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How that Chicago trip can be a lot cheaper than you think

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The Windy City is full of life, traffic, and so much to see and do.  There are ways to do as many things as possible, while spending the least amount of money.

A great place to start is the Signature Room and Lounge on the 95th and 96th floor of the John Hancock Center where you can see the entire City of Chicago for free.

The elevator takes you to the Signature Room restaurant or lounge-- both have a spectacular view of the city. The restaurant has a full menu for brunch, lunch, and dinner and the lounge also has a menu. Compare that to the $18 it costs to visit the John Hancock Observatory on the 94th floor.

A visit to Skydeck Chicago on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower costs $19 for basic admission for adults and $12 for kids.

There are several other hot spots in Chicago that don't cost a dime to visit, including The Bean, Millennium Park, Lincoln Park Zoo and Navy Pier.

Touring the City of Chicago with a guide can also be free.

Chicago Greeter offers free customized tours in over a dozen languages. Visitors can customize their tours by visiting 1 of 25 neighborhoods or exploring more than 40 interests.

The Field Museum offers free basic admission to Illinois teachers and active military personnel.

The Adler Planetarium offers Illinois residents free general admission on Illinois Resident Discount Days. A valid ID with an Illinois address is needed. The next Discount Days are September 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24, 29, 30.  Illinois teachers and military personnel receive free basic admission.

The Shedd Aquarium also offers Illinois Resident Discount Days. Upcoming dates include: September: 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29 and 30; October: 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28; November: 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25. The aquarium also offers discounts for educators, active-duty military personnel, students, and senior citizens.

There are plenty of ways to get to and from these places. Divvy bikes are a relatively new way to get around the city and only cost $7 for a 24-hour pass.

Public transportation, either the bus or the train, can take you just about anywhere in the city. A one-day pass costs $10, a three-day pass costs $20.

Getting around on the water is also a cheap option. An all day access pass on a Chicago Water Taxi costs $8.00 during the week and $10.00 on the weekend. Single rides run cheaper depending on the route. Compare that to the $30 it costs to take the Chicago River Architecture Tour.

All of this could make a person hungry!  With restaurants everywhere you look, there are ways to eat on a budget. Chicago's famous deep dish pizza does not have to be expensive. Places like Giordano's and Lou Malnati's offer lunch specials.

Websites like Groupon and Living Social have deals for restaurants and other activities all over the city, often for more than half-off the normal price.

In just about every Chicago neighborhood, there are BYOB restaurants that let you bring in your own beer or wine, often at no cost.

Finding a place to stay can be expensive, but staying outside of downtown, near the airports is often the cheapest way to go. Sites like Priceline, Expedia, and Hotwire compare prices. Hotels sell their vacant rooms to the sites often at a discount. Booking 'last-minute,' within 24 hours of your stay, is when you will likely find the cheapest deals because hotels don't want empty rooms.

Websites like Tingo let you book a room, and then if rates drop before a trip, they'll lock in the rate and refund the difference.

In a city with so much to see and do, there are ways to do it all without breaking the bank.