IKEA opened in Portland recently. I’d never been to IKEA before, but had heard that it’s a great place to pick up inexpensive furniture and gadgets for the home. One recent Friday afternoon, Kris and I decided to go on a date to the new store. Not very romantic, perhaps, but oh-so-practical.

IKEA stores are huge. Each one is laid out like a giant maze. You don’t browse aisles, but instead walk from the start of the maze to the end. Along the way, you pass through dozens of demo rooms (and several entire demo apartments!). Each room is decked out with furniture and fixtures that you can buy in the store. There are also display areas in which you can see, for example, all the different bookshelf models at once.

While browsing, you jot down part numbers for the items you like. At the end of the maze, you enter a large warehouse where you can pick up kits for these products. This is key: all IKEA furniture is build-it-yourself.

We hadn’t intending to buy anything, but of course I left with a new bookcase and Kris picked up some kitchen gadgets and a yard of fabric. We were in a hurry to pay, though, because I wasn’t feeling well. “Did we really spend three hours in there?” I asked as we drove home. “No wonder I feel sick.”

On Saturday morning I opened Quicken to do my weekly finances. While entering the IKEA receipt I was dismayed to find that we had been charged not for one yard of fabric, but ten. That’s a $53.91 difference. I phoned the store to ask for a credit, but nobody answered.

Instead, we had to drive 40 minutes back to northeast Portland, wait in line for half an hour, and then drive 40 minutes home. We cursed ourselves for being so careless — we’re both usually good about checking receipts. But because I’d been feeling ill, we hadn’t bothered.

It’s surprising, actually, how often receipts don’t match transactions. It’s an excellent habit to check yours before leaving the store when possible. There are a variety of things that might go wrong:

  • As in our recent trip to IKEA, you might be overcharged.
  • You might also be undercharged, and have to point out errors to the checker. (I’ve found that sometimes a store won’t even bother to fix a small error if it’s in the customer’s favor.)
  • You might be charged for a completely different item. Computerized databases speed transactions, but they’re not foolproof.
  • Sale prices may not register. This is actually fairly common, especially at the supermarket. If you’re after a particularly good deal, be sure you’re paying what you expected.

You don’t have to hold up store traffic to check your receipt. Stand to one side and scan it briefly for any obvious errors. This is especially important when you’re making large purchases. Checking receipts is an easy way to keep the money that belongs to you!

p.s. By the way, we liked IKEA. The stuff was inexpensive and easy to assemble. We’ll be back. And next time we’ll check our receipt!

[photo by OiMax]