cook bed bugs. Nothing else works. There are now bed bug ovens.)

You cannot cook a car. I tell myself I was going to get a new one anyway. You cannot cook $200 shoes. I tell myself I can buy new ones.

There were a few things I couldn’t throw out, though. Like, the books I had just read that I loved and I took notes in so I’d remember to tell you good stuff.

But I was scared to open them. Weeks after the bugs, I was still getting bites, at home, because welts can show up three weeks after the bite. I was convinced that as soon as I opened the bag, bugs would crawl out of the books.

Finally we hired a guy with a dog to sniff the house for bugs. It’s the only way to know for sure if you have bugs. I called the guy who supplies dogs to Disney World. That’s right. If you stay at a Disney hotel, you can always request that a bed bug dog sniff your room before you stay in it.

So the dog came, sniffed everywhere, and found nothing. Then the guy showed my kids the bugs he trains the dog with. They are in a vial.

The dog has to train every day. So we let him train in our house. The guy hid the bugs under the mattress, in our guest bedroom. The dog walked into the room and found them in five seconds. It was amazing. (Career consideration: To keep the bed bugs fresh, the guy hires people to let the bugs bite them: Good money, great hours.)

Before he left, I had the dog sniff the books I had carted around with me all summer to make sure I told you about them. Here they are:

Secrets of the Moneylab, by Kay-Yut Chen
The author is a behavioral economist the book talks about ways HP uses behavioral economics to make more money. For example, giving employees $50 to bet on sales results produced better sales estimates that those officially released by HP. And he quantifies how much money you save by building a reputation of trust: automakers deemed the least trustworthy spend five times longer making a sale than automakers deemed very trustworthy. Truly, I learned something interesting on every page of this book.

The Price of Everything, by Eduardo Porter
This book tells us how prices get set. He answers questions like “What’s a woman worth?” (there’s a shortage of women in China) or “What is an early piece of technology worth?” (early adopters always get a deal). Of course I was drawn into the chapter about “What is the price of happiness?”. The book explains why after $75,000, more free time is probably worth more to you than more money.

All the Money in the World, by Laura Vanderkam.
This book talks about how the happiest people in the world spend their money. It’s a much more practical book than the other two. I confess that sometimes I like theoretical because a practical book makes you realize where you really need to change how you are doing things. I like this book because Vanderkam challenges the idea of scrimping and saving and says instead, just learn how to make more money. She says don’t bother saving for retirement and instead see retirement as something people used to do, but not anymore.

These books really end up telling the story of bedbugs. Vanderkam really writes about security. How to use money to get security. And in hindsight, it explains why my sense of wellbeing did not depend so much on whether I have bed bugs in my life, but whether I had the resources to deal with the problem. Porter explains why I was willing to pay $700 to have a dog sniff my house for five minutes. And Secrets of the Moneylab explains why, in the face of bed bug infestations, I was so quick to get rid of my car, but I couldn’t bear to throw out these three books that I loved so much.

53 replies
  1. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Big hugs to you, P. Next time, get yourself some food-grade quality diatomaceous earth (de). It’s about $10 for a huge quantity on then sprinkle it on your mattresses, clothes, books, and even the dog. The de cuts through the tough bed bug body shells and kils them. Much cheaper than a new car, shoes, etc.

    • Jeanette
      Jeanette says:

      With de (diatomaceous earth), you need to be careful not to breathe it in, so the mattress would not be a good place to put it. Around the baseboards would.

      Allerzip is a mattress and box spring encasement that the bugs cannot crawl through. They have one for pillows to. That eliminates possible places for them to hide.

      I have had bedbugs, and I locked all my books and craft supplies up for alsmost 2 years, because I was too scared to heat them in the oven.

      Those bastards have spent almost 10,000 years playing hide and snack with us.
      It is

  2. gijyun
    gijyun says:

    Hi, love your blog, but I have good news for you. You can eliminate bed bugs for not very much anymore. First, take your iron and steam the edges of your box springs and mattress. Then for around $20, you can get yourself a bag of diatomaceous earth (a naturally occurring powder) that is non-toxic and safe to ingest. Sprinkle this around your bed legs and mattresses. This powder cracks the shell of these bugs and they dehydrate a painful death (woohoo!). We had a bed bug problem, but followed these steps and we don’t have them anymore. They WILL just keep spreading throughout the earth again unless we start using DEET with reckless abandon (which isn’t going to happen), so just learn to deal with them on your own now.

