Author

Maddy Osman

Maddy is the founder of Chicago Cheap Ass. She loves to read, travel, cook, and play with her adorable dog Leonidas.

YOUR BLACK FRIDAY PLAN OF ATTACK
Life, Shopping,

Your Black Friday Plan of Attack

As a shopper who’s always trying to get the best deal, Black Friday is one of my favorite shopping events of the year. In case you’re wondering, NO, I do not line up in front of stores for hours or days… I enjoy a nice Thanksgiving feast with my family and purposely keep my drinking low.

I’ve successfully shopped many Black Fridays, and want to share my Black Friday plan of attack with you. As an added bonus, I’ve included some of the best deals I’ve found for this year!

There are three stores I always go to:

  • Walmart
  • Best Buy
  • Target

Since arguably the best deals on Black Friday relate back to electronics, you’d be wise to start your adventure at one of these stores. Target and Walmart have the added benefit of low prices on many other goods made exceptionally lower for Black Friday. Big box stores are best bets if you’re shopping for a lot of different people or in a lot of different categories.

I’d suggest starting your Black Friday experience with Walmart. For the past couple of years, they allow you to go in the store and fill up your cart, even before Black Friday pricing is valid. So stay warm and stock up. Honestly if you don’t have too many specifics, your Black Friday shopping could start and end here.

But Walmart doesn’t have everything. And I’m sure you’ve got a huge list to shop for. Here are some of the best deals this year from my top 3 Black Friday stores:

Walmart

  • Fitbit Flex: $59
  • Fitbit Charge: $119
  • Roku: $25

Best Buy

  • Amazon Fire: $35

Target

  • $350 Apple Watch with $100 Target gift card
  • Fitbit Charge: $119
  • Free Target gift card with the purchase of an iPad
  • Guitar Hero Live: $59
  • 40% off all apparel and accessories

If you have a Target debit card or credit card, you’ll save an additional 5%!

Browse the ads for all the stores you’re interesting, make a list of what you want, and make a plan of attack with these things in mind:

Your Black Friday 2015 Plan of Attack

  • Shop with a team. The lines will be long, so position one person in line, and the other can be a “runner,” going through both of your lists and getting the items you want.
  • Utilize friends in different stores. If you’re going after big ticket items, you can probably only personally set your sights on one. But if you work with friends in other stores, you can help each other get what you want.
  • Be patient. Some stores do require lines and there will definitely be a lot of waiting for checkout. But the deals will be worth it!
  • Don’t get too drunk on Thanksgiving. Otherwise, shopping is going to be super painful.
  • Don’t forget to shop for yourself! Stock up on products you can use all year round. I personally focus on new kitchen stuff (TONS of great deals on Black Friday) or computer accessories (external hard drive, HDMI cords, you get the idea).
  • Are you a movie buff? Best Buy, Target and Walmart have the best deals of the year. Tons of titles, seasons, etc.
  • Don’t feel like braving the stores? Amazon’s got your back with many similar deals. And plenty of online retailers will feature Cyber Monday specials.
  • Clothing stores tend to give scratch off cards. Savings aren’t always guaranteed, but can be REALLY good. Just know you basically won’t be able to try anything on.
  • Dress warm but comfortable. Layers are your friend.
  • An energy drink or coffee is a must, with a snack. If you’re serious about Black Friday shopping, you’ll be out for hours. It’s not easy to stay awake when you’ve got a belly full of turkey!

What tips would you add to this list? Share in the comments so we can all make a better Black Friday plan of attack!

2015 RESTAURANT GIFT CARD DEALS
Life, Shopping,

2015 Restaurant Gift Card Deals

Besides being with my family or eating to an excess, one of my favorite parts of the holiday season are the amazing discounts.

One of the best deals besides steep discounts on electronics for Black Friday are restaurant gift card bonuses. Basically, many popular local and national restaurant chains offer a bonus when you buy a certain amount of gift card credits.

Popular denominations include a $5 bonus when you spend $25, or a $25 bonus when you spend $100.

