Ikea Shopping: 10 Ways It Can Cost More Than You Expect

IS IKEA REALLY CHEAP?

Ikea's brand image is happy, hipster families living in ultra-modern style, eating Swedish meatballs and cinnamon buns around an easily assembled coffee table. In reality it takes a little more effort to turn a pile of particleboard into a comfortable home. Read on for 10 reasons Ikea costs more than it seems on the surface.

MARRIAGE COUNSELING MAY BE REQUIRED

There's a joke that if a couple can survive a trip to Ikea and put together a complicated piece of furniture without a fight, the relationship will last. Jokes aside, 17 percent of couples say they always argue when putting furniture together, according to the market research firm CivicScience. Perhaps that's why some therapists are using Ikea as a communications exercise. One clinical psychologist told The Wall Street Journal she challenges couples to put together complicated pieces, such as the Liatorp TV storage combination, which she calls the "Divorcemaker." To help avoid tacking a therapy bill on to an Ikea visit, make a list before hitting the store.

ASSEMBLY TIME IS MONEY

Ikea's reputation for painful furniture assembly is so widespread there is even a video game, "Höme Improvisåtion," that makes fun of how difficult it is to get the furniture together. Shoppers need to ask themselves how much time they have to spend on assembly. Although Ikea arranges assembly service, it starts at $89 and requires delivery from the store starting at $59. Careful shopping elsewhere may yield bargains on furniture that's already assembled.

THE FURNITURE MAY NOT LAST

Ikea recently introduced a solid wood collection, but much of its furniture is made of particleboard or fiberboard, which simply isn't as sturdy as hardwood -- although it's a lot cheaper.

'IKEA HACKS' SEDUCE DIYERS

"Ikea hacks" have popularized the idea of cheap Ikea furniture as raw material for custom projects. But Lifehacker points out that hardware and home improvement stores are often better sources for DIY types, with higher quality and far more options.

IKEA DEFIES COMPARISON SHOPPING

Ikea's unique designs make it hard to compare its products to similar items in other stores, so it can be difficult to see if you're getting the most for your money. When comparison pricing isn't an option, it's easier to give in to impulse buys, too.
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CHEAP FOOD TRICKS CUSTOMERS INTO BUYING FURNITURE

There's a sneaky reason that food at Ikea is so darn cheap: It's actually a cagey sales tactic, according to a chef who used to run one of Ikea's food-service operations. He explains on Quora that the low cost of the food reinforces the notion that everything at Ikea is cheap. So, when shoppers see a couch for $400, they assume it's a good price, because the ice cream is only $1.

LOSE THE TOOLS THAT COME WITH THE FURNITURE, AND ALL IS LOST

Most Ikea shelves and the like come with special tools for assembly. But once the furniture is constructed, there doesn't seem to be a good reason to keep the tools around -- until it's time to take the furniture apart to move it. Suddenly, that one-of-a-kind gizmo is nowhere to be found. Worse, Ikea doesn't sell it separately. For many shoppers, it's easier to ditch the item and buy something new -- probably from Ikea.

IKEA HAS A HUGE ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT

All that particleboard has to come from somewhere. The Wall Street Journal reports that only about half the wood used in Ikea furniture is recycled or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and the FSC has raised questions about the sustainability of the company's logging practices. When a table or chair made of cheap materials inevitably breaks, consumers are more likely to buy a new one rather than fix the old, adding to the landfill.

IKEA FAMILY CARD DISCOUNTS ARE LIMITED

In exchange for personal information, shoppers can receive a card that gives discounts on Ikea items, among other benefits. The problem is, the card rarely offers deals on the big-ticket items most shoppers are looking for, such as beds and other large furniture.

THE KITCHEN DESIGN SOFTWARE IS A FRUSTRATING TIME SUCK

For consumers planning a new kitchen design through Ikea, the brand's design site can be addictive -- or, more likely, a nightmare. The Kitchn warns that the software is buggy and crash-prone. Shoppers attracted to this "fun" DIY solution may find themselves shelling out for a professional after their latest almost-done kitchen design disappears.