Standing tall as America's Second City (even if Los Angeles has since passed it in population), Chicago has one of the nation's most vibrant business, food and cultural scenes.
From theater that rivals what is available on Broadway in NYC, to American food standards that subtract years from your life but add to your inner happiness, Chicago has so much to discover that you may want to spend several months here.
If you choose to do this, this guide will help you suss out the month to month expenses that you will encounter here.
Keeping a roof over your head – your options
- Hostels: $720 - $1500 per month
- While the supply of hostels in Chicago is a bit constrained given its size and popularity as a travel destination, there is a mix of budget and affordable luxury properties to appeal to backpackers of all stripes.
- The Urban Holiday Lofts has taken a 100 year old warehouse and converted them into a loft style accommodation that will make budget travelers accustomed to threadbare housing shocked at the value that they will stumble upon here.
- With pool tables for entertainment, a free continental breakfast to fuel up sightseers in the morning, and a central location that makes getting to attractions in the downtown area a breeze, it is the perfect base for exploring Chicago. Those hanging around at this establishment can expect to pay $720 per month.
- Those looking for a posh, boutique style accommodation without blowing out their budget should check out the Wrigley Hostel. Located across the street from Wrigley Field, home of Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs, and amidst one of the city's best nightlife scenes, the location of this property with perfect for those that need constant entertainment on their travels.
- The dorms are creatively decorated with bright colors, and the common rooms are filled with tonnes of gaming options, with pool tables, dart boards, and ping pong tables providing ways to make new travel friends.
- Free BBQ's, tours around town and pub crawls round out their offerings, making your monthly accommodation cost of $1500 well worth the money.
- Hotels: $1170 - $22,410 per month
- While staying at hotels within Chicago proper can get a tad on the expensive side, there are an abundance of motels and budget hotels in the Chicagoland area (the collection of suburban communities encircling the original city of Chicago.
- One of the cheapest is the Red Roof Inn Chicago - O'Hare Airport, located within a short distance of one of the busiest air hubs in North America. Like many in this popular chain of motels, this location has free WiFi, clean and comfortable rooms with cable television, and a 24 hour front desk ready to aid you with any questions or request you might have. If you end up staying here long-term, expect to pay $1170 per month.
- Those with a taste for the fine things in life and the budget necessary to acquire it will love The Champagne Lodge & Luxury Suites. Located in the Chicagoland community of Willowbrook, this adult-only boutique luxury resort is the perfect place for a person of prosperous means to base themselves while in Chicago, as this property has all the elements to be a refuge from the busyness of urban life.
- Oversized beds and whirlpool tubs, recessed lighting, fireplaces and a wet bar will achieve this from inside your spacious suite, while a concierge will help you with any reservations, tickets and any other reasonable requests you might have while in Chicago. Expect to pay about $22,410 for a month's stay.
- Airbnbs: $780 - $149,670 per month
- Those looking for the privacy and homeliness of an airbnb will find the cheapest available option in the form of a garden apartment in Bridgeport. While the most affordable listing in Chicago is a bit on the small and basic side, its location is close by to trendy restaurants in a gentrifying part of town, and with a monthly outlay of $780 per month, it is a great spot to get started if you are in the process of settling down in Chicago.
- A 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom penthouse in the downtown neighborhood of River North. Located between Michigan Avenue and the Financial District, this castle in the sky is the ideal spot for a Wall Street killer or uber successful entrepreneur to center themselves during an extended stay in Chicago.
- The monthly outlay for a place with state of the art furnishings, floor to ceiling windows with a gasp-inducing view of the downtown core, and the fastest internet available in the area: an eye-popping $149,670 per month. If you have a rich uncle, it's time to go to him, hat in hand.
Going out to eat
Inexpensive sit-down restaurants: $10 - $15 a meal
Housing can be pricey in this bustling metropolis, but the diversity of its food scene pairs with reasonable prices in a way that makes the latter sacrifice well worth it. During one of your many nights on the town, grab a late night bite at Scofflaw (3201 W. Armitage Ave), which makes food fresh at ungodly hours when most places simply serve grub of the deep-fried variety. If you are there at Midnight, you get a complimentary, fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookie … really!