These deals are great for a few reasons:

  • If you buy a gift card for a friend or family member, you can save the bonus for your own dining purposes
  • If you buy a gift card bonus deal for yourself – you can cash in on savings any time during the year

If there’s a restaurant you love offering one of these deals – stock up. Think about how many times you visited that place in the past year and plan accordingly. Just don’t force yourself to spend them right away because they’re burning a hole in your pocket. There’s no reason that smart shopping can’t benefit you year-round.

A word of caution – some restaurants give you the extra money on a gift card, some give you a “bonus” card that has an expiration date. Plan accordingly!

I like buying Lettuce Entertain You gift cards and Einstein Bagels, because I frequent LEYE restaurants and bagel places. Think about the places you go to regularly – they might have a deal like this!

Here are some of the best 2015 Restaurant Gift Card Deals… I’ll be adding more as I become aware, so check back!

2015 Restaurant Gift Card Deals

Applebees offers a bonus card worth between $5-25 when you buy $50 in gift cards.

Einstein Bros. Bagel offers a $5 bonus when you buy $25 in gift cards.

Flemings offers a $20 bonus when you buy $100 in gift cards.

Lettuce Entertain You offers a $25 bonus when you buy $100 in gift cards.

Morton’s the Steakhouse offers a $50 bonus when you buy $250 in gift cards.

Noodles & Company offers a $5 bonus when you buy $25 in gift cards.

Outback Steakhouse offers a $20 bonus when you buy $100 in gift cards.

PF Chang’s offers a $20 bonus when you buy $100 in gift cards.

Red Lobster offers a $10 off coupon (or free appetizer) when you buy $50 in gift cards.

Red Robin offers a $5 bonus when you buy $25 in gift cards.

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse offers 10% back in promotional cards for every $250+ you spend in gift cards.

White Castle offers a $5 bonus when you buy $25 in gift cards.

Are there any 2015 restaurant gift card deals that I missed? Share in the comments and I’ll add them to this list!

BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB SUBSCRIPTION REVIEW
Reviews, Subscription Boxes,

Book of the Month Club Subscription Review

I love to read. This year I made it my goal to read 52 books – one for each week. I’m happy to say that as of the beginning of October, I kicked my goal’s butt! As such, I’m looking for more books to read before the end of the year. I stumbled upon the Book of the Month Club subscription when browsing Gilt City one day. Gilt City is a great way to enjoy the luxuries of Chicago and designer brands at a discount.

I recently received my first Book of the Month club book. Here’s a little bit about the process.

Book of the Month Club Subscription Review

When you start your Book of the Month Club Subscription, you’ll be presented with 5 different possibilities.

The possibilities represent the different book selections that have been carefully curated by the Book of the Month Club team. The genres get pretty specific, so it’ll be easy to pick if you gravitate towards certain types of books. One of the books each month is curated by a guest judge, usually a notable modern literary figure.

For the month of October, I chose Fates and Furies by Lauren Gross. This book was picked by guest judge Leigh Haber. If you aren’t familiar with her, Leigh Haber is the books editor for O, the Oprah Magazine. As you may well known, Oprah is known for popularizing many modern bestsellers.

book of the month club subscription review

Fates and Furies is about a couple madly in love, and how their relationship evolves over time, as well as the internal struggles they face throughout. It alludes to Shakespeare and greek mythology to flesh it out even more. I haven’t started it yet, but it’s next on my list – I could use a fiction fix!

You can opt to select a book each month, or opt for Book of the Month Club to pick for you. Either way – there’s not a bad choice. This one stuck out to me, but I wouldn’t been happy with any of their options.

A week or two into the month, the selection is shipped to you.

The books themselves are a great deal. For example, Fates and Furies is on Amazon right now for $16.77.

One month of the Book of the Month Club subscription would cost about the same – $16.99.

A 3 month plan would run you $12.99 per month.

The best value is a 12 month plan, which is only $6.99. I honestly can’t think of a better deal for a reader who loves reading physical books. And they’re all hardcovers! Shipping is free.

I’m more than satisfied with my Book of the Month Club subscription and can’t wait to see what the next months bring.

How do you get ideas for new books? Let us know in the comments!

Note: A 3 month Book of the Month Club membership was offered in exchange for this post.

