As a birthday gift to myself, I went to the circus, the UniverSoul Circus! The UniverSoul Circus, would be described by some as an African American circus, but really it is one of the most diverse circuses I’ve ever been to (If you haven’t figured it out, I am always advocating ethnic events and stores. Because they are often pigeonholed as appealing to a certain clientele yet, they have amazing deals that no one has ever heard of and you often get more bang for your buck.). This circus had acts from Trinidad and Tobago, China, Mongolia, Ethiopia, the Czech Republic, and so much more. For $30 bucks I bought tickets for great seats; I was in the second row. Unfortunately, I only had my Iphone, so my picture quality wasn’t the best but the show was an amazing experience. It was a very interactive show. In between sets we danced, had competitions, and sang. I haven’t had so much fun in a long time. I was sitting next to a woman who’d brought her two children and I swear we laughed harder and louder than them the entire time. There were also photo opportunities with a white tiger and you can pay to ride an elephant. Also, throughout the show clowns and other characters make their way through the crowds so that audience members can take pictures with them. Of course they want you to buy the pictures taken by their photographers, but you can take pictures with your own cameras as well. Technically you are not supposed to take pictures of the acts, but they were very lenient on that rule unless it would endanger the performers while working with the animals. I’ve been to most of the major circus company performances and I have never had as much fun as I had at the UniverSoul Circus!


It’s been awhile, but I have been busy on the search for amazing and fun deals in Chicago. One thing that is essential is that you must travel off the beaten path, with caution, in Chicago. Downtown is priced for the business people and the tourist. But do not fear, your Sadity Girl is hard at work for you.

To help me get started I bought a book called, Not for Tourists Guide to Chicago. The guide is a part of a series of books purportedly written by lifelong residents of the particular city featured in a guide. I felt like the book was a good starting point, mostly because of a line that echoed my feelings about one of the greatest tourist traps in Chicago, the Navy Pier. Basically they call the Navy Pier out for what it is, overrated and overpriced. However, I would still take this series of guides with a grain of salt. When they talk about lifelong residents, it seems to me that they mean white urban professionals (or more appropriately suburban professionals). I’ve noticed that when it comes to the some of the rich cultured and ethnic neighborhoods, they only feature establishments that have been featured on television or that are well-known, which goes against the premise of the book. It also leads me to believe that they have no actual knowledge of those areas, and perhaps have did not extend their research to areas in which they were not the majority. If this is true it is quite unfortunate, because Chicago is such an ethnically rich city, built off of immigrants from around the world.

Now that I have railed about a tunneled view of the city, I will fully disclose my own limitations. I am in the city for several weeks working. I will try to explore as much as possible, not as a tourist but perhaps as a future resident. With that said, the area I am staying in is the Northwest part of the city. I personally love it and find it very welcoming. It’s close enough to the Loop (downtown Chicago – where the El train system forms a loop), yet far enough to get a feel for the more laid back part of the city. Thus, much of my discussions may feature the Northern and Western parts of Chicago.

The Irving Park area of Chicago is wonderful. I walk my dog everywhere in this part of town, so that I can find new hole-in-the-wall places to patronize. Sunday, I found a cute little breakfast spot. The West River Cafe, on the corner of Kedzie and Montrose. I was attracted to this place because every time I walk by on the weekends, its crowded. Let’s face when it comes to food places, you want to go to the crowded place, because that is typically the best testament to how good the place is. Well, following the crowd paid off. I love a good deal and this was it. A good deal doesn’t always mean cheap, but in this case it did. It meant cheap, filling, and delicious.

First, let me state that the service was great. I am big on service. I used to work in the restaurant industry and I prided myself on my demeanor with customers, whether I was getting a tip or not. Now days it feels like waitstaff forget that the tip is optional. Anyways, I had to wait probably ten minutes, but it wasn’t bad. What impressed me was this. When I saw small table open up, I sat there because I was by myself. I saw them clearing a booth but I didn’t want to take that space just in case a larger group came. I gentleman I presume to be the manager and perhaps the proprietor cleared the booth and just then a larger group came in. They were ready to jump at the empty booth. The gentleman had them wait looking for me, because he knew I was next. It was only when he realized I had found a seat that he let them sit at the booth. I appreciated that because sometimes it big busy cities, the group that seems like they will the most gets the better service.  In addition, the small staff was clearly overwhelmed, but they were very friendly and nice.