If you are feeling like having Mexican instead, dropping into Cemitas Puebla (3619 W. North Ave) will satisfy your cravings. From cemitas to chalupas, you can't really go wrong at this rough around the edges haunt in Humboldt Park.
Dining out cheaply five times per week in Chicago will run you about $210 a month, while those that head out to these restos as a treat (2 times per week) should set aside $84 a month.
Mid-range restaurants: $40 - $65 a meal
Want to clog your arteries with Chicago's infamous contribution to the pizza world. Enjoy the decadence that is Chicago Deep Dish at Bacino's, which is known throughout the Chicagoland area for its stuffed variant, will assault your mouth with a flavor barrage that will have you sighing with every bite. Yes, you could have a heart attack from all the cholesterol that you'll ingest here … but what a beautiful death it would be.
Those that identify as vegetarian or vegan have many inspired choices in this city, but perhaps none are as good as The Chicago Diner. From creative dishes ranging from the Pierogi Quesadilla to the Radical Reuben, even carnivores might be tempted to convert to the green side.
Those looking to treat themselves to these and other mid priced restaurants in Chicago should factor in a cost of $110 per month for this expense.
The price of a cart of groceries
While the groceries you will acquire will likely come from popular local chains like Aldi or Jewel Osco, there are food markets well worth hitting up for some fresh local food. The Green City Market is one of the most sustainable farmer’s markets in the country with plenty of local supply coming up the fertile lands found in downstate Illinois.
Be aware that the south and west sides of Chicago proper are considered “food deserts”, meaning that any grocery trips will force you to take long trips outside of these troubled neighborhoods.
4 carts of groceries (1 litre of milk, loaf of bread, 1 kg bag of rice, 12 eggs, 1 kg cheese, 1 kg chicken breast, 1 kg of apples, 1 kg of oranges, 1 kg of tomatoes, 1 kg of potatoes, 1 head of lettuce, and a bottle of wine): $216 per month.
The cost of getting around Chicago
As one of the world's alpha cities, its transit network is extensive and is well used by residents of the metropolitan area. Eight (two lines – red and blue – run 24 hours a day) elevated train lines offer subway service throughout the city proper and some inner-ring burbs, a heavy rail commuter service runs eleven lines throughout the rest of Chicagoland, and buses connect the further flung regions to the prior two networks.
To take advantage of this infrastructure will run you $100 per month for a transit pass, but if you insist on driving, expect to shell out $120 a month for gasoline (based on a peak summer rate of $2.50/ gallon and a 12 gallon gas tank) and $270 for a month's parking downtown.
Sick or injured? What you can expect for health care costs
America is one of the few developed nations in the world with no government led universal health coverage. As such, it is VITAL that you organize health insurance cover before arriving in Chicago. If you here to attend a school like the University of Chicago, they will have policies that will run you at least $1,054 per quarter, which is included in your tuition bill (see Studying Abroad below for the total cost).
For those that are not in school, apply through either a private or government health care exchange set up by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) as soon as possible. Rates begin at $167 per month for a basic plan, but until you are confirmed for coverage, cover yourself through travel health insurance from a provider in your home country.
Entertaining yourself without going broke
If you love sports, baseball is a very accessible sport, as cheap seats can often be had for less than the cost of a movie. If you go out out to four Chicago Cubs games, and then enjoy four pints of beer out at a sports bar in Wrigleyville, you can expect this to set you back about $122 a month.
If you love theatre, Chicago is filled with amazing world class productions like the Blue Man Group. Seeing shows like this, and then recounting the evening of entertainment over four cocktails at a hip Chicago nightclub will cost you $344 a month.
Studying abroad in Chicago? Here's what you can expect to pay
Another expense that isn't cheap in America is the cost of school. As an example, the University of Chicago, which is a well-respected institution the world over, charges as much $16,713 for undergrads per quarter. Ensure you have a scholarship, or that you can handle this expense of top of your current loan burden.