Welcome to a new column from The Financial Diet, one of our very favorite sites, dedicated to money and everything it touches. One of the best ways to take charge of your financial life is through food and cooking. This column from TFD founders Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage will help you be better with money, thanks to the kitchen.
I'm a huge fan of IKEA, and not just because I spend the majority of my waking hours talking about budgets. I love the store because I believe that, if you know which products to look for, there is almost no better value for your dollar in terms of versatile, sturdy home goods. It's not just about being affordable — it's about being super-usable pieces for that affordability. And while there are certainly IKEA products that earn their occasional eye-rolls from the home decor community, someone who turns their nose up at the store in general simply doesn't know what to look for.
Shopping at IKEA doesn't automatically mean "buying that same tragic LACK side table everyone had in college" or even "buying anything made of particle board" — period. In fact, for your kitchen space, the store can be the ultimate lifesaver for making things cute and functional without taking a shredder to your wallet (or sacrificing on product quality).
Our "Buy This, Not That" Guide to IKEA's Kitchen Supplies
Not everyone's kitchen needs are exactly the same — as someone who lives in Manhattan, I can confirm that my kitchen is often 1/5th the size of those shown in the catalogs — but there are some general rules to follow that will allow you to make the most of your next trip to the Swedish home goods wonderland, when it comes to filling out your kitchen.
The most golden rule of getting good IKEA stuff is this: Stick to the solid materials, and stay away from the particle board.
Buy This: BEKVÄM Kitchen Cart
As someone who has this kitchen cart — which I grabbed off the street when someone was throwing it away! — and has used it now in several different contexts, I can't endorse it more. After a quick white-washing, I now use it basically as an extension of my counter by my oven, which was once just an awkward space. It's versatile, sturdy, and can be painted any color you want as your tastes and kitchen decor change. It's a great wooden cart that will last as long as you want it to, and look great the entire time.
Not That: BARKABODA Countertop, Walnut
This countertop makes the "don't buy" list for the opposite reason of the cart: It's a layer of pretty walnut over what is, sadly, that aforementioned particle board that infects many an IKEA product you otherwise love. And when it comes to something as durable and sturdy as a kitchen counter should be, this is especially not the place to start skimping on materials.
Handy Kitchen Tools
IKEA is filled with wonderful, inexpensive handy tools for the kitchen and beyond. But when you're trying to think if something is actually worth it or not, ask yourself if it looks good, if it's durable, and whether or not it's better (and cheaper) to get it somewhere else.
Buy This: FINTORP Utensil Holder
These things are great because they can be used for your little mounted silverware holders, sure, but also for your sponges and dish scrubbers, cleaning cloths, and basically any other doodads that need to be in immediate reach of your kitchen sink. And beyond that, if you have a window in your kitchen, they're the perfect little pots to make a charming and practical herb garden.
Not That: LEGITIM Chopping Board
A lot of people seem to buy these chopping boards when they're first starting on the road to adulthood, and that is just a mistake for several reasons. One, they are ugly as sin and really easy to mess up with terrible, deep scratches, even if you are careful with your knife use. Two, if you are going to get plastic cutting boards, the least you can do is get the flexible kind that allow you to funnel chopped food and do lots of other practical little things. Three, and most importantly, for something like a simple cutting board, you're much better off going to a Marshalls or Home Goods-type place and getting a much higher-quality board for the same price point.
Building a Kitchen
Do you lack storage space in your kitchen? IKEA wants to help you out. Some of them make sense (pantry!), while others not so much (a mini kitchen).
Buy This: ELVARLI Shelving Unit
Yes, this shelving unit is shown by default as storing various minimalist clothing items, but you should also consider it as an awesome open-shelving kitchen system if yours seriously lacks places to put things. And, yes, it can be annoying to keep things on an open shelf if you aren't good about staying on top of dusting, but if it's something you feel you can handle, there are few cuter things than a good open-faced shelving unit.
I've personally worked my way up to having one open-faced unit along with my regular cabinetry, and perhaps one day will be diligent enough to expand it.
Not That: SUNNERSTA Mini-Kitchen
What the hell is this? I'm honestly unclear as to why anyone would buy this unless they lived in an actual prison cell, and even then, I feel like you'd be better off building something yourself or cobbling together a few shelving units of higher quality. This thing looks like something a child should be playing with, and, more importantly, doesn't look like it could withstand even a year or so of moderate kitchen use.
If IKEA offers anything, it's the everyday basics. If you're just setting up a new kitchen, you might be tempted to buy everything in sight. But some things — like knives – just aren't worth their value.
Buy This: FLITIGHET Dinnerware Set
Honestly, if you're anything like me, you probably break the hell out of dishes, either yourself or when you invite people over. And that's totally fine! Dishes get broken, chipped, scratched, and damaged, and that usually means you had a good time (or had slippery hands while loading the dishwasher). Either way, no one should be pouring money into their basic, everyday dish set, and it's hard to go wrong with the standard white ones IKEA has at an incredible price point.
Not That: ÄNDLIG Knife Set
On the other hand, if there is any place you should be investing (and likely skipping out on IKEA), it's in a simple knife set. If you are looking for convenience and decent price points, Amazon has some awesome knife blocks or mini-sets, and so do most discount home goods stores, as named above. And even if you do get your knives at IKEA, avoid these sad ones, as they are the soulmate of those fluorescent cutting boards — which is to say, flimsy and bad and make you look like you still live in a dorm.
Ready to upgrade from a bunch of random mugs, containers, and plates to something more streamlined? Here's what you should (and shouldn't) buy from IKEA.
Buy This: FÖRTROLIG Container Set
I am a huge, huge advocate of a good set of clear food containers. They can go everywhere from the freezer to the microwave to the oven, they allow you to see exactly what's going on inside, and they are durable as hell. Plus, they just feel way chicer than the sad plastic to-go containers you've otherwise been hoarding for food storage.
Not That: FÄRGRIK Mug
These sad IKEA mugs epitomize "I just bought one of every item on the '20-something moves into a new place' checklist." Even if you're still getting your mugs from IKEA, at least go with the slightly upgraded versions that have a bit more personality and don't have those weird, uncomfortable finger holes. A mug should be something cozy and happy-making — not something that looks like it should be served at a robot Starbucks.
Are you looking to furnish a new dining room? Or maybe you just really need a table — any table — so you can eat dinner not on the couch? Here's what you should (and shouldn't) buy from IKEA.
Buy This: BJURSTA Extendable Table
I have (and love!) this table. I white-washed this table to much success. I cannot endorse this table enough. It's solid wood (the golden IKEA rule), sturdy, and the perfect size to go from "cozy little table in our dining nook" to "big, happy table for when we have a sizable dinner party." It is by far the single item of furniture that I've been the most happy with in terms of the versatile use we get out of it.
Not That: TERJE Folding Chair
On the flipside, we got a few of these for supplementary dining chairs in the event of big dinner parties, and, sweet lord, they are uncomfortable. They honestly feel like sitting on a park bench while someone digs into the middle of your back with a yardstick. Avoid these chairs at all costs.