MARY’S SECRET INGREDIENTS: A SUBSCRIPTION BOX REVIEW
Reviews, Subscription Boxes,

Mary’s Secret Ingredients: A Subscription Box Review

I’m kind of strange in that one of my favorite types of gifts to receive is food-related or kitchen tools. Honestly, nothing is more exciting to me than either of those things. I could get lost in William’s Sonoma or Sur La Table.

So I was excited when I first stumbled upon the Mary’s Secret Ingredients subscription box. I was using the Freebie app, which allows Chicago’s heavy social media users access to delicious food, events and more in exchange for a social shout out. Freebie was offering users this box for just the cost of shipping, so I decided to give it a try.

The first box I got was excellent and all the tools and ingredients have been used up or dispersed across my kitchen, so I decided to order another box to review… and because I enjoy the surprise of what gets included each quarter. Here’s what I got:

Mary’s Secret Ingredients: Subscription Box Review

Instead of getting a lot of random cooking ingredients that might be hard to actually imagine using, this box was a useful combination of ingredients and kitchen tools.

Mary's Secret Ingredients Subscription Box Review

Ardent Mills: Ultragrain All-Purpose Flower (Estimated Value $5) – This flour is touted as being healthier than regular white flower and can be used interchangeably in recipes without messing up your baking. Before I fully understood it, I’ve messed up recipes using whole wheat flower. This is the perfect pantry staple for people who want to be just a little healthier and don’t want to think too hard about switching up their recipes.

Coastal Goods: Sarah’s Sea Salt – Tuscan Salt (Value $6.25) – I absolutely love spices and seasonings, and this one is no exception. Rosemary is one of my favorite ways to season meat, and it’s one of the main ingredients in this mix. I’ve seen smaller packages of seasoning that retail for a higher price than this, so I’d consider it to be a value.

Jenkin’s Jellies: Hell Fire Pepper Jelly & Guava Brava Pepper Jelly (Value $14) – I’m actually quite intrigued by this spicy jelly combo. The Jenkin’s Jellies website suggests using it paired with cheese and crackers or as a topping… yum! I’ve got some experimenting to do.

POURfect Ultimate Measuring Spoons with Leveler Tool ($13.99) – This is actually one of the main kitchen tools I’ve been missing, which has resulted in many hasty and incorrect measurements when baking. Now I have no excuse! What I love about this particular set is that it’s so exact, even in super small measurements. The leveler tool helps make sure you don’t use even one grain too many.

Total Value: $39.24

Total Cost: $25. Used a 25% off discount and paid $20. Use code “LOVEBOX” before 12/4/15 for 25% off a box!

I think this subscription box is enough of a value to get it even a third time! Especially when you consider the fact that you aren’t even paying extra for curation. So far I’ve been very pleasantly surprised and each month is something new to look forward to.

Would you give Mary’s Secret Ingredients subscription box a try? What subscription boxes have you tried? Let us know in the comments!

CHEAP HALLOWEEN COSTUMES DON’T HAVE TO SUCK
Life, Shopping,

Cheap Halloween Costumes Don’t Have to Suck

Every year, about two weeks before Halloween, I start to panic. Although I was practically a Halloween baby (October 29 if you want to make sure to write ‘HBD” on my Facebook wall), the best holiday of the year seems to always slip my mind. I also tend to struggle until the last possible minute to come up with a costume that is both witty and flattering.

Regardless, in the end it always works out. As of this writing, I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to be.

If you’re just like me, here’s a guide to finding cheap halloween costumes that don’t suck.

