Frugal Mattress Shopping Tips and Our Experiences

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mattsmallShopping for a new mattress bed is confusing and annoying. Sadly, that’s exactly how it was designed to be. This Slate article talks about this maddening process and offers a few tips:

  1. Mattress makers intentionally hinder comparison shopping by selling the exact same product with unique names for each individual store.
  2. Higher coil counts are not a good indicator of quality. More coils may simply use thinner gauge metal wire.
  3. Pillowtop foam materials are cheap and a huge source of profit. Mattress thickness is thus also not a good indicator of quality.
  4. There is no evidence that box springs are necessary or even helpful, other than to raise the height.
  5. Firmer is not always better for your back. You just don’t want it too soft or too firm. Each person needs to find their own optimal firmness level.

Also see: Consumer Reports

Our Mattress Shopping Experience

The last time we did frugal mattress shopping was 7 years ago. We ended up with a Simmons Beautyrest mattress from a Simmons World of Sleep mattress outlet. It was a mid-tier mattress with a super-thick pillow top layer and cost $700 while comparable mattresses were $1,500 and up. It was so high that we had trouble finding sheets big enough to fit it. (We were trying to replicate the Westin Hotel Heavenly Bed.) We liked that mattress a lot, but we decided to move it into the guest bedroom. Unfortunately, it appears that there are now only three such outlets remaining in the entire US – Atlanta, Dallas, and Seneca, SC.

We tried to buy a comparable Simmons mattress, but after visiting a few local showrooms I was so annoyed at the obfuscation and overall skeeziness that I just went to our local Costco and bought the only flavor available. The Sealy Posturepedic Newfield Cushion Firm Cal King set with two twin box springs cost $900. Not a bad price, but after just a week my back was hurting and the bed felt like it was sagging in the middle. We returned it to Costco and got our money back (though it took some effort to secure it on the top of my car). This route may work for some people, but the mattress was not for us.

I decided to go back to a Simmons mattress and looked into buying online. Check out this comparison chart from


I am supposed to accept that they control the expected durable lifetime that finely between 11 and 17 years? “This mattress will last 13 years, but this will last 14 years”. Please. Even if they could, why would they bother with the extra engineering and assembly line tweaks involved. I bet the $700 mattress is exactly the same inside as the $1,150 mattress (both with 800 coil count, pocketed coils, edge foam encasement, blah blah blah). I considered just buying the $700 mattress ($879 for Cal King). My sister actually bought a mattress from US Mattress earlier in the year and was satisfied with the experience.

However, I ended up shopping locally at yet another “sale” and found what appeared to be a very similar Simmons Beautyrest Firm mattress for also around $850 for a Cal King. That way I was able to at least lie down on it and compare with others. We had a wooden mattress platform so we didn’t need a box spring and saved a few more bucks.

The final touch? We bought the NovaForm® 3″ Pure Comfort Memory Foam Mattress Topper for about $150. The reviews seem positive overall and after sleeping on it for a while we found it to be very comfortable. There was a little plasticky odor in the beginning but it disappeared quickly. The only real quibble is that it tends to shift on top of the bed and so you have to reposition it every so often. I’ve thought about spraying the bottom with hair spray or some sort of tacky adhesive to solve that problem. Otherwise, we like it even more than our previous mattress.

In the end, I like the idea of buying a firm mattress (the “bones”) separately from the padding material (a replaceable “skin”). Our 11″ firm mattress + 3″ memory foam topper meant a 14″ total height. Buying a 14″ pillowtop “luxury” mattress would have cost between $300 and $1,000 more and I doubt that we would be able to tell the difference.

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  1. I have long felt that mattress prices are HUGELY inflated, and yet people continue to spend ridiculous amounts of money on them. About 8 years ago I bought a foam mattress over the phone, without even having tried it out. It’s perfect, and because it was a no-name brand (New Englander, or something like that), it cost me just $500. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s pretty firm.

    The only problem is that it had a zippered cover, which one day I foolishly decided I wanted to wash. I didn’t put the cover in the dryer, but even then, I had helluva time getting the cover back on the mattress (just me, no help) and I was never able to zip it up again.So the bottom of the mattress, under the bed, is exposed to whatever. But the price was right and it’s really very comfortable to sleep on.

  2. See if you have a foam shop in your area. I’ve been buying all our mattresses locally from a foam shop that will make a latex or memory foam mattress in any thickness or available firmness for a much lower price than any I’ve found online. I’ve saved the shipping charges too by picking it up myself. They come from the shop rolled up and are fairly easy to transport and carry.

    The shop does a huge business making custom boat and RV cushions, and replacement furniture cushions. Look for a business that does that and you may find your next bargain mattress shop. Our foam mattresses have lasted much longer than any regular mattress be bought previously, and are SO comfortable.

