Chicago: cheap!
live like an artist

Comparing Car Sharing

How OFTEN do you need a car?  That's the question.  If you just need a car for a few hours a month, I recommend car sharing.  Services are found all over Chicagoland. 

I like I-GO car sharing.  A lot of folks prefer Zipcar, but that’s probably because they don’t know about I-GO’s GO Budget plan.  Fifteen dollars/mo and a 6-month commitment buys you 3 hours and 150 miles per month.  Your CTA pass can even link to your I-GO account


But, if you’re gonna drive 7 hrs/mo, Zipcar’s cheapest Extra Value Plan might be worth it at $56/mo, and I included the membership and registration fees in that figure.  You get 7 hours of drive time and 180 miles per month.  You can’t rent a car from a chain by the hour, so Zipcar buys you flexibility for cheap.  


Again, if you have to rent a car, look for coupons online or discounts from your company, univeristy, or union (on the AFL-CIO website); or, check out Rent-A-Wreck for killer deals.


Update on My Financial Info

Several years ago, I read a post from a woman who was miffed that more financial blog authors don't share their financial information.  I have no problem revealing this information, I just didn't think anyone was interested!  But, for those of you who are curious, here it is:

Wages and Wage History
  • 1999-2006 = $25,00-$30,000/yr
  • 2007 = $47,000, started working for 3 bigger, more prestigious companies
  • 2008 = $47,000
  • 2009 = $51,000, gain resulted from promotion & raise from my primary client
  • 2010 = $55,000, gain resulted from cost of living raises & additional weeks of work
  • 2011 = $52,000, loss resulted from losing some weeks & taking a pay cut
  • 2012 = $61,000, gain resulted from raises & additional weeks of work
These figures are pre-tax, and I've included the extra $1,600 annual fee (also pre-tax) I receive from my largest client in these figures

In 2012, I was employed 37 weeks, 2 more weeks than 2011.
  • Client #1, 28 weeks = 7% pension, health ins. year-round + 2 weeks paid vacation at Christmas
  • Client #2, 7 weeks = 7% into a health account ($540)
  • Client #2, 2 weeks = no benefits
My health insurance requires co-pays.  The prescription discount program isn't much of a help, nor do I get vision or dental.  I consider my health coverage pretty good, but I was still out-of-pocket $246 on medical expenses last year.

In 2013, I'm taking advantage of the FSA available through Client #1.

I have almost no physical assets; no real estate, collectibles, etc.  Just a little furniture, a flat-screen television and a Blu-ray player.... but, I carry renter's insurance nonetheless!

I have no debt.  I do use credit cards (primarily my Fidelity 2% Investment AmEx), paying them off every month.  The rent on my 1-bedroom apartment is $1010/mo including heat. My total living expenses run $2,230/mo.

Investments and Net Worth
In 2006, I had $27,000 to my name.  My parents gifted $50,000 to me, and I've been able to save and invest $63,000 total in the last three-and-a-half years.  I count my pension toward my worth:  $14,000.  I've realized around $16,000 in investment growth and interest since April 2009. M
y net worth is $170,000 in investments and pension, down about $20,000 from it's high a couple of years ago due to a bad year for my investments and a disastrous, but brief, marriage. 

Did I miss anything?  Please let me know if there are other areas I should discuss!

My Sister Changed Jobs, and Mike is Killing it at Work

My sister just left her previous company after a lateral move gave her more off-time and lessened her stress, but killed the thrill.  She told them she was unhappy, but her new boss didn't have any solutions.  Other departments in the company were interested, but weren't willing to take on the political fallout from poaching her.

So, she went to a competing company.  She's working under someone she knows and has a great working history with.  She also got a 13% increase in salary, putting her at $108,000.  The new company is one of the top in the U.S. and is growing at a tremendous rate.  Amazing!

She and her boyfriend, Mike, announced they're getting married next spring.  Mike got a promotion this year and THREE raises.

See backstory at:

The Cheapest Place to Get Married in Chicago

**Since this is one of my more popular posts, I've updated it with new links and resources.  Originally posted Apr. 2011.

Planning a wedding is hard work, and wedding are expensive.  Here are some tips about where to get married and/or host a reception in Chicago to get the most from your dollar.

Super-cheap, bargain options:
  • Chicago Cultural Center civil ceremonies run $10 and you can have up to 20 guests.
  • What's this wild rumor that Hotel Sofitel's small banquet hall is only $300 and comes with a free wedding coordinator??? (via Cheeky Chicago).  Confirm in the comments if you know it to be true. 
  • The Garden Club of Evanston can take 50-60 folks, and only costs $250.  Or, the adjacent chapel is $300.  The garden is for the ceremony only, since they don't allow chairs, food, or drink. 