Cheap Halloween Costumes

  1. Pick a costume that can be easily assembled from thrift store finds
    cheap halloween costumes
    Whether you have a costume in mind or not is practically irrelevant, because you’re sure to find some excellent costume possibilities at a thrift store or Goodwill. For super-specific costume parts, add on to your thrift finds by going to a Halloween store.To give you an example, last year my boyfriend and I did Fight Club Halloween costumes. He was Tyler Durden and I was Marla Singer. His costume basically required a crazy shirt, aviators, and leather jacket – most pieces of which he already had. Mine was a crazy curly black wig and black dress. Pretty simple! And the costumes really came together.
  2. Make a costume out of accessories or makeup
    cheap halloween costumes
    Do you have animal ears? Maybe a tail? Boom, you have a costume.Some costumes can be put together almost entirely from how your face is made up. Or in the case of being a zombie, it’s also about the makeup wounds you create. Either way, you can use clothing you already have and just go heavy on the makeup.
    You may want to buy some clothes that support the costume better than jeans and a tshirt, but you don’t have to go crazy to make this work. Which leads me to my next idea for cheap halloween costumes…
  3. Buy clothing you can re-wear
    cheap halloween costumes
    One year, I decided I wanted to be a devil. So using a combination of the idea of using accessories to make a costume, plus the idea of buying clothing you can re-wear, I created a cheap and resuable halloween costume. To complete the look, I bought a hot red dress from Express that’s gotten plenty of use since and doesn’t look out of place!Whether you’re buying clothes you can re-wear for a costume, or are looking for specific basic pieces, Target and Walmart tend to be best bets for basics like plain colored tshirts and pants. I also like Express and Forever 21 for nicer pieces that you’ll re-wear.
  4. Use Mean Girls as inspiration
    As Caty so rightly stated in Mean Girls, “Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.” I’m all about empowering women, but if you just want to let loose, to hell with the haters.One option for cheap Halloween costumes that will make you look hot on Halloween is Adore Me. Adore Me has sexy Halloween costumes for $20! It’s getting late in the game to order them, but is worth considering for the future!
  5. For next year – Buy your Halloween costume the day after Halloween
    One of my best friends used to work at Party City and I happened to visit her one year right after Halloween. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Costumes that were retailing for $40+ before Halloween were well under $10 as soon as the holiday was over. I picked up my costume for next year, saved it, and didn’t have to give Halloween a further thought afterwards.Besides stores like Party City, check out seasonal Halloween stores that pop up for a few months and need to liquidate their remaining merchandise after the Halloween season is over.

Here are just a few ideas for keeping costs down when it’s time for Halloween.

What are some good tips I missed? Are you doing anything thrifty for Halloween this year? Share in the comments!

SPEND YOUR BIRTHDAY COLLECTING FREE STUFF
Events, Life,

Spend Your Birthday Collecting Free Stuff

Birthday Freebies

Source: Flickr

October is my birth month (10/29 if you want to put it on your calendar). Although it is no longer as fun to get older, it is fun to spend the day collecting freebies from various local businesses. So for my birthday, I’m giving you a gift – a list of free stuff you can get on your birthday!

*Keep in mind that most, if not all, of these freebies require signing up for the company’s email newsletters.

Breakfast

  • Sign up for Starbucks’ rewards program to receive a free drink of your choice on your birthday
  • Denny’s offers a free grand slam breakfast on your birthday
  • IHOP offers a free meal when you sign up, on your birthday and on the anniversary of joining their rewards program
  • Jamba Juice offers a free small smoothie or juice on your birthday
  • Einstein Bagels offers a free breakfast sandwich with purchase of a drink
  • Dunkin Donuts offers a free medium beverage

Lunch

  • Noodles & Company offers a free noodle bowl that you can use ANYTIME during the month of your birth. Save this one for a day that’s not your birthday!
  • Red Robin offers a free burger on your birthday
  • Steak n’ Shake offers a free double cheeseburger with cheese fries on your birthday
  • Buffalo Wild Wings offers a free order of snack size traditional or boneless wings

Dinner

  • Pizzeria Uno offers a free meal on your birthday
  • Devon Seafood offers a free entree (up to $25) on your birthday
  • Maggiano’s offers $10 off on your birthday (which could probably be combined with Lettuce Entertain You’s $15 off)
  • Flat Top Grill offers a free entree on your birthday
  • Hooters offers 10 free wings on your birthday

Dessert

Most restaurants in Chicago will give you a free dessert on your birthday if you just mention that it’s your birthday. But if you want to skip the expense of dining with them, here are some standalone places to get a delicious dessert.