    • I HIGHLY recommend this route and through the first website below I actually found several local places that do exactly what deb described… in addition to traditional innerspring, they make talalay latex and memory foam mattresses that can be customized to your liking. The place we ultimately bought from we had driven by countless times and never even knew they were there (just an old factory building). In addition to the standard sized mattresses they apparently are THE place in town for custom mattresses for boats, RV’s, etc (and have been in business for 70+ years). The owner had two main latex mattress configurations and we really wanted a firmness/softness in between the two… so he simply customized it for us. This is the benefit of literally buying from the factory (we were standing in it… although it was nothing much to look at). Being in North Carolina where a lot of furniture is made probably helped in having several factory options between Charlotte, Hickory, and other areas.

      Once we did all the online research and shopping at B&M stores, we felt latex was the winner for us and would not get hot like memory foam or have potential issues from the chemical heavy production process used on memory foam beds. So far we have been VERY pleased and the durability of the materials should be quite good. Once you read about the quality (or lack thereof) of the materials that go into many of the overpriced foam mattresses out there, it is pretty sad. The construction is actually pretty simple, which is why you see more and more websites popping up where you can literally (once you know what you like) order the foam components and make your own mattress (with a zippered cover). We didn’t go quite that DIY, but are very pleased with what we bought from a local maker. I was high on the Tempurpedics at first, but am so glad I came across the websites below… despite how much information there was to dig through. The biggest warning sign was when we spent one evening at a Mattress FIRM store and the manager played more hardball than I’ve ever experienced in any other buying process – even from car buying. We weren’t ready to buy, but it was unbelievable the tactics that were employed to try to get us into a very high end Tempurpedic. Obviously big discounts can be had, but I just wonder what the average person buys…

      Here are a couple websites that helped a bunch:

  3. Your title itself says frugal mattress shopping so I am not sure whether my comments fits in it. When I shopping for a mattress like 4-5 years ago, I did all the research and there was no memory form tops available at that time. Looks like Temperpedic patent expired and now you can see it everywhere for cheap. Anyway, we ended buying Temperpedic mattress king for almost $3500. It was a big investment but I would it’s worth it man. I have back problem and I sleep like a baby in that bed. It’s good and I truly recommend to anyone especially who has back issues and need firm touch.

    • I couldn’t find anything about the Tempurpedic patent expiration. Do you have a link?

    • To my knowledge, Tempurpedic never had a patent on their memory foam, and certainly not memory foam toppers. A Tempurpedic representitive told me that TP never patented their memory foam formula, because that would mean disclosing exactly how it’s made, which other people could mimic by tweaking slightly, and then duplicated exactly after the patent expires. By just keeping it secret, they don’t have to worry about it.

      Also, 4-5 years ago, memory foam toppers were everywhere. They’ve been around for a very long time, so I don’t know why you couldn’t find any when you went shopping for them then.

  4. Very timely post. We have been through numerous mattresses over the last 10 years and were unsatisfied until recently. My wife has back issues and always wanted a firm mattress, but after a year or so we would both be uncomfortable. When we last moved we splurged and bought a Tempurpedic. It was expensive but I have no regrets about the decision. The reason I said your post is timely is just yesterday I made my final payment to pay it off. I could have easily paid cash but elected instead to take the free financing and pay $100 each month.

    The mattress today feels the same as it did on the first night we slept on it. We both get good sleep and are really comfortable. To me, the mattress was a good value because especially with young kids sleep is a big priority for us. Costco sells memory foam mattresses at cheaper prices and we have talked about getting another for our guest bedroom. I highly recommend memory foam.

  5. I would have to echo what you said about mattress shopping experience – its up there with shopping for a car. Though at least now you have some options for easier negotiations when buying a car (I prefer Craigslist) and price comparison is easy. Not so much when it comes to mattresses. We bought ours at a local store and needed a shower afterwards to rinse off the sleaze. At least it’s something that you only do once a decade or longer.

    • Mattress shopping is vaguely similar, but WAY worse than car shopping. At least car manufacturers don’t deliberately obfuscate the process. Last time we bought a mattress, we got so fed up with the sleaze that we gave up. We went to a superstore (combo grocery + general merchandise store) who had exactly one mattress of each size. Bought the one that was the size we wanted. They still played games! But somehow, I felt a little better that the games were born out of employee laziness instead of sleaziness.

      • We already need a new mattress (I guess the aforementioned one is about 7-8 years old? And was cheapo to begin with) but I’ve been putting it off because I don’t want to deal with “those people” again.