Wedding with 100+ guests?  In general, most venues that can house a large party (125-170 people) at a private event in Chicago start at $5,000.  Workable, until you find out you must use their "approved" vendors (caterers, florists, bar service, etc.), all of which cost a fortune.  May we suggest:

The cheapest place I found that would suit a large party is the Irish American Heritage Center.  Though the rental fee is not listed on the site, word of mouth says the price of the Erin Room is $3,500 which includes the tables and chairs, bride's room, kitchen, mahogany bar, sound & projection system, and stage.  MANY anecdotes have their other wedding spaces at under $1,000!!!  Also, they have free parking that can accommodate all your guests.  One drawback:  you do have to purchase your liquor through them.


Barbecue would be a cheaper option to steak or chicken visuvio, but isn't as classy as some would wish.  Try Lonnie's Pizzeria.  It runs $8/person with tax.  Their italian-style catering is great with lots of non-pizza offerings; no one will ever know you ordered from a pizzeria!

Related posts:

Fidelity 2% Investment Rewards AmEx

I was in the market for a new credit card after finishing my introductory year with Chase Sapphire Preferred.  As you know, I LOVED my Sapphire card.  I grieved to see it go.

I'm back with a 2% cash back card, but this time it's the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express.  The money goes right into my non-retirement cash account at Fidelity.  I've had it for six months and am on track to make $430 for the year.

It's a far cry from the $907 in airline tickets I received last summer from Sapphire, but it's still a nice chunk of change.

Related posts:

Sold the Prius

In 2011, I bought a 2005 Toyota Prius with 66,500 miles for $14,260 from a dealership.  Total cost with taxes, fees, and license plate was around $16,000.

Two years later, I was sick of it.  After the divorce, it wasn't being driven.  With the city sticker fee, emissions test, and six-month insurance payment looming ($500 total), I decided to sell.  Kelley Blue Book indicated the Prius would go for around $9,100 to a private party, but trade-in value would only be $7,400.  Since I wasn't buying another car, a dealership would give me even less, but I just wasn't comfortable selling to a private party.

The car had more wear and tear than when it was purchased, as expected.  The GPS had stopped working, and it now had 86,000 miles.  Carmax offered $7,000.  I thought a Toyota dealership would offer more, but they actually offered $6,000!  Sold it to Carmax.

Besides avoiding the constant depreciation of the car, I'm saving $48/mo in insurance and earning $17.50/mo in interest on the $7,000.  Gas, maintenance, and miscellaneous costs like the Chicago city sticker and parking tickets probably average another $30/mo. 

That's $90/mo in my pocket that I'm very glad to have.

Related posts:

New Chicago Cheap Apartment in Lincoln Square

My apartment in Wrigleville was a vintage one-bed/one-bath, third-floor walk-up with a dining room and heat included.  It started at $1,100/mo for 2011, rising to $1,130 in 2012 (after I talked them down from $1,160).  However, for 2013, they wanted $1,240 and weren't willing to negotiate.  Time to move.

I looked extensively around Lakeview, but didn't find anything I liked in my price range. 

Then, a friend mentioned her building in Lincoln Square had vacancies.  I'd been to her apartment and liked the building and area.  I lived in Lincoln Square ten years ago, so I'm familiar with the neighborhood.  The apartment I was shown looked great, so I took it.

The new place is a one-bed/one-bath in an elevator building in Lincoln Square, 3 blocks from a brown line stop, newly renovated, heat included.  $1,010/mo.  The square footage is smaller than the Wrigleyville apartment--no dining room--but the finishes are much nicer.  It has laminate-wood floors and tile.

I'm in love with the kitchen.  The cabinets extend to the ceiling, and there are more of them, so more storage.  The refrigerator is full-sized, and this kitchen has a DISHWASHER.  I've never had a dishwasher before.  It's like owning a flock of dish-washing fairies!

A friend found out I was moving, and decided she wanted my Wrigleyville pad.  We were both in a position to move mid-month, so she paid me $675 in rent for the old place.  Since she liked the apartment as-is, she saved me the $500 it would've cost to hire painters, and $50 to uninstall the chandeliers and reinstall the ceiling fans.

I'm very happy and looking forward to the additional $120 in my pocket every month.