  • Portillos offers a free slice of their magic birthday cake if you sign up for their email updates
  • Join Coldstone Creamery’s rewards program for a coupon for free ice cream on your birthday
  • Baskin Robins offers a free ice cream cone on your birthday
  • Dairy Queen offers a free ice cream treat on your birthday
  • Potbelly offers a free cookie on your birthday
  • The Melting Pot offers free chocolate fondue for two on your birthday

Snacks

  • Au Bon Pain gives you a free bakery treat and coffee on your birthday
  • Corner Bakery offers a free bakery treat on your birthday
  • PF Chang’s offers a free dessert or appetizer on your birthday
  • As does Olive Garden
  • Panera offers a free bakery treat on your birthday

Misc

  • Lettuce Entertain You’s reward program credits your account $15 to use however/whenever on the month of your birth!
  • Victoria’s Secret sends you $10 off to be used during the month of your birth
  • Anthropologie will send you a 15% off coupon
  • Goodwill will send you a 25% off coupon
  • Kiehl’s offers a free tube of lip balm

Enjoy your birthday, and make a day of being spoiled by freebies!

Is there a great birthday freebie that I failed to add to the list? Let me know in the comments so I can add it and make more people’s birthdays awesome!

OKTOBERFEST? TRY ARGTOBERFEST AT ARGUS BREWERY
Drink, Events, Food,

Oktoberfest? Try Argtoberfest at Argus Brewery

Munich, Germany is the official start of and home to Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest has been officially underway since September 19 this year, and will continue through the first Sunday in October… which is coming up this weekend!

You don’t have to be in Munich to enjoy the festive feelings and Chicago’s own Oktoberfest events. One I’m particularly excited about is the first-ever Argtoberfest at Argus Brewery, and not just because of the play on words.

Argtoberfest is this Saturday, October 3rd – the day before the end of Oktoberfest! If you’re looking for an excuse to go out and celebrate, here’s what you can expect…

$20 gets you entry and includes 4 beer tokens, samples from guest breweries (Atlas, Ale Syndicate, One Trick Pony and many more), a take home stein, live music, food (for purchase), stable games and more. Speaking of stable games… did you know that Argus Brewery is located in a stable? According to the Groupon for the event (which gets you an extra $10 to spend on Argus Brewery merchandise), the stable used to be used to house the horses who helped distributed iconic Schlitz beer. The more you know.

Argtoberfest runs from 3 – 9pm, but get there before 3:30 if you’re interested in a brewery tour! According to Argus Brewery’s Facebook page, the 3:30 tour will be the only one on the day of the event. There’s a Groupon for that too, obviously subject to availability on what’s sure to be a busy day.

So what are you doing this weekend? Buy your tickets on Argus Brewery’s website before time runs out!

This review was written in exchange for free tickets to Argtoberfest. Hope to see you there!

BARKBOX: A SUBSCRIPTION BOX REVIEW
Pets, Reviews, Subscription Boxes,

Barkbox: A Subscription Box Review

This post is part of a series reviewing different subscription boxes.

I first tried BarkBox over a year ago, when I first got my own dog. I was so excited, because I’d been waiting since I started college to get him – my parents’ graduation present to me. I wanted to welcome my furry child Leo to our home by spoiling him with treats and toys, and BarkBox seemed like a great way to do that.

Fast forward to today – one of my favorite old coworkers from Groupon now works for BarkBox. He’s the perfect fit for the job – he loves dogs and recently got a Shiba Inu that he loves to death (and now gets to bring to work!). He hooked me up with a free box so that I could share with you what a typical BarkBox looks like. If you’re wondering what to expect, this should help to answer your questions.

BarkBox Subscription Box Review

Here’s what was in the BarkBox I got:

Benny’s Bully’s Beef Liver and Banana (Treats) – $8 value

These are good treats to have on hand that pack a nutritious punch. I usually shy away from treats with ingredients like beef liver (I have weird food aversions even if I’m not the one eating it!), but obviously dogs don’t have any problem with those tastes.

Nature’s Bits Salmon with Strawberries and Sweet Potatoes (Treats) – $8 value

If you like supporting local farmers and businesses, then you’ll feel really good about giving your dog these treats (and reordering them if your dog falls in love). The ingredients are 100% sourced locally!

Swag Co. Parrot (Toy) – $9 value

Leo is not as excited by toys as he was when I first got him, but he loves toys with a squeaker. He also loves to get new things about as much as me, so this went over well when I first gave it to him.