My meal was also delicious and delivered very quickly. I ordered the chopped beef steak with eggs, fruit and toast. I brought a book in preparation for a wait; I only read about two pages. The food was piping hot, really good comfort food. I meant to take a picture, but I was hungry and forgot. My bad J The serving sizes were generous; I had to take a box to go for about half of it. The fruit serving was ample which is not common at a restaurant. Typically a serving of fruit is a small cup. I received a bowl with a mixture of melons. I also had the house frappe, which as a Starbuck’s junkie, I must say was pretty good. It’s nothing like Starbuck’s, think more of a frothy iced coffee, versus the shake-like drinks served at Starbuck’s. Unlike Starbuckie’s you don’t need to add an extra shot of espresso for some kick. This thing came with plenty of kick on the first time out. If you are like me and you like coffee drinks that have a purpose then you will think that this frappe is worth the $1.95(yep, $1.95- I’m already craving another one). The cost of the whole meal without tip was $11 and trust me, they deserve the tip.

{July 11, 2011}   Sadity in a Different City

I will be in Chicago for the rest of the summer, so I thought it was an excellent opportunity to talk about deals while traveling. In large cities there is so much to do, yet many attractions are really just tourist traps. If you want to live like the locals, find the free stuff. There is a ridiculous amount of free entertainment to experience, that most tourist don’t ever enjoy. You see when many people go on vacation they assume that they will be spending money anyways, so they make no effort to find deals. The logic that most tourist traps rely on is those tourists assume that they can’t get the “real” experience of a city without spending money. The truth is that most locals, will never pay the kind of money tourist spend that’s why the traps are so expensive to make up for that loss in revenue and also why many traps give discounts to locals. So if you must visit a trap, try to have a local you know buy the tickets for you.

Deals of the Day:

1)      I went to an Italian restaurant that was not in any of the tourist books, but was delicious and less expensive. The restaurant’s name was Marcello’s Father and Son Restaurant. Not exactly a mom and pop shop they have three restaurants in the northwestern part of Chicago, but not a nationwide (or even city wide) chain. There is free parking, a rarity in Chicago, but they also do delivery and carry out. There is an onsite bakery that features cheesecake, dessert pizzas, gluten free desserts, and of course cannoli.

My menu consisted of a very large salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette, garlic shrimp and crab cakes. My total bill was approximately $20. It wasn’t the cheapest meal I have ever had, (I’m not sure anything will beat the beef brisket sandwich meal at Fat Albert’s for $6) yet in Chicago I’ve noticed that beyond pizza (which is not necessarily Italian per se) an Italian meal will cost you a pretty penny. Let’s face it, when you think Chicago you think little Italy and the local business moguls know it.

Best Sandwich Ever! Fat Albert's - $6 Beef Brisket

2)      I also visited the world’s largest public library, the Harold Washington Library, a three story architectural and design dream for anyone interested. If you are not interested in that sort of thing, the library offers free plays, movies and performances weekly. I love it, I love history, I love art, I love books; the Harold Washington Library has it all. They offer guest passes for those wanting to use a computer, free wi-fi for those who brought their own.

3)      Across the street there is a Barne’s and Noble, connected to De Paul University. A great place for those who want to take a break from walking while reading and drinking coffee or who want to explore De Paul.

4)      The Daley Center on Washington offers free musical entertainment M-F in their courtyard. Local businesspeople sit on the city provided seating and eat lunch while enjoying everything from Blues and Jazz, to Latin-inspired, to Hip Hop depending on the day.

This post was written a few days ago, but I lost my phone and thus could not post it until now.

July 6, 2011 – Happy Birthday Sis!

Hey All,

Today is my sister’s birthday. So I thought this would be a good time to talk about the best time of year for deals and steals, your birthday month. Countless restaurants and stores ask for your email. As discussed in a previous post, while the ads can get annoying the discounts are sometimes worth the inconvenience. For instance, during the month of my birthday I ate free at Bravo Italian Cucina, Mongolian Grill, First Watch (an incredible breakfast spot, known only in the Midwest), also a local Thai-fusion restaurant provided me with a free dinner as well. I received a free bikini wax (a Groupon from a friend), and discounted products from Aveda. There are deals and steals if you search them out. Not every ad is a deal. Express sent me a 10% off coupon, but only if I use it on their credit card which averages a rate of 14.99% -24.99%. To me that is not worth the discount. So read the fine print carefully, but take advantage of the deals.

In addition, a local spa was opening so I received 40% off of my first service, which meant solar gel manicure and hot towel pedicure for $25. Happy Birthday to me! The trick sign up for deals at restaurants and stores, you can always unsubscribe. Remember the three date rule.