  3. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Okay, I really appreciate the advice, but these are small-time solutions. That earth stuff only works if you are staying in a hotel room. Not if they are in your house. The earth stuff can protect you for a night or two. It doesn’t get rid of bed bugs.

    The earth stuff only works if you use with bait. The bugs will only walk across it to get to blood. And it has to be human blood. Which means, for example, if you have bedbugs in your bedroom and your kid’s bedroom, you’d need to have your kids sleep there, as bait, to get the bugs to cross the line of dirt. Otherwise the bugs will just wait until someone comes back to the kid’s bed.

    Another thing, the eggs live 18 months. So you would just have a cycle where you kill the live ones, the other ones hatch, you notice they are biting you but by then they have laid more eggs, so you kill the live ones and then wait for the next round to hatch.

    It’s a science to get rid of bed bugs. If it were as easy as putting that earth stuff around a bed, we wouldn’t have a national bed bug problem, would we?


    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      P, you will be surprised by how easy and cheap it is to get rid of bedbugs in a house using diatomaceous earth. You just haven’t tried it yet. In your thought decision-making process, I suggest adding a variable on cost and choose a cost-effective option.

      FYI: DE also gets rid of lice. And you can even add it to water, drink it (the food-grade quality kind) and rid yourself of parasites. :-)

    • gijyun
      gijyun says:

      Not sure where you’re getting your info, but I work in public health and have eliminated bed bugs from my own house as well as others using the techniques we described. Currently 9 months bed bugs free, and spent <$60.

    • Laurel
      Laurel says:

      Wonderful blog, Penelope! As for the diatomaceous earth, it worked very well for me when I used to work in eco-friendly pest control–but I would use it in combination with heat treatment to get rid of bedbugs. And I’d start by caulking the room first. Its a big job, I’ll admit! I’d love to see hotels start using self-sterilizing beds so we wouldn’t catch bedbugs in the first place.

  4. Tom
    Tom says:

    First, if you liked the Vanderkam book check out ‘The Millionaire Fastlane.’ Extremely cheesy title, yet a very smart, surprising book on what business to build to make more money.

    Second, why do you think the bedbug problem exploded? Do you think it’s the advent of Craigslist, where suddenly people had an inexpensive way of selling infected mattresses?

  5. s.r
    s.r says:

    To my knowledge you can actually cook a car … at least Car Talk said this once to someone whose car had been infested with deadly spiders. Baking a car is actually part of the process of painting cars, so if you find a car painting place that has a baker then you’re set.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I found that via Car Talk too!

      First, your comment reminds me why I love Car Talk so much. Those guys are so great at picking out weird topics related to cars. They should give blogging classes, because I think that’s what a good blogger does — take a common topic and then bring up weird aspects of it.

      Second: I called a few of the places that have the machines that heat cars for the painting process. The problem is that they are not insured for using the machine off-label. So they wouldn’t do the process just for bed bugs because if they harm the car or the machine in the process, they are not insured.


  6. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    Dear Penelope,

    This story sounds like a pitch for another horror movie: The Attack of the Killer Bed Bugs! And your yarn also implied the scariest thing of all…The Farmer does NOT get bitten.


    Is the Farmer secretly ruling the world of the bed bugs? Is he Lord of the bed bugs? Is he covertly trying to attack his family for some malicious reason?

    Uh oh… I don’t want to get the Farmer in trouble. Maybe’s he’s immune because he’s been sleeping in bed bug nests all his life.

    Humm… That doesn’t sound too nice either. I better stop right here before I make an enemy!

    Love, Irv

    PS: Have you tried prayer?

  7. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    The most frustrating thing in the world is trying to get the hotels (or any large corporation) to admit they have a problem or made a mistake. Their immediate reaction is to blame the customer or say that they don’t have the responsibility other than to provide a bed for you. I think the expensive hotels are worse than the budget chains.

    The auto industry was this way in the 1970s. You would bring your brand new car in and they would start telling you that the car was fine and you were the problem even when it refused to start in the morning. This finally stopped when Toyota became the best car company for customer service and many consumers trusted Toyota more than the American car companies.