Safemade Pet Pineapple (Toy) – $10 value

Same notes as the previous toy, but this one was designed to be more safe for dogs. What I like about it is that it’s flat and easy to store.

BarkBox Subscription Box Review

Aussie Naturals Salmon Half Cigar (Treat) – $5 value

This was a larger treat for a small dog. Before ordering a BarkBox, the system prompts you as to what size dog you’re buying it for (based on weight). Although this treat was physically large compared to Leo, he enjoyed the hell out of it. It was cute to watch him consume it, and it was gone in minutes. Definitely a special treat I’d get for him again. The only downside – it’s crumbly. Hopefully your dog is good at cleaning up scraps!

Total value: $40

Depending on what plan you get, BarkBox subscriptions range from $19 to $29 per month. Obviously, the more months you buy upfront, the better discount you get overall. BarkBox does lot of promotions for first timers (at least one month free or free premium toy upgrade each month), so sign up for their emails to start receiving the offers. Besides promotional, the emails always have fun pictures and stories for dog lovers, which I enjoy.

Overall, I love BarkBox. There hasn’t been one I disliked. Leo usually loves the toys and demolishes the snacks. Sometimes you’ll find handy extras you wouldn’t think to get – one I got awhile back had a medical wound spray that could really come in handy. I guess if I had to critique anything, it would be the number of snacks. Leo is a small dog and I like to give him treats, but I don’t want to overfeed or completely spoil him. There are just so many that by the time you get next month’s box, you’ve maybe given your dog half of them (or less). That’s actually the reason why I originally cancelled my Barkbox subscription – I was overstocked on treats!

My suggestion would be to start with a 1 or 3 month box and see what you think. If your dog powers through snacks and toys, consider a 6 month or one year box. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Have you tried Barkbox yet? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

chicago cheap ass (20)
Beauty, Reviews, Subscription Boxes,

Target Beauty Box: A Subscription Box Review

Target Beauty Box Subscription Box

You can find a subscription box for almost anything – pets, alcohol, kids, food… and beauty. Subscription boxes have become my favorite way to discover new products. They also offer an incredible value – at least the reputable ones do. For a low monthly recurring payment, you get products curated by experts for less than they would cost separately. As the nature of this blog is finding deals on a budget, I’m starting a series for reviewing subscription boxes.

The Target Beauty Box is one of my favorite “subscription” boxes. It comes out periodically (once every few months) and can’t be bought on a subscription, but is worth keeping track of.

Target Beauty Box Subscription Box

The Target Beauty Box I’m reviewing contained the following items:

CoverGirl Super Sizer Mascara by Lashblast ($6 Value, thanks to My Subscription Addiction for values)

I love that Target Beauty Boxes almost always include a full-size mascara sample, because mascara gets gross after no more than a few months. The brands they include are always top drugstore mascara brands, and this box is no exception.

Fekkai Pre-Soleil Hair Mist ($6.80)

I actually got this same sample in a previous Target Beauty Box. It’s a nice addition to your hair care regiment for the summer, because it protects your hair for the sun. It’s light and smells fresh.

Hair Food Moisturizing Mask ($12 Value)

I’m a big fan of hair moisturizing and deep conditioning treatments. My hair needs them at least once a week, and the results are more than worth the extra time in the shower. So I was really excited that this full-sized product was included in this Target Beauty Box!

Olay Active Botanicals Moisturizing Toner ($1.80 Value)

I don’t usually use many beauty products, and toner is not something that’s been a part of my routine, to date. I’m excited to try this product and see if it makes a difference!

Olay Active Botanicals Day Lotion ($3.60 Value)

This facial lotion is so light and fresh… I honestly think I may have found my new preferred face lotion!

Crest 3D Whitestrips 1hr Express ($11.25 Value)

I’ve used Crest Whitestrips in the past and they’re annoying to wear, but they really do look. I’ve been drinking a lot more tea lately, so I was glad to get this sample!

Total Value: $41.45 (with an added value of $3 off coupon for Target Beauty purchases)

What I love about Target Beauty Boxes is that they contain so much value that I actually go out and buy the items I like at full price after I’ve used them up. I can think of at least one item from each box I’ve gotten that I really loved, and several more that are fun to test out and have around, even if I don’t use them everyday.