  6. When we bought our cheap queen mattress ($400) from a discount furniture warehouse …it was perfect for us since we like the firmness anyway but we also bought a foam topper that was a little less than $200 for the colder months and we didn’t notice a whole lot of difference between a cheap mattress with a nice topper and a nice luxury mattress. Of course, that may only be because one doesn’t miss what one never has had.

  7. I recommend 1800-mattress (you can see their selection and order online)

    I found a mattress we really liked at a local shop, but they “skeesily” tried to push me into the purchase that day with the, “it’s on sale and will go up in price tomorrow” speel. Long story short I noted the name of the mattress and got it for 300$ cheaper online (total only ended up being about 500$ for us)

  8. Instead of using hair spray to stop the pad from shifting, go to a carpet store and buy the some non-slip material that is used under carpet that is not installed wall to wall. Very inexpensive and from experience, the pad will stay put!

  9. Originally bought a ~ $1,300 mattress at Costco, it started to sag in the middle, they picked it up and refunded my money over a year later – which was impressive.

    I bought a memory foam mattress (Novaform® Gel Memory Foam) as a replacement from Costco and couldn’t be happier ~ 2 yrs later (no box spring). It was $550 . I was a little hesitant going the memory foam route but it has turned out great.

  10. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. I have bought all my mattresses by negotiating with the mattress store. By doing that, you can get a good mattress for $500 with free delivery. If the store refuses to negotiate, go to the next one. There is plenty of them and some stores are ok with reducing their huge profit margin. Sears outlet also seem to have some good deals on mattress sometime, although I never bought one there.

    • I read an article basically said that if they are willing to negotiate at all, then they are overpriced. I must be losing my edge because I just don’t feel like negotiating these days. I’ll probably buy my next mattress on the internet.

  11. Did you look at Tuft and Needle? The reviews on Amazon are pretty good….I heard about this company recently and am very tempted to buy a mattress from them since my husband and I really, really want to buy a new mattress, but don’t want to spend a ton.

  12. How can I have never heard of Tuft and Needle?!? I’m not sure I want a full foam bed, but still they do look interesting.

  13. We got a queen size Tuft & Needle Five last year and used it as the floor bed for our now 18-month old. (It’s thin enough and uses non-toxic material.) I actually sleep better on it comparing to sleeping on our own Sealy Posturepedic. Just ordered the new Ten for ourselves after my husband said, “It’s worth a try if there’s a possibility you can sleep better on it.” (I wake up multiple times at night on our own bed.) Plus, they have a 30 night sleep trial. Doesn’t hurt to try it!

  14. I’ve literally gotten a mattress store to lower the price of their Simmons Beautyrest queen mattress with a sticker price of $1000 down to $300, and I’m a terrible bargainer who hates bargaining. All I did was see an ad for one store, go in and get the specs on that mattress (coil count, etc). Then went to another store down the street, found the same brand and specs (because of course the exact model names are unique to each store), and showed them the other store’s ad. The salesman gave me a price that was lower than the first store within a minute. I didn’t even negotiate.

    Basically, the mattress stores charge a massive premium for the mattress foam topping. Let’s say a “base” model with no topping is $500, they’ll charge $1000 for a “luxury” model with a fancy foam topping with the same base. That’s why the second store’s sticker price was so high $1000, it had a fancy topping (whereas the first store was a base model). That fact they they lowered their price to $300 despite that shows that the topping costs nearly nothing. Think of it like how Apple charges $200 for a 16GB iphone and $300 for 32 GB iphone. 16 GB of SD memory does not cost anywhere near $100, it’s only $10 retail price, so probably wayyyy less than that for the manufacturer.

  15. When I was looking to buy a mattress I went to Sleepy to test out which mattress felt comfortable. I didn’t want to buy anything without testing it out even if only for a few minutes. I wanted a Sealy mattress which they were selling for about 1600 with box spring and shipping. I found a similar one to for 899 and Sleepy match it. Even though it’s not the same exact one, they were willing to match it. By brother also used what I paid to get his mattress for much cheaper. I would never pay full price.

  16. Any opinions on the costco bed-in-a-box? Do they even still carry that?

  17. Hagis McDonnell says

    My wife and I bought a queen sized Temperpedic mattress at least 10 years ago, and it pretty much cured my back problems. Don’t remember what we paid for it, but it seemed not too much more expensive than the higher end spring mattress sets. We bought only the mattress without the expensive base for it. We put the mattress on an Ikea slatted bed platform and later added some home-made legs to raise the platform a bit. It is the most comfortable mattress imaginable. We’ve slept on it ever since and it is still like new. Just doesn’t seem to wear out.

  18. Daniel C says

    Many B&M mattress stores (mattress discounters, sleeptrain, etc) will price-match to online sites like Yes, the names are all different, but you can compare specs and get them to give you the same price with no sales tax and free shipping. Then you can actually still try it in the storeroom and have whatever other benefits buying from an actual store give you. We, too, bought a Simmons mattress several years ago. I’ve heard that temperpedic foam may be the way to go these days though.

