Mike nourse:Video artist and instructor; art gallery codirector
Specialty: finding cheap art supplies
Where to go: Thrift stores, especially Salvation Army. The trick is to keep going back and give yourself time to scour. You can find old paints, plaster and a lot of children's crafts. But they're best for found objects for sculptural pieces, pop-culture artifacts like Star Wars memorabilia or stuffed animals.
What art supply store has the best deals? For paints or brushes I go to Genesis [2417 N Western Ave, 1-800-YES-4-ART]. They always sympathize with artists and usually have good sales and discounts. Avoid corporate art supply stores that don't give reduced prices to students or artists. If I need cheap video stuff, like digital video tapes, I go to Costco. An eight-pack is always 20 bucks—cheaper than anywhere.
Any other tips? Walk through alleys. I once found a car door in an alley and used it in a sculpture. If you can set aside Saturdays, garage sales are also great. Look for them online on Craigslist.org. The sales list what they're selling and sometimes include pictures. The "Free" link in Craigslist is amazing: I've found arts programs that are going out of business and picked up a slew of books, tables, matte boards—all for free.—Madeline Nusser
Matt Danforth: Computer programmer
Specialty: fashion bargains hunting
Motto: Sales are nice, but clearance rules.
Tips for cash-strapped fashion plates: Get tight with sales clerks to find out when new shipments come in and how long items are on a shelf before they get marked down. Also, if an item goes on sale within two weeks of purchase, typically you can show your receipt and get the difference refunded.Weekly ritual: Once a week, I go to Filene's Basement andNordstrom Rack to do a quick little clearance run past the shoes and trousers. It's a low-time-consuming thing.
Watch the calendar: The Gap does its markdowns on Wednesdays. If an item's sale price ends in .97, snag it—it's not going to get any cheaper.
Best score: A $650 pair of Bruno Magli shoes originally from Barneys New York. I picked them up for $70 at Filene's Basement. I don't think they can make them for that much.—Annie Tomlin
Tatiana Abramova:Nanny, cocktail waitress
Specialty: dinner parties on a dime
Gear up: Northwestern Cutlery [810 W Lake St, 888-248-4449] sells Wüsthof knives for a third of what you'd pay at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Tuesday Morning [3141 N Lincoln Ave, 773-525-4330] is like a cheaper Cost Plus. It's great for cloth napkins, mixing bowls and kitchen gadgets. Also, skip Williams-Sonoma and head to the Edward Don & Co. Outlet Store [2525 N Elston Ave, 773-489-7739] for professional-quality gadgets and creative stuff like those popcorn boxes you get at movie theaters—perfect for an Oscar-themed party.
Appealing apps: Buy salumi—handmade sausage like they slice and serve at fancy wine bars—for cheap at Polish specialty store Bobak's [5275 S Archer Ave, 773-735-5334]. While you're there, grab some quality imported vodka for half of what you pay for low-end American swill.
Posh produce: Lincolnwood Produce [7175 N Lincoln Ave, 847-329-0600] is like Stanley's on steroids—triple the variety, and supercheap. Pick up figs, persimmons, star fruit and cherimoyas for an exotic fruit salad.
Wholesale heaven: For seafood, go to Isaacson and Stein [800 W Fulton St, 312-421-2444]. Whole fish is cheaper, but the shop will clean it for you if you go during the week. Get there early, and ask what's behind the counter—sometimes popular items (e.g., soft-shell crabs) are hidden.
Dessert: Buy high-quality baking chocolate at the Blommer's outlet store [600 W Kinzie St, 312-492-1336] to make fondue, muffins and brownies.—Chad Schlegel
Victoria Denenberg:Real estate agent
Aren't all dollar stores the same? There seem to be three types: independent stores, bastardized wannabes like Amazing Savings that pull a bait-and-switch and mark up items to $1.67 or $2.39, and Dollar Tree, which is a huge national chain.
They're so ethnically diverse. If I want piñatas I head west on Fullerton, between the 3000 and 4000 blocks. On Devon, going into a dollar store is like traveling to an exotic land...you're overcome by incense and jasmine.
Any favorites? The Dollar Tree [at 2931 W Addison St, 773-478-3429] is like the Neiman Marcus of dollar stores. It's huge. They've got departments and even food stands.They take VISA. I have about 30 pairs of magnifying eyeglasses from there: tropical, diamond-studded, Cat Woman—whatever fits my mood. A clerk there told me their hottest item is home pregnancy tests; they can hardly keep them in stock.
Best scores? I outfitted my daughter's entire soccer team with ponchos for less than a dollar a piece. I've found great athletic bags and papier-mâché boxes perfect for hostess gifts. The Dollar Tree [at 5235 N Broadway, 773-506-6551] has tons of office supplies, silk flowers and amazing vases. And great underwear. Why spend bucks at Victoria's Secret when you can buy a bra for a dollar? It's a miracle bra—and the miracle is that I found it for a dollar.
Any caveat emptors? Makeup kits and perfumes that might be 10 years old. I tried some cream rouge once and it streaked down my cheeks like candle wax—I looked like The Scream.—Crair Keller
Rachael TelleenAntiques dealer
Specialty: foraging for old furniture and décor
Why hunt for old furniture? You can have great furniture that's actually probably better made [than new] and it's going to cost you less. If you don't want your house to look like everybody else's house, this is the way to do it.
Where do you usually hit the jackpot? Church rummage sales in really good neighborhoods like Winnetka and Lake Forest. They don't necessarily have good garage sales, though—I've gone to garage sales in Hinsdale and found the biggest piles of junk!
How do you find good sales? For estate sales and garage sales, I go online to the Pioneer Press [www.pioneerlocal.com] to look.
What's hot now? When you see magazines like Country Living, you see a lot of "primitive." It's the shabby-chic look, but it hasn't been painted. An item looks that way because it was painted 70 years ago—it's the real thing.
Best advice: You have to be able to make a decision when you see something you like. If you wait, you're probably going to lose it. The one thing I caution people is to really look at the item well. Nothing's a good deal if it's broken.
Good things hide in the strangest places: My kids say, "Mom, how come we never drive in the streets? Why do we have to drive in the alleys?" It's hit or miss, but I've found a few good things.—Annie Tomlin
Browse some of Rachael's scores, which she cleans and resells, this weekend at her monthly warehouse sale, Rachael's Finds.