IKEA Frugal Shopping Hacks

IKEA is an indulgence for me. I loved walking around the maze of a store as a kid, completely awed by the cool designs and organizational hacks. Fast forward many years, I met Mr. Frugal Hacker in college who happens to be an IKEA aficionado himself. And not surprisingly, our apartment in San Francisco now looks like an eclectic IKEA showroom:

Our current apartment living room in San Francisco, CA - 99% furnished with IKEA products

I totally get that IKEA style "cheap" furniture is not everyone's cup of tea However, if you're like us and move to a new apartment/city/country every few years, you know that big bucks dropped on furniture usually ends up being a wasteful splurge.

Ideally, you wouldn't spend any money on furniture. Many things we take for granted as "necessities" are in fact not necessary at all. For example, when my large family lived in India during my childhood, I routinely slept on a floor mat without a bed or a mattress. We simply rolled up the mat in the morning and reused the space as a living room. More recently, Mr. Frugal Hacker slept on a mattress laid flat on the ground without a bed frame for ~3 years.

For pieces of furniture that you absolutely must have, consider sourcing them from your local Buy Nothing group for free, or second hand from a local garage/yard sale or Craigslist. Mr. Frugal Hacker for instance got all his furniture used for just $70 back in 2010 from a garage sale across the street, even though he had a job for $85k/year. IKEA was just too extravagant for him! So just because IKEA causes less of a dent to your finances, it should not be a sign of encouragement to buy the furniture equivalent of "fast fashion". 

On the other hand, if you truly care about nice furniture and want to practice Smart Frugality, then maybe this is not something worth optimizing for in your budget. Since at the end of the day, furniture is often a "one-time purchase" and barely makes a dent in the budget when compared to ongoing housing expenses.

Personally, I like having simple and clean furnishings in our house because it is a constant subconscious reminder of a frugal life devoid of lavish spending. We buy furniture primarily for its utility and we use everything until it falls apart or we need to move to a new city. For those times that we decide to get "new" furniture, we go to IKEA. 

The IKEA showroom feels like a wonderland where everything is cheap, nifty and clever. Where everything is obviously a must-have for your house. However, once you drop your guard, the small $10/$20 knick-knacks add up fast and a $2,000 bill awaits you at the check-out counter. Over the years, we've built some good shopping habits when it comes to IKEA. I call these hacks, but really they are just common sense reminders for the frugal hacker in you. 

IKEAFrugal Shopping Hacks.jpg

1. Make a shopping list

Before you set foot in the store, you should have a well-planned shopping list ready to go. IKEA adventures are a huge time sink. How much would it suck to spend 4-5 hours at a store, only to come back home to realize that you forgot to pick up that one important thing? The other, possibly more important reason, is that your list helps you stay focused. Like in a grocery store, you're less likely to start wandering around and binge shop for things you don't need when you have a clear shopping list. If you use the shopping list tool on the IKEA website, you can select the store you'll be visiting to check availability and it'll also give you the pick-up bin and aisle locations ahead of time. 

2. Measure twice, buy once

This is true for any furniture purchase, but especially for IKEA where having to return something after spending hours assembling a piece of furniture is 100% a trigger for self-loathing. IKEA.com has furniture dimensions easily accessible on their website. Grab a measuring tape and picture how your new purchase will fit into your room. Mr. FH and I recently bought a new bed, and we made an outline with a bunch of pens to see how it would feel to walk around the room with the bed in place.

3. Enter through the Exit

Skip the tour of the showroom labyrinth and go straight to the warehouse to pick up exactly what you need. This saves you a bunch of time and eliminates any risk of last minute binge purchases. It's also less crowded around the exit since you're moving against the traffic.

4. Check out the "As-Is" section first

An added bonus for entering through the exit first is that you'll likely walk by the "As-Is" furniture section first. We recently scored a lovely leather couch and a recliner at 50% off retail price. Both pieces were pre-assembled (saving us time/money on assembly) and looked completely unused and brand-new. It goes without saying that you need to do extra due diligence when making any purchases from the As-Is section, since you give up any return or exchange privileges in return for these steep discounts.

5. Take advantage of flat delivery fees

We live a car-free life in San Francisco, so we don't have the luxury of having a personal vehicle to transport bulky furniture purchases. Our local IKEA in Emeryville, CA offers next-day delivery to our home address for a flat fee of $29. Our most recent shopping trip had some bulky and heavy items — a mattress, bed frame, three-seater couch and a recliner. The convenience of having all of these delivered right to our apartment for only $29 was incredible. A caveat here is that the flat fee depends on how close or far your delivery location is from the warehouse. You should also look into the cost of shopping from and getting delivery directly from IKEA.com for potential cost savings, since these requests may be able to be fulfilled directly from dark warehouses closer to your home.

end on a good note

There you have it — our top 5 hacks for making every IKEA trip as productive and efficient as possible. As you make your way out, spend a few extra minutes to reward yourself with a $1 frozen yogurt soft serve (split between 2 people of course). I'm usually exhausted after all the walking around the store, and this little treat is a perfect indulgence to end the adventure. 

What are your favorite IKEA shopping hacks? Share your IKEA secrets below in the comments!