Be a student on a budget
You've mastered the three Rs (reading, writing and ramen), but your shrinking bank account suggests you're still failing Economics.
Food for thought
You’ll save fistfuls of cash if you eat in, so start with Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything ($21.95, Barbara’s Bookstore, locations citywide), which will teach you how to feed yourself until long after you’ve paid off your student loans. Stock up on groceries at Wild Oats (1111 Chicago Ave, Evanston, 847-475-9492).
When you run out of clean dishes, take the night off at Flat Top Grill (locations citywide), which offers students $2 off its tasty stir-fries. Eppy’s Deli (224 E Ontario St, 312-943-7797; 162 N Franklin St, 312-345-7771), Noli’s NY Style Pizza (4839 N Kedzie Ave, 773-588-0400), Beef ’n’ Brandy (127 S State St, 312-372-3451) and Howie’s (1310 S Wabash Ave, 312-461-0944) offer 10 percent student discounts; and Edwardo’s Natural Pizza (1321 E 57th St, 773-241-7960) will take 15 percent off your bill.
Food’s important for, you know, sustenance, but we all know being a student is also about drinking—on the cheap, of course. Hit Davenport’s Piano Bar (1383 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-278-1830), where students can take advantage of specials such as $3.50 well drinks or $5 for a Miller Lite and a whiskey shot any night of the week. Or go to Kelly’s Pub (949 W Webster Ave, 773-281-0656), where the drink specials include $2 PBR pints (Fri, Sat); $3 import pints (Wed); $2 22-ounce bottles (Thu); and $1 Miller Lites (Mon)—and the wings are a dangerous 10 cents every Wednesday. Then, take the edge off your hangover at Orange (75 W Harrison St, 312-447-1000); the South Loop location offers students 20 percent off brunch.
Depending on your field of study, you might be able to get through the next few years without buying a single book. Many Illinois colleges and universities, including Columbia, Roosevelt, IIT and the School of the Art Institute, participate in an interlibrary loan program, I-Share, which allows students to have books from all over the state delivered to their own school’s library within days.
I-Share might not work for students in large introductory science or math courses. Visit your campus bookstore early (or buy online at Amazon.com) to get discounted used textbooks; if at all possible, share your textbook with a classmate or ask the professor to put a copy on reserve at the library.
Also make sure you have a Chicago Public Library card: Harold Washington Library Center (400 S State St, 773-LIBRARY, chipublib.org) has a fantastic selection of DVDs; between its films and your school library’s movie collection, you can save a bundle on rental fees. (If a movie doesn’t have fiery explosions, why even bother seeing it in the theater?)
Without a car in the world
Sure, you can’t make an impromptu pilgrimage to IKEA without a car, but all the Poäng chairs in the world can’t make up for the peace of mind that comes from not having to worry about repairs, gas, insurance, traffic or parking. Many students commute by bike; the nonprofit Working Bikes (1125 S Western Ave, 312-421-5048) is a good source for cheap refurbished ones. Plus, the CTA is dirt cheap if your school participates in the U-Pass program—at UIC, $95 buys unlimited rides for an entire semester. Try not to think of the CTA’s daily delays and slow zones as “annoyances” so much as “opportunities to finish that Hegel reading.”
You’ll need the perfect music to fuel your keggers and all-nighters, but as the recording industry targets students’ illegal downloads, you might have to drop your file-sharing habit like an 8am class. For affordable, reliable used CDs and vinyl, try Reckless Records (locations citywide), Dr. Wax (locations citywide), Jazz Record Mart (27 E Illinois St, 312-222-1467) or The Bassment (1415 N Ashland Ave, 773-764-2277). And forget about iTunes, unless you have a secret Jessica Simpson addiction: A basic one-month subscription to eMusic.com gets you 30 tracks for $9.99, plus 50 free bonus tracks. eMusic doesn’t carry major labels, just independents such as Chicago’s Touch and Go, so it’s particularly strong in genres like indie, jazz, classical and folk. Since the site lets you download songs as MP3s, you can share them with the hottie in calculus and play them on devices that aren’t iPods. That flexibility is fortunate, because Cowon’s iAudio MP3 players are cheaper (starting at $99.95 at bhphoto.com) and just as compact and stylish as their overhyped Apple counterparts—features include FM tuners and digital recorders. But to give credit where it’s due, Apple offers students special deals on computers and other equipment, as does Dell. When you’re shopping for gadgets, always check the manufacturer’s website for both educational discounts and low-priced, but warrantied “certified refurbished” products.
Toss the beanbag chairs
If you have Design Within Reach taste on a Salvation Army budget, save up for that Eames chair by snagging free housewares, available sometimes from craigslist and daily from Freecycle, a nonprofit listserv with more than 12,200 members in Chicago alone. Or find cheap furniture at the Brown Elephant resale shops (locations citywide, 773-549-5943), where your money benefits the nonprofit Howard Brown Health Center—and your black-light posters will eventually find a good home.