Related posts:

Divorce: It Ain't Cheap

Folks, I took a long break from the blog because Hubs and I divorced.  Financially, it's put me back a couple of years, but nothing that can't be rectified with some careful planning.  We'll talk about those steps in forthcoming posts.

How to Move to Chicago

I update and re-post this entry on how to move to Chicago monthly.  It was inspired by a woman in LA, who gave advice about how to move to Los Angeles on 6/15/08.  Apparently, a lot of people want to know how to make a go of it in LA.  It reminded me of when I was trying to move to Chicago.  Here's my advice:

A few facts...

According to Mercer, these cities are more expensive than Chicago as of 2012:  NYC, LA, San Fran, and DC.

Chicago has one of the highest sales tax in the United States: 9.25%.  Illinois income tax is 5%, and is now one of the highest in the country, too.

Average price of regular, unleaded gas: $3.90/gal (Jul. 2013).

The best way to find an apartment?

Craigslist.  You can also try the “free” apartment services.  An agent will take you out in his/her car to look for a place.  These companies will charge you a finder’s fee of $200-$300 if you take one of the apartments they show you.

Cheap rents and rental advice?

I checked the Reader, where I’ve always found the best deals.  Live-able apartments in decent neighborhoods can be found at these rates, heat included:

Studio:  $700-$800
1 BRM:  $800
2 BRM:  $1,250
3 BRM:  $1,550

Many management companies will negotiate, reducing $15-$20/mo from the advertised price to further entice a potential tenant.  Management companies are also changing their policies regarding security deposits.  Some ask for $250-$350 in non-refundable “move-in” fees, which are ALSO negotiable.

Cheapest safe neighborhoods?

Most common to folks just starting out are Andersonville and Wicker Park.  Also try Lincoln Square, Wrigleyville, and Albany Park.  Be near a grocery store:  Jewel, Dominick’s, Aldi’s.


You’re a performer, student, etc.?  Forget your car.  We have plenty of trains and buses.  Live off the Red or Blue lines and you’ll be fine.  The Brown line is safe, but may be inconvenient if you frequently travel after Midnight. 

How much money should I save before I move?

I recommend 4 months of your projected
Chicago rent as your emergency fund.  (Out of college, I sold my car to raise the funds.)  But, more important is to have a skill and some related job experience:  typing & computers, coffee slinging/waitressing, dog grooming, some time in a law office, personal trainer certification, etc.  Whatever you do, don't come without a marketable skill and at least a little experience.  It may be a renter's market, but the job market is very difficult.

What about jobs?

The unemployment rate in Chicago was 9.3
% for May.  No industry has been spared job losses.  If you're an artist, try the temp agencies first, then the papers -- Tribune, Sun Times, Reader.  I also suggest you walk around your neighborhood and look for businesses that are hiring. 

If you're working under a temp agency, you can leave with very little notice should you land something better or more permanent, and that's the advantage.  The Larko Group is often advertised in PerformInk.  I was a Kelly girl myself for a number of years.

How do I break into the entertainment industry?

That's a post of a different color, but I can tell you that print ads, commercials, and television series are non-existent right now, and feature film shoots are sporadic, even though we renewed our tax incentive.  Since Oprah left, the Chicago job market is swimming in highly qualified television workers.

Other advice?

Get yourself the Not for Tourists Guide to Chicago.  And read my other posts:

Chase Sapphire for the Win!

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has given me the best benefits of any credit card I've ever owned.  The sign up offer I received last year promised $625 in travel.  I figured I could get another $200 in travel rewards from my normal yearly spending.  $625 + $200 = $825 for airline tickets! 

This summer, I went to Europe, and the card saved me $759 in airline tickets.  See how I paid $1,077 for flights that should've cost $1,836.  Today, I booked my flight home to see my parents for Christmas.  That flight was $368 on Priceline and also $368 through Chase's rewards site.  I paid $220 and used points for the rest, meaning I received another $148 in travel rewards. 

All told, I've gotten $907 in airline tickets!  Those tickets would've cost $2,204 no matter what.  Instead, I paid $1,297.

In the past, I've focused on cash back cards, like AmEx Blue, Charles Schwab, etc., getting $200-$500 per year.  And, I could've received $500 cash back from Chase Sapphire as part of the sign up bonus, instead of the travel rewards, and another $118 in cash from my spending.  Whether I took the cash or the tickets, I was going to come out ahead by going with Chase's card.

Chase's sign up bonus this year for the Sapphire Preferred is $400 in cash or $500 in travel.  Annual fee waived the first year!  For me, that would translate to $518 in cash or $807 in tickets.  Still worth it!  Ah, if only I could do it again...