  19. Any views on Sleep Number?

    • DB, I have a queen Sleep Number and have been very pleased with it. DO NOT get the dual chambers (where each side is individually controlled for firmness). I got the single chamber (luckily I’m single myself) and it has lasted much longer than I hear the dual chambers do. The foam divider in the dual chambers seems to break down and create a ditch to roll into.

      They also claim the bed will last 20 yrs, so we’ll see when 20 yrs rolls around. I’m in year 3, and there has been NO issues whatsoever, even the pillow top is flawless. Granted it’s just me using it, don’t know what having 2 people would do to the padding. They have a great warranty too, 2 years no charge replacement, then after 2 yrs its a prorated replacement fee depending on how old the bed is (percentage based fee).

      I got the 2nd level up from their basic model that’s always on sale. The basic model is what all of their beds contain, just with less fancier padding and no electronic doodads (the higher models you’re just paying for the fancy touches which may or may not resonate with you). You can always get the basic model and add a nice memory foam pad on top.

      Another plus is the bed is completely collapsible for moving. I just folded everything in boxes when I moved, and it’s very light. IMO it’s very easy to assemble, but some older folks may have issues with it. I believe they offer an assembly service too.

      I wouldn’t expect the bed to change your life or pain level (like they claim on the TV) but I have felt that the bed is worth it’s cost exponentially.

  20. I had a girlfriend in college who had a sleep number at her moms house. Awful, awful bed. They are essentially 2 cheap air mattresses with a pair of remotes so you can customize your level of discomfort. I can’t UNrecommend something more highly.

    • how long ago did your girlfriend purchase the bed? They have improved the beds considerably from the past. I bought one in 2011, and have been very pleased with it. The basic model is without a pillowtop, so maybe she had that one?

      The air chambers are very well made now, they aren’t like those rubber camping mattresses or anything! I have pets, so I made sure the salesguy showed me the air chambers quality before buying.

  21. That comparison chart is ridiculous, I hadn’t seen that before! Only a mattress company would feel comfortable making predictions like that 10+ years into the future. I think you made a good choice though, are you happy at this point?

  22. P. Alexandru says

    When it comes to our own health we shouldn’t look up to save money, but let’s be honest: we are all looking for a frugal shopping. Some people tend to believe that “expensive” it always mean “best” and “cheap” it means “worse”, but this is not true at all!

    Few months ago I was looking up to buy a new mattress, and my budget wasn’t the best at all. I ended up buying this mattress for more then a reasonable price and I can honestly say that it’s a significant improvement.

    I like the fact that this mattress is neither too soft, neither too firm and the gel infused technology helps to not retain body temperature, which is great.

    I would definitely recommend it to a friend! Such a great mattress, for such a friendly price, it’s worth every penny!

  23. Mattress shopping is a time consuming process. It needs a whole lot of research work to be done. There are mixed reviews on each brand, which makes it difficult for a common laymen to choose the best. While there are many online blogs and forums like this, it helps the buyer to get a clear picture of which mattress to choose.

    Firstly, what I would like to say is that, a person shouldn’t blindly go and buy a mattress, just because it has received many good reviews. This is because, every person’s body shape and chareacteristics are different. Some may be heavier, while some slim. There are people who sleep on their back, while there are others, who sleep on their stomach. Yeah, the side sleepers, as well. Each of their sleeping requirements differ. So the mattress selection should be purely based on a person’s sleeping style and requirements.

    For a side sleeper, follwoing are the recommended mattresses;
    > Latex and Futon mattresses with high firmness
    > Innerspring mattress
    > Hybrid mattress (with latex on top and memory on bottom)
    > Memory foam mattress

    For stomach sleepers, these are the mattresses ideal:
    > Memory foam mattress
    > Latex mattress
    > Innerspring mattress : According to customer surveys, almost 35 to 37% users dislike this mattress, just becauseof its noise and disturbance during fast asleep , especially when your partner turns.

    For people who sleep in their back, support for lower back is crucial. Therefore it is better to avoid very stiff spring mattresses. It is recommended that you look for a mattress that is of medium firm or slightly more plush than most.
    > Polyurethane foam
    > Latex mattress
    > Hybrid mattress

  24. Theresa bauserman says

    My husband and I just purchased a queen mattress from the ledgend series at Badcock furniture for $799 dollars, we had our old mattress for 16 yrs. This mattress is gel infused, with memory foam and individually wrapped coils, it is a medium firm. So far so good. We both have arthritis, and I’m worried that the joy won’t last, but we can’t afford a tempurpedic mattress.

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