Budgeting Tips for Your Next IKEA Trip

If you’ve ever visited IKEA, that wonderland of Swedish engineering and flat-pack furniture, then you know that a firm budget and strong willpower are key to avoid overspending. There’s just so much cute, fun, clever stuff for just a few dollars! But when you fill your whole cart with those items, you might be hit with sticker shock at the register.

POZNAN, POL - NOV 3, 2016: Founded in Sweden in 1943 IKEA is world's largest furniture retailer, operates 384 stores in 48 countries and sells about 12,000 products (appliances and home accessories)
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How can you make the most out of your next IKEA trip without going over budget? Is the only solution to tack on an extra $50 for impulse buys?

Plan Ahead

The best way to avoid overspending at IKEA? Know what you want to buy ahead of time. The company’s catalog and website will let you browse every product they offer. In addition, the website will also let you know if the product you’re looking at is in stock at your local IKEA.

Another pro tip? Measure everything that could need measuring for your new purchases. Not only should you measure the space where the furniture will live, but it’s also not a bad idea to check any trouble spots like tight turns in stairwells. The last thing you want to do is to get your couch stuck in the stairs and shout “Pivot!” at your friends all afternoon.

Moscow, Russia, September 2019: Bedroom with purple walls, a white linen, pink pillow and a pattern of yellow polka dots. Black clocks and a photo poster on the wall in the showroom of the Ikea store.
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You should also know how much stuff will fit in your car. If you’re buying bookcases or other large furniture, it’s best to rent a truck. Or find a friend who can help you out. It might seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen plenty of folks trying to figure out how to put massive boxes in their mid-sized cars. Physics just doesn’t work like that, sorry.

IKEA does provide paper tape measures in the store, which is quite handy. Just make sure that you wrote down the measurements from your home. Trust me, you will not remember once you arrive at the store.

One more thing to do before you go: if you’re a fan of the store’s bistro, then you should definitely join the IKEA Family club. It’s free, and you’ll get freebies like coffee and tea as well as a birthday meal on the house.

Know Your Numbers

Savvy IKEA shoppers know that article numbers are key to a quick, efficient trip. It’s easy to meander for hours through these massive stores–that’s why there’s a cafe halfway through the full circuit of the sales floors.

If you want to avoid impulse purchases and just pick up what you came for, then you need to have a list of the article numbers for the items you want to buy. These numbers are displayed both online and in the print catalogs. They are eight digits long. For example, if you wanted to buy a STRANDMON wingchair with brown faux-leather upholstery, the article number is 004.257.77.

Why use the numbers instead of the names? Because everything is in Swedish! Unless you’re familiar with the language, it can be a struggle to remember words like STRANDMON and EKTORP. Write down all the numbers before you go. Employees will be able to help you find the items you need. Then it’s just a case of loading up your cart and making a beeline for the registers!

Figure Out Your Price Range

IKEA is known for inexpensive furniture (and Swedish meatballs), but not all of its products are created equal. A classic example: the humble BILLY bookcase.

“It is estimated that every five seconds, one BILLY bookcase is sold somewhere in the world,” according to IKEA. That’s a lot of bookcases. And honestly, at $50 for the basic model, it’s not a bad deal for many people. If you’re setting up your first apartment, then BILLY is the way to go.

LUGANO, SWITZERLAND -NOV 4, 2017: Interior of the IKEA shop in Lugano, Switzerland. The company was found in Sweden in 1943
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However, there are downsides to buying the lowest-tier furniture products from IKEA. These bookcases are made from foil-covered particleboard. That means they are very heavy. You also can’t paint them without buying a specialty primer. The main drawback with BILLY bookcases is the flimsy backing board, which will not hold up through multiple moves. You can stabilize your bookcase with a sheet of plywood… but at that point, wouldn’t it be better to buy an upgraded, solid-wood bookcase?

IKEA also offers the HEMNES line of bookcases, which cost three times as much as BILLY but are made from sustainably sourced solid pine. If it fits in your budget and you’re at a point in your life where you’re settled into a home that you plan to keep for many years, then solid wood furniture is a worthwhile upgrade from particleboard. On the other hand, if you’re someone who moves frequently and doesn’t like to be tied down by a lot of possessions, then a BILLY bookcase is cheap enough that you can afford to leave it behind and buy a new one when you get to your new home.

The point is that the amount you spend on furniture at IKEA depends on your lifestyle as much as your budget. The cheapest option might end up costing you money in the long run.

Surprising Deals at IKEA

Although it’s easy to overspend at IKEA if go in without a plan, you can get a ton of great deals there that you won’t find anywhere else. Some of the underrated gems include the live plants section of the store and the cookware section.

Those areas tend to be located at the end of your all-day IKEA hike, and you might be tempted to skip them. However, you’d be missing out on some serious bargains. Some people might not even be aware that IKEA sells live plants, but they do–and they’re relatively cheap. You can get a Sansevieria Trifasciata (or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue) for just ten bucks! I have one of these beauties at home, and it needs almost zero maintenance.

Mother-in-Law's Tongue plant
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IKEA’s cookware also does not get enough love. I’ve had great success with their cutting boards–which aren’t much more expensive than the dollar store but so much nicer–and stainless steel cookware. Be advised that the nonstick cookware gets mixed reviews, though. I also like their basic serving pieces, which combine classic style with bargain prices.