These days it seems like co-working spaces are popping up faster than Harlem Shake videos were on YouTube a few months ago. But, while the furniture is cool and the networking opportunities are abundant, even a floating (non-permanent) seat can run you a steep $250-$500 a month. For me, a sole employee bootstrapping her way to the top, that’s a lot of freakin’ dough.

There are plenty of other, more affordable locations that I’ve found throughout my two years in business where I can still be productive, and at the same time not be forced to eat ramen on a nightly basis. Here are my suggestions for where to work when you can’t afford a co-working space.

Public Library

Every city has a public library, and thankfully the Chicago Public Library has 79 of ‘em. Every location has free Wi-Fi, and due to it being…you know…a library, it’s typically pretty quiet. Just make sure you don’t have any calls scheduled during the time you spend there, or you may have to run outside to take it (or risk getting the stink-eye from a librarian).


Working at a bar may seem counterintuitive, but after lunch and before happy hour bars are pretty dead (about 2-5:00 PM). As long as the music isn’t too loud and the bar has free Wi-Fi (like Sheffield’s), watering holes can be great places to spread out and get serious work done during the afternoon. And hey, have a beer while you’re there. You work for yourself, after all.

Coffee shops

Working from a coffee shop is obviously no new concept. However, more and more coffee shops are being redesigned to fit the needs of the entrepreneur, with large conference tables and outlets galore. The best are the ones where the baristas are in a separate room, like the Starbucks at Lake and Jefferson, which also contains a semi-private conference table.

Department Stores & Malls

This probably isn’t ideal for hard-core work sessions, but if you’re in between meetings, just need to send out a few emails, and don’t feel like spending $4 on a coffee that you’ll just have to throw away 20 minutes later, head over to the nearest department store or mall like the 900 shops. They’ve got free Wi-Fi and plenty of tables (and sometimes comfy chairs if you’re lucky).

A Friend’s Office

We all still have friends living it up in the corporate world, so ask around and see if your friends have any spare offices or desks. You might be surprised by what you find. Of course, you can’t make it a habit (unless you want to trade services for space, which is also a great option), but once in awhile should be okay. Just bring bagels.

My advice: Get your work done at one of the above joints, and spend that $250 on a few nice dinners with friends. You deserve it.