{July 2, 2011}   Road Trip on a Budget

Today I drove to Chicago with some friends of mine for the 4th of July weekend. As always, my travels are always that much sweeter when I can save some money. So here is how I tried to find savings along the way.

First, I like to get an oil change before I go on road trips. I also was due for some new front brakes. I keep track of all my scheduled maintenance pretty diligently so I knew that this expense was coming. So I started looking for deals a couple weeks in advance. A local shop had a brake special for $99, plus you got a discount on your oil change. Thus, I had them done together. A procedure that was quoted at almost $600 at a major retail repair shop came in at a little less than $300. Plus, the oil change included an inspection which gave me peace of my as I hit the road. The trick is to do your research and know a least a little about what they plan to do to your car before you go in. This is especially important as a woman. Too many car repair shops still try to get over on you as a female.

For instance, the major retailer tried to explain their price by saying I needed new brakes and pads. For the purposes of replacing these items it’s all the same. They try to make it seem as if they are doing more to justify their extremely marked up prices. Most car repair shops mark up parts at the very least by 200%. I’m blessed to have a brother-in-law who used to be a mechanic so I can run my car concerns by him before making a decision. If you are not as fortunate you can get estimates at This is a free resource. The nice thing about is that the estimates are customized to your area. They also break down the price of any maintenance or repair by parts and labor as well as the estimated total. That way when you call around for quotes you can get an idea of whether the mechanic is giving you a fair price. The drawback is that they give estimate ranges and sometimes I think they are little too broad. This can lead individuals to believe that a price though high is still fair because it falls within Repair Pal’s price range. In general I tend to find that the average price is closer to the lower end of the price ranges that have been quoted on the site, but it does give me an idea of the type of numbers I should be hearing from mechanics.

Next, of course I needed gas. I saved my grocery store fuel perks for just this moment. Gas stations raise prices right before a holiday weekend. In my area it went up thirty cents overnight. I tend to only fill up on Tuesdays and Wednesdays anyways. In my area gas prices rise on Sunday through Monday evening because people typically fill up on Sunday evening in preparation for the work week. The prices drop Tuesday through Wednesday, sometimes Thursday afternoons, and then rise again before the start of the weekend. Thus, for this trip, I filled up a couple days early with my fuel points. Then when I got ready to leave Friday I just needed to top off. When I topped off my gas tank I only spent $10 at 3.65 a gallon, plus I went to a station where I have a loyalty card so I automatically receive .03 off each gallon.

After being on the road for awhile my friends and I stopped to eat. We found a local restaurant by referring to a food channel website and finding one of their recommended restaurants that was inexpensive. When I travel I like to get the feel for the area, so I try not eat or shop at chain retailers. The Internet and smart phones make it extremely easy to find unique local spots. We had a delicious sit down meal at well reviewed restaurant for an average of $10 a meal and all of us had food leftover. Plus, we had a neat experience at a local treasure.

Afterwards we stopped for coffee. This is the only thing I typically insist on a chain restaurant. I’m originally from Seattle so I bleed the green and white of Starbucks, but as much as I love them I still love discounts. Thus, I have a loyalty card which allows me to receive free soy and flavoring on my drinks. This doesn’t really help you if you are a straight black coffee type of person, but you can get free refills with their gold card. If you are traveling keep your receipt, most Starbucks will honor your free refills even though you didn’t buy the coffee there. Also, many Starbucks give you a discount if you have your drink made in a reusable mug. If you are like me and you know you will stop at a Starbucks at least once while on the road be prepared with a mug. If you stop for coffee more than once ask the barrista to wash out your mug before refilling it. I’ve never been told no. The trick to a prepaid loyalty card is to always put the bare minimum on the card. See they want you to put more than you would use in one trip so that you have to keep coming back. I put the minimum because I receive all of my discounts even of the amount on my card doesn’t cover the full amount of my order. I think the card is worth it for me because I like complicated drinks. It’s not uncommon for me to save $1.50 off of my drink because so many of my extras are free.

Finally, an additional way to save some money is to carpool with friends. See I was planning on traveling to Chicago anyways when some of my friends asked if they could ride along. They helped with gas, which saved me money on a trip I was taking anyways. Plus, they are going back to our hometown sooner than I am, so they bought a one-way ticket back on a party bus. A party bus is simply a bus system that connects several major cities in a certain region. They are cheaper than a normal commercial bus because they offer fewer locations and departure times. They are, of course, much cheaper than a plane. So overall, we all saved money because even when they helped with gas it was cheaper than a round trip on the bus or anyone of us driving by ourselves. Win – win for everyone.

This is just day one of the weekend. Let’s see what deals tomorrow brings.

et cetera