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Free and cheap stuff to do while you're out of work

Learn French, work out, volunteer to cook.

By Emily Torem |

Cheer up—for cheap
You may have just gotten laid off, but that doesn’t mean your new job is to feel miserable. We scouted out the silver lining of unemployment: supercheap and free classes you can participate in all over the city while your friends are at work (suckas!). Soon enough you may be thinking the worst part about unemployment is that it’ll come to an end some day.

Dinner is served
You’re resigned to dining on leftovers and brown-bag lunches—until now. Chicago’s top chefs teach a rapt audience to emulate fancy fare like gazpacho and cherry clafoutis at Green City Market’s gratis biweekly chef demos. Bring a pen and a folding chair and let their expertise guide you in your own home cooking. Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10:30am, south end of Lincoln Park between Clark St and Stockton Dr, 773-880-1266, free.

Power hour
Cutting costs doesn’t have to mean nixing happy hour. Every Tuesday night, Crunch Fitness hosts a live DJ and fitness classes ranging from yoga to TRX—a new fitness regimen in which participants use rubber bands to work their abs. No drinks are served, but exercise endorphins are a great buzz. Tuesdays 6–9pm, 939 W North Ave, 312-337-1244,, free.

S’il vous plaît
Like jumping into a chilly pool headfirst, language is best tackled through immersion. Beef up your résumé with a foreign language that enhances cognition and opens up worlds of opportunity in a globalizing workplace. Practice vocab and conversation at Alliance Français cafes—multilevel French conversations where topics flow seamlessly from breakfast to politics. Wednesdays 6:30–7:30pm, 810 N Dearborn St, 312-337-1070,, $3 for nonmembers, free for members.

Mind over matter
Peace of mind is something you could use right now. Too bad it typically costs a bundle—a vacation far away from a cell-phone charger is hardly part of a shoestring budget. You can get the next best thing in Chicago: Incorporate a calming trinity of deep breathing, insightful relaxation and increased self-awareness at Allyu Spa’s free monthly guided meditation. 600 W Chicago Ave, 312-755-1313,, free.

Be knotty
Gather your supplies and head over to Loopy Yarns on Friday evenings. The shop hosts an open knitting and crocheting session with experts available for questions. If you’re a newbie, consider signing up for one of the classes ($15 and up) on topics like kintting gloves and crocheting hats. Bonus: Holiday presents for your family? Done. Fridays from 5:30–9pm, 47 W Polk St, 312-583-9276,, free.

Don’t worry, bead happy
The bad news: You’re not going to be buying something sparkly anytime soon. The good news: At the weekly Make Over Monday workshop at Beadniks, experts will help you update your jewelry with merch from the store (for purchase). Mondays from 5–9pm, 1937 W Division St, 773-276-2323,, free.

Drawing board
Whether or not you’re a veteran doodler, you still need to get creative in this market. Learn from local pros with the MCA’s Tuesday night events. Programs include Doodleganza (a hands-on art project) and Cabinet of Curiosities (an artistic variety show). Tuesdays at 6pm, 220 E Chicago Ave, 312-280-2660,, free.

Feed your soul
You’re a hopeless cook with a big heart. To the rescue: First Slice Cafe. Gourmet chefs help volunteers sharpen knife skills and explore flavor combos, then serve their creations to hungry and needy folks. 4401 N Ravenswood Ave, 773-506-7380,, free. Send an e-mail to with your contact info to be added to the volunteer list.

“It’s really dangerous to not have things to do most of the day. Lay out the things that you’re going to do every single day, just like you would at work. Without that, it’s really easy to sort of float in this crazy abyss of time, where you have people ask you, What did you do today? You’re like, Well, I surfed the Internet…and I watched a couple movies. And you feel bad about yourself, and you’re not in a position to really move forward—you’re sitting still.”—Jessica Lybeck