10 ways shopping at Ikea can cost more than you think

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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 the bulk of its furniture is made of particleboard, 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.

View the 10 best Ikea hacks:

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10 ways shopping at Ikea can cost more than you think

Cookbook Nook

Don't limit the super-functional BILLY bookcase to your favorite fictional paperbacks and hardcovers. ($50 each, ikea.comWhen positioned side-by-side to form a makeshift kitchen island, the shelves create a home for all of your favorite cookbooks, snacks, and even baking supplies.

See more at Golden Boys & Me »

China Cabinet

Listen, most kitchens (and dining areas!) don't have enough room to keep all of your fine china, platters, and silverware — and that's why everyone needs a credenza. But it doesn't have to be a pricey investment. This sleek piece was made out of modern IKEA cabinets. (ikea.com)

See more at Made By Girl »

Mail Center

Don't let your bills and thank you notes take over your dining room table. This nifty floating shelf made out of KNUFF magazine holders features three different cubbies — one for unopened mail, action items, and letters to hold onto for later. ($10 for 2, ikea.com)

See more at Instructables »

Dream Dollhouse

No little kid will know the difference between this STUVA cabinet creation and a store-bought toy. ($60, ikea.com) As long as dolls, mini furniture, and lots of color are involved, it'll be a hit.

See more at IKEA Family »

Country Statement

IKEA's IVAR units are usually solid, unfinished cabinets. ($80, ikea.com) But a coat of bright red paint (and adorable sunflowers) gives them a country vibe and makes an otherwise drab unit a statement piece.

See more at Snuggle Bug University »

Needed Counterspace

The no-nonsense BEKVAM kitchen cart is convenient, if a bit spare. ($60, ikea.com) A fresh coat of gray paint, a chic marble top, and a shiny towel bar makes this kitchen helper as stylish as it is functional.

See more at Oliver and Rust »

Campaign-Style Nightstand

The RAST dresser might be a little rough around the edges, but you can't beat the price. ($35, ikea.com) A little bit of leather and brass bring character to the piece, and adding paint didn't hurt either.

See more at Vintage Revivals »

Charging Station

Attach hooks to the simple FINTORP rail, and you can organize just about anything. ($9, ikea.com) To keep electronics from cluttering your counter, mount this bar near an outlet along with a basket to hold your gadgets. This blogger even added potted plants for decoration.

See more on Hometalk »

Chic Vanity

If you're looking for a chic alternative to your standard vanity, check out this super-glam creation. The blogger paired the EKBY ALEX shelving with old-school wooden legs and a sheepskin-covered bench to create a gorgeous place to spend your mornings.($47, ikea.com)

See more at A New Bloom »

Mod Coffee Table

It's rare you get something so classy from IKEA's seen-everywhere LACK coffee table, but this blogger pulled it off. ($25, ikea.com) By removing the lower shelf and attaching wooden tapered legs, she created a midcentury-style classic that's entirely chic.

See more at Triple Max Tons »

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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.

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 toss 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.

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