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HOWTO Purchase a Bed (Mattress and Box Spring)

This article was written by in Consumer, Shopping. 26 comments.


You may have read that I purchased a bed this past weekend. This was my first purchase of major furniture, but it was a long time coming. I had suffered from morning back and neck pain for too long, and I believe the problem had much to do with the sleeping surfaces I’ve had over time. The bed was not my most expensive purchase thus far; that ribbon still belongs to my Honda Civic.

I’d like to share my bed-purchasing experience. I believe my girlfriend (let’s call her A.) and I were smart about our shopping, and perhaps some tips might be gleaned for those who are looking to purchase a bed, either following our example or improving on our choices.

The process began about six months ago when my girlfriend and I decided we were going to try to make things work between the two of us. We have a bit of a long distance relationship — one where she is doing most of the traveling as my place is more comfortable for the two of us than hers. Right off the bat, I “owe her big.” Both of us found the twenty-year old full bed uncomfortable, and I knew I wanted to replace it.

A few months ago, after returning from vacation, A. and I decided to open a joint savings account with ING Direct (currently offering 3.4% interest APY) to save up for the next vacation together, each of us contributing our pocket change here and there. Around the same time, I decided to sell old textbooks online and she followed suit. We figured it wouldn’t hurt to put the money we made into our new joint savings account. If our relationship were to take a turn for the worse, we would just withdraw what each of us put in.

A little more than a week ago, we started discussing the possibility of getting a new bed. She was a having a hard time sleeping when visiting and I, always having a bit of a sleeping problem, was still waking in pain. We decided to go on a preliminary shopping excursion, to get a feel for the experience and discover what would be necessary.

The first place we entered was Sleepy’s, as I knew the location ahead of time. As we entered through the glass door, a loud bell rang, alerting the salespeople of our presence. There were only two or three other shopping families in the large showroom, so it didn’t take long before someone was greeting us and offering to help us earn him a commission.

I was intent on making sure the salesman, Lou, understood this we were there for only preliminary shopping and we wouldn’t be buying anything that day. He explained the layout of the showroom and we headed to the back, where some of the less expensive mattresses were displayed for “audition.”

Originally, we just wanted a bed to replace what I had, so we were considering a full size mattress. It didn’t take long before we found two or three different models that we liked — soft on top but with good support. We took a note of the prices and the salesman came back to guide us some more. He seemed to be knowledgeable about the products and explained some of the differences between the three we were testing; not surprisingly, the more expensive, the “better” the mattress. He also explained that not only is putting a new mattress on an old box spring — our original plan to save money — a bad idea, but it renders the ten year warranty null-and-void.

A. narrowed it down to two of her favorite models, I agreed, and we sat down at the salesman’s computer so he could price it for us. He reminded us we had to “act now” in order to get the wonderful discount he was proposing. It was at this point, after a little bit of leading, I was starting to feel a bit pressured. Commissioned salespeople want to close the sale so their time with the customer can’t be considered wasted, but some are better than others in masking their ambition. Our guy was putting the pressure on a little too much. I thanked him for his time and A. and I left the store.

At this point, we were still undecided whether to go through with a purchase. It’s a lot of money to spend on one “thing,” and neither of us are raking in big bucks. We both agreed that we weren