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7 cheap ways to treat yourself in Chicago

From bargain spa treatments to happy hour cocktails, here are some of the best ways to feel luxurious on a budget.

Emma Krupp
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Emma Krupp
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Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all blow our paychecks on trips to the best spas in Chicago or Michelin-starred tasting menus? You might not have thousands of dollars to spare for such indulgences, but that doesn’t mean luxury is unobtainable for those of us on a budget. We’ve put together a guide to all the ways you can treat yourself in Chicago without blowing the bank, from booking a discount spa treatment at a local beauty school to free yoga classes you can take online. And best off all, nothing on this list will cost you more than $100 (and most will cost you a lot less than that)! Get ready to feel extravagant with our list of cheap ways to treat yourself in Chicago.

RECOMMENDED: The best free things to do in Chicago

Cheap ways to treat yourself in Chicago

  • Health and beauty
  • Hair salons
  • Little Italy, UIC

You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg (or go DIY with clipping shears and box dye) to switch up your haircut! Instead, book an appointment at one of Chicago’s teaching salons, where beauty school students learn the ropes under the watchful eye of instructors. The experience is a bit more economical than what you’d experience at a full-fledged salon, but you can’t beat the prices: At Paul Mitchell The School, for instance, you’ll pay $15 for a cut and style from the salon’s “Phase 1” junior students; the more advanced “Phase 2” students charge $21. Looking to get more than just a trim? The school also offers coloring, chemical relaxing, special occasion styling and bang trims, plus a rolodex of other services.

  • Health and beauty
  • Spas
  • Lake View

Along with hair-related offerings, the students at Douglas J Aveda Institute—another teaching salon—provide full-body spa treatments, whether you’re craving a 90-minute plant stem cell facial ($56), a two-step body peel ($65) or a stress-relieving aromatherapy and cleansing treatment ($39). To complete the spa day effect, finish up with a makeup consultation and application ($24) or ball out with a new set of eyelash extensions ($75).

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  • Health and beauty
  • Spas
  • Loop

If you’ve got some minor aches and pains that need to be relieved, consider scheduling a session at the Pacific College of Health and Science, a school in the Loop offering four-year degrees in various forms of Chinese medicine. As part of a training program, the school’s massage therapy interns—who are in the final year of their degrees and under the supervision of their instructors—perform 50-minute massages to help work out all the kinks and knots in your back. The first session is $50 (a pretty steep discount from most massages of that length) and return visits are $40; plus, you can get your fourth visit for free.

Grab fancy cocktails during happy hour
Photograph: Richard Weber

4. Grab fancy cocktails during happy hour

Sure, in the scheme of things, a $13–$16 dollar cocktail isn’t the biggest expenditure. But why not save a couple bucks (and maybe buy a few more rounds) during happy hour? Swing by places like Gilt Bar to get $5 Old Fashioned cocktails before 5pm, or sample the photography-inspired concoctions—like the Shutter Speed, made with gin and sage—at Bokeh for $6 between 5pm and 6pm Sunday through Thursday. 

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Take a free yoga class online
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Take a free yoga class online

Though the best yoga studios in Chicago offer drop-in or first-time classes for as low as $15–$30, you’ll find tons of options for free online classes if you’re willing to stretch it out from home. Tune in for weekly online yoga sessions from Garfield Park Conservatory or check out a selection of pre-recorded meditation videos on Chill Meditation + Massage’s YouTube channel or CorePower’s library of free classes. If you’re willing to have a flexible schedule, the Chicago Park District also regularly hosts free, in-person yoga classes, so keep an eye on their calendar!

Try a new hobby
Photograph: Courtney Cook via Unsplash

6. Try a new hobby

Signing up for a multi-week course that costs hundreds of dollars is a big commitment. You know what’s not such a big commitment? Testing the waters with a one-time class! Explore new hobbies with affordable, low-stakes options like a workshop for wheel throwing pottery basics at GnarWare ($40), a day pass for rock climbing at First Ascent Climbing & Fitness (starting at $21) or lessons on everything from Irish step dance to tap at the Old Town School of Folk Music ($20–$25).

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  • Things to do

When you’re feeling cooped up and stressed (aka when you might be most inclined to treat yourself), sometimes it’s nice just to get out of Chicago for a little while. Folks with cars have tons of options for skipping town, but if you don’t have wheels—or don’t want to pay for gas—the Metra is an easy option for exploring nearby towns on foot. Nab a day pass for $10 (or $6, if you’re sticking within the first three zones) and sky’s the limit: tour contemporary artwork in Elmhurst, grab a cup of Sparrow Coffee in Elmhurst or see where Groundhog Day was filmed in Woodstock.

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