I’m not someone who usually gets excited about beauty products, but the Target Beauty Box has so many fun and useful things at an incredible price. You also get a $3 off $15 coupon to use towards any beauty purchase at Target in every box!

Have you bought a Target Beauty Box? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!

chicago cheap ass (21)
Events,

Chicago Ideas Week: What to See & How to do it for Free

I first learned of Chicago Ideas Week sometime last year, a few months before the week, itself. Chicago Ideas Week is a weeklong series of events – lectures (“talks”) and hands-on learning and understanding (“labs”). The topics have a wide range: political, spiritual, educational, technological, and more. At the end of the day, Chicago Ideas Week is the organizers’ attempt at exposing you to something new and opening up your mind.

The speakers are all of an extremely high quality – some Chicago natives and business, and others from across the country or even oversees. Last year I shook hands with Reverend Al Sharpton! This year is their 5th anniversary of putting on the event, so you can expect an extra-special lineup.

In retrospect, I knew that one way or another, I had to get involved.

I’m a big fan of volunteering – putting your time in to get into an event for free. You may recall my article on getting into Lollapalooza for free as a volunteer.

With Chicago Ideas Week, you can volunteer as little or as much as you’d like. The shifts are clearly spelled out on their volunteer portal. Just make sure you don’t sign up for overlapping shifts. Some talks and labs are across the city or in Chicago’s close by neighborhoods, so you’ll need to plan travel accordingly. You’ll have to check in before the event starts and stay a little bit after it ends, but it’s a small price to pay for free admission to hearing some amazing speakers dive into topics you normally wouldn’t be exposed to.

As great as volunteering is, sometimes it’s nice to just attend the event as an attendee. Expect to pay $15 for lab and talk tickets. Become a member of Chicago Ideas Week, and save even more on tickets (with the lowest level membership starting at $45). Buying a membership means supporting an amazing organization that does everything it can to make sure income-level isn’t a factor for people interested in expanding their minds. A certain amount of tickets are held in reserve to be given free to interested community members that wouldn’t otherwise be able to go.

If you’re overwhelmed with all the speaker and talk options, I’ve created a guide to get you started. Here are the labs I’m the most excited about:

Graffiti Art with Havas Worldwide Chicago
Thursday, October 15, 2–5pm

Learn about legal (commissioned) graffiti with Hava’s Worldwide’s Chief Creative Officer, and help create a live graffiti installation!

Designing the Front Page with RedEye
Tuesday, October 13, 12:30–2:30pm

Participate in the front cover headline brainstorm and how RedEye brings many different elements together for a polished, finished product.

Inside the Eastman Egg Company Monday
Monday, October 12, 2015, 6–8pm

I used to work at Groupon, and the Eastman Egg Company had a food truck that parked itself in front of the building at least once a week. The sandwiches are so good; any foodie would enjoy this tour that includes constructing your own egg sandwich!

Pie Making 101 with Bang Bang Pie Shop is another great option with a similar context.

Lagunitas Brewing 101
Tuesday, October 13, 4–7pm

Learn all about brewing from America’s largest craft brewery, looking at intermittent ingredients like hops and grain, then sampling the final product.

How to #MakeCoolSh*t with 555 International Wednesday
October 14, 10–11:30am

Meet with the president and founder of 555 International, responsible for creating The Girl and the Goat’s and Hard Rock Cafe’s space and feel. Then, learn more about the process of designing.

There are also a lot of amazing speakers and topics. A few I’m looking forward to:

Heroin: A National Epidemic

Time for “The Talk”: Your New Guide to Getting it On (There’s a free meetup afterwards!)

The State of Mental Health in America (This one also has a free meetup afterwards)

The topics are of a wide variety, but are certainly not lacking in interesting subjects! For a full schedule of labs and talks, click here.

One final note – Chicago Ideas Week has a really fun Twitter chat on Tuesdays at 11am Central Standard Time. It brings together a lot of Chicago residents and businesses, and the topics are always interesting to ponder. I was honored to be asked to host the chat a few months back 🙂

Whether as a volunteer or attendee, there is no shortage of events to check out during Chicago Ideas Week. What Chicago Ideas Week talks or labs are you the most excited about?