    There is an opportunity here for a hotel chain to advertise that they are bed bug free or your money back. Competition is the best way to deal with this problem.

    • Jim C.
      Jim C. says:

      Over the past 20 years or so, there has been an increase in visitors (and immigrants ) to the USA from bedbug-infested parts of the world. Nowadays a $400 a night hotel room can be infested because some wealthy family from Kuwait or Belarus stayed there last week.

      Sometimes the fanciest hotels have the most risk of bedbug problems.

      • Jeanette
        Jeanette says:

        Actually, there have been bedbug dna studies at US universities that support the theory that the bedbugs have remained in North America, using other animals as hosts. (as in they use the bedbug dna to determine which populations are related, and their origins)

        Humans got crazy and started dusting their mattresses with DDT (not joking) so the bugs just laid low for a few decades.

        Way to be a xenophobe.

  8. Aimee
    Aimee says:

    Just thought I would share information on one of the best speakers that I have heard on bed bugs and how to preform pest control on them.
    Dr. Dini Miller spoke at a conference that I went to (I’m in the apartment industry) and was way more entertaining and informing than anyone who studies bedbugs and cockroaches should be.

    I think I remember that she said some people don’t react to bites and mentioned that her husband is one of those people, so every night he has her lab bugs feed on him while they watch TV. That might explain why some people in your family reacted and some did not.

    Also, from what I understand, if you leave your vehicle in the really hot sun (and your tinting isn’t too strong) in the heat of the summer for a couple of days, it ends up baking the bed bugs naturally. Not sure if that really works, but it is what I’ve been told.

  9. Jani
    Jani says:

    Every hotel room the bf and I check into, we pull back the covers and look at the mattresses, then scan the baseboards of the room, checking for evidence of bugs. Luckily we’ve never had to deal with them yet, but I dread waking up one day to the realization that I have to trash much of what I own and start over!

  10. Pam
    Pam says:

    I had the bed bug experience in the late 1970s in a rental house in Eugene, Oregon – I kept waking up with bites mainly on my legs. The bites continued over a couple of weeks and grew in numbers, swelled and itched, and evolved into a reaction. Neither my partner or my two wee kids didn’t get bitten…hmmm. I ended up in the ER on Christmas Day a few weeks later. It’s been so long ago I don’t even remember what they gave me at the time to ease the swelling and itching. I know it wasn’t prednisone because that hadn’t made it to the AMA’s list of “cure-all” drugs yet.

    I could never catch or even see what was biting me, no matter what kind of sleuthing I did. One morning, though, a bedbug full of my blood was just too sluggish and I captured the buggah and put him in a jar.

    I then called the county’s Vector Control office and they sent a brochure with pictures of the most wanted pesky bugs. Aha! I found it on page whatever in all its close-up glory. I looked at the culprit in the jar back and forth to the picture several times, not believing my luck in actually finding it in their brochure. But there was no doubt, and I felt hope at last.

    Bed bugs were something that existed in the past century, we all believed from tales and tellings, something found only in flop houses and prisons and substandard housing. Our house in Eugene didn’t fit in any of those categories. Oh, it was old and leaned a little bit, but it was clean and safe; otherwise, I would never have lived their with my children.

    So I was righteously appalled that this nasty little critter could even enter my realm…I called my Mother and shared my bed bug story while I itched and swelled. She said that bed bugs were fairly common during the Great Depression.

    I called Vector back and told the guy I had ID’d my nemesis and asked for solutions. He first told me the bugs especially love to sleep in the crevasses of mattresses, because their full meal deals were close at hand at night during banquet time. They were especially drawn to ham hocks, so to speak.

    He also said the best cure was to evacuate and bomb the house. We did (what did WE know in the late 70s?), spent the night in a motel, and came back the next day to a toxic but bedbug-free house. They never returned. So far, none of us has ever gotten insect bomb cancer.

    I eventually found out that the bugs came from kids of friends who had all moved up from the woods a month or so before; I had been doing day care for the kids.

    A couple of weeks after the final chapter of our experience had been written, someone from a Eugene TV station called about my bedbug problem and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed and my house and family filmed for a local special on slumlords.

    That was back in the days when The System subtly informed young parents everywhere that kids who got head lice were generally from poor, ignorant families.

