5 Steps to Shop Smart and Save Money at IKEA


Deborah Devenney

Frugal shoppers know all about IKEA: great design at a great price. Their products certainly have their pros and cons, and all that Swedish engineering can be a hassle to assemble if you are not particularly handy. But, if you are focused on saving money and are willing to put the work in, IKEA can be a god-send!

My parents' lastest home-improvement project is my mother’s long-awaited sewing room. The superwoman has been quilting and sewing for over 30 years and it was high time to give her the proper space. They got some great ideas online

and decided to go with cabinetry for maximum storage and functionality. Naturally, IKEA was their first frugal choice.

Since this was our first experience buying cabinets from IKEA, we picked up a few tips on how to shop smart and save money when getting into a big project furnished by the ready-to-assemble super store.


1. Save up for the project

You may be thinking, “IKEA: that’s like, cheap, right?” My aunt and uncle, who own a very wonderful custom kitchen and bath design company considered using IKEA as a supplier for cheaper projects. But when you add up all the components, you would be surprised at how much you can end up spending. My parent’s entire cabinet purchase ended up being just north of $700, which is fine since they saved for it: this is not a place for impulse buys.

2. Start online

IKEA has a 3D planning tool online. It’s very easy to use: just measure all the walls, doors, windows, etc. and enter the figures into the room generator. Even through they weren’t technically building a kitchen, it was very helpful to plan out what would fit, look good, and what options there were before heading to the store.

We had an issue, however, with the flash player crashing often. Make sure you create an account (simple name and e-mail registry) and save the file often!

3. Visit the showroom

My parents did not buy online, even though that was an option, for two reasons. First, there is a small home delivery fee (starting at $99!), which they didn’t need to take advantage of since they have a big vehicle.

Second, I am wary of buying online anyway, since you can’t touch and try everything you are going to buy. It’s important to be able to see in person the feel and size of all the options. Going to the showroom you can see every product laid out in front of you, plus see special deals you couldn’t find online. (We saw that the red cabinet doors were 75% off, even though we didn’t end up going with that color.)

4. As-Is

Whenever my family visits IKEA, we always start in the As-Is section (returned items, floor models, scratch-and-dent), then get food, then go through the store. Very backwards, I know, but we have a system. Here is why: when you go into IKEA knowing exactly what you want, check the As-Is section first because it might be there! I recently got a futon frame there for $40 off, it was just missing one wooden slat, which can easily be replaced. A couple of important notes here:

  • Check over pre-assembled furniture: When we got the futon home and started using it, we figured out why it was returned: the slats kept falling off underneath the seat. I sent in my dad and his drill in to make it stronger, but the whole issue really baffled us: why was this popular piece of furniture so clearly flawed? Then we figured it out: the frame was put on upside-down, so the slats were not resting on the support beam. My dad just flipped it around it it is better than new! The previous owners probably just read the instructions wrong and thought the product was flawed. Major savings win for us, but this is probably not the first or last time this will happen.
  • Make sure you know exactly why something is in As-Is: They usually say on the tag, like “floor model” (meaning it is already starting to get worn out and may have stains on it) or “returned". I always ask the IKEA employees in this section because they usually have inspected the furniture to price it out. If its just a scratch that you won’t see, not a big deal. If it’s missing a shelf or two, you can get a new one. Know what kind of use it will get, where it will go, etc. so you know if the flaw is a dealbreaker. As-Is items also cannot be returned.
  • Don't forget about IKEA Hackers: This is a great site where users upload creative ways to use IKEA products. I bet you didn't even know that a bookcase could be a utilities cover or that a wall cabinet could be an entertainment center!

5. The big finish: getting a deal on custom cabinets

We went through all the steps, did the research, and knew exactly what to get. Then we went to put in our order with the sales associate and the total was over $1600! Not exactly a happy savings story. so how did we cut the price in half?

  • We changed from wooden pull-out drawers on the lower cabinets to wire basket pull-outs. They would not be as strong, but for my mom’s purpose they didn’t have to be. This is not an option for all cabinets and uses.
  • We switched from high-gloss doors to regular gloss. The only reason we went with high-gloss originally is because we got another piece of cabinetry from the as-is section that already had high-gloss doors. We decided that it wasn’t essential that the doors all match, basically cutting the cost of the doors in half and getting us down to a happy $690-ish before tax (which was a cool $43: some days you just want to move to Delaware!)

I hope this smart shopping guide helps with your DIY projects and renovations. If you have any other tips for shopping at IKEA, drop us a comment of course! 

What are your experiences with IKEA: love it or leave it?