    History is so wonderful…

  11. Another Lisa
    Another Lisa says:

    I was hoping more of the comments would be about the books. I read and enjoyed the first two and now I’ll be adding the third to my ever constantly growing reading list.

  12. Gib Wallis
    Gib Wallis says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I loved this post except that it was too short!

    I really hope you’ll expand the last paragraph and connect the dots more between what was in the books specifically that taught you what was alluded to in the last paragraph.

    Also, you’ve been citing the dollar amount after which we don’t increase happiness for a while. Wasn’t it $70,000 a few years ago?

    Has happiness inflated $5,000 since then?

    Since you have two kids, you can justify your high earnings by sectioning off $75,000 each for them, right?

  13. Cindy Finley
    Cindy Finley says:

    I totally get the bed bug freak out and the desire to walk away from it all. One of our daughters brought them home with her from Mexico, but being the good camper that she is, didn’t realize there was a problem until four months later. Her bed was SO infested. I tried to deal with them myself, but that was useless. I hired an exterminator. He used the heaviest chemicals on them that he could. They showed up again in two months. He blasted them again, but I had NO FAITH in his methods. We moved, not because of the bed bugs, but because of life. But, we wrapped up our daughters furniture with moving saran wrap stuff and put it in a metal-roofed garage to sit and sit and sit. HOWEVER, three months after we moved, they showed up in another daughter’s bed. Thankfully, I found a place that does the doggy sniff thing who found them in that daughter’s room. They heated her room up so hot that it melted the mini-blinds. But the bugs are gone. I have no interest in diatomaceous dirt and would call the doggy sniff and heat crew in an instant if we discovered them again.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for this comment. So many people tell me I’m nuts – overreacting. But your experience is so similar to what I had in NYC. I realize now you have to go straight to dogs and heat in order to contain the bugs.


  14. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I went to Amazon to check out the bed bug oven.
    About $400 and all it does is heat up your stuff?
    So I kept reading because I figured there had to be more to this thing than I was getting at first glance. What surprised me was the more I read, the more its’ value increased. I’m still not sure about $400 but then again I’m not facing down bed bugs.
    What I think really deserves mention though and the reason I’m writing this comment is one comment that came from a dissatisfied customer. The company shined in his/her estimation with regards to customer service. I think there’s also a better trust relationship established here after all is said and done. Here’s the update – “UPDATE: This company voluntarily contacted me and refunded $100 of my purchase price, dropped the current price of their product to reflect that refund, and offered to give me a full refund/return on my purchase. I give this company 5 stars for their customer service and recognition of the value/cost of their product. Looking further into this, their competitors product is no more sophisticated, has the same bundled type of non integrated $20-$30 worth of electronics, and is much more expensive for a smaller unit. I only raised the rating on this item by 1 star because the bundling of other non-integrated packaged products is still what it is, however to be fair this is the best price/value for your buck compared to the competitions product(s). I did choose to keep this product because it is the best oven available.” I don’t work for this bed bug oven company but I now do have more respect for them.

  15. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    This is a comment in response to no one. So maybe this is the online equivalent of walking down the street talking to myself.

    But anyway, here’s something interesting about the ads that are appearing on this page: The ads are optimized so that whoever will pay the most at any given time gets to take the ad space. It’s amazing to me that so often the bed bug advertisers are outbidding everyone. Online advertising always teaches me new things about the world.


  16. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    “Vanderkam… says instead, just learn how to make more money”

    Oh gee, what helpful advice, why didn’t I think of that? Newsflash: some of us are having trouble getting any job at all, so “just make more money” is not exactly genius.

  17. Marita
    Marita says:

    I love how can can teach us all about money by talking about bed bugs lol!! I learned about the heat and dog sniffing solution by watching one of those ‘horror’ stories on the animal channel, I think it was called ‘Eaten Alive’ or something like that.

    Btw, the ads show up not necessarily matching the post or depending how much money they make. It depends mostly on your browser settings what shows: if you keep the default settings, the ads shown might be related to what you’ve been shopping for or researching on the web, or will be shown depending on where you live, or what ad is most likely being clicked.

    If you don’t allow your browser to track your browsing, then ads related to the topic, or the highest bidder ad most likely being clicked might show.

    As a blogger adding the ads (as yourself) you can only pick or unpick categories but not automatically pick the highest bidder, because your choice might not be the most likely being clicked.

  18. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Now you’ve done it, P. I’m thinking about what it would be like to replace ghosts with bed bugs and make a movie called BedBugBusters. I’ve got the Ghostbusters tune on right now. :)

  19. paul
    paul says:

    I invented a self-sterilizing bed. I’m an entomologist. I unfortunately lost my bed bug sniffing dog to a large nose tumor at 3 and a half years old! We retired our second dog because we believe this is too dangerous for pesticide exposure.

    Much of the postings provide valuable information. Gijyun offered some very good tips. DE is a very valuable product.

  20. Ebriel
    Ebriel says:

    I’ve gotten them twice: at a midrange hotel in Vientiane, and once at a friend’s home/travel agency in Burma (her staff members had apparently let relatives sleep in the guest room).
    When you know you’ve been infested, the sense of violation is complete.

    And, re. money:
    “Vanderkam challenges the idea of scrimping and saving and says instead, just learn how to make more money.”

    Yep. It’s a conclusion I came to a year or two ago, when – for the Nth time – I was wracking my brain for solutions to money woes. (We’d moved countries again without stable jobs)

    Not that saving isn’t important.

    However the amount of brainpower burned up on cutting corners in daily life, in order to save 5-5% of income, could well be used on how to increase income by 20-30%.

  21. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    I just gave a motel at an airport in Kansas City a bad review because they had no luggage rack so I could keep my suitcase up off the floor.

    I hope you used the opportunity to get your kids to keep their motel rooms picked up and keep their clothes off the floor.

  22. angela
    angela says:

    Well, while everyone is talking about bed bugs, I’ve gone online and purchased Secrets of the Moneylab and I’m really disappointed. There’s no way you read this Penelope. It’s so poorly written. It stomps on any interesting point and strangles it with boring theory. I’m really disappointed. Why would you recommend this?? Have you sold out?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Look, I didn’t say it was a Pulitzer Prize contender. Here’s how I read it: Each night before bed I open to a random page and read it. And each night I learned something really interesting that I marked down to put in a blog post. And there were so many notes in the book I thought people would think it’s as fun to read as I did. Try skimming.

      But really, I’m sorry you didn’t like the book. So here’s a new recommendation, if you want to read great non-fiction that will knock your socks off and teach you a ton, read Mary Roach’s book, Bonk. Here’s the link:

  23. Jeff Bronson
    Jeff Bronson says:

    Wow this sounds like a nightmare!
    Even if you avoid traditional hotels,and use something like AirBnB, who is to say the traveler before you didn’t bring a little something extra in their bags!


  24. laure
    laure says:

    Loved: what’s a good blog talking about, how to read a book, your angle on money.
    In practical terms: I have a beagle! I want to find a bug trainer for him in Montreal!

  25. Mikey's mom
    Mikey's mom says:

    My Border Collie can hear ants and termites and alerts me to their presence. I live in fear of the day he alerts me to the mattress.

  26. paul
    paul says:

    I did research on D.E. at McGill University in the 1980’s. It truly is a wonderful natural pesticide. Unlike most insecticides D.E. is not a neurotoxin.
    Though it has its limitations, it is a valuable tool. One woman explained to me how she could not afford to get a service. However she found that applying the D.E. between 2 sheets, she was able to overcome her problem. Not a bad idea I think. The D.E. does not get airborne and creates a well placed barrier.

  27. Pestroy deals bed bugs
    Pestroy deals bed bugs says:

    I love your blog and you can deal with these bugs easily by having bed bug specialist who can easily handle these bigs or rodents.
    These bed bugs are sometimes really annoying, I had very bad experience with them . bed bugs are very creepy. I had very bad experience with them. We had bed bugs in our mattresses and so finally we called out an Bed bug specialist ho can deal with these bugs. So technician help us a lot and they were cooperative They deal with these bugs and finally I got rid of them.”

  28. tropicauxpinkie
    tropicauxpinkie says:

    Thanks for the book recommendations, I love when I can find my next good read without much effort :)
    We spent 1600 to heat treat the entire house for bedbugs that were likely brought in off the plane of a visiting relative. That $10 plastic wrap machine for your luggage at the airport serves a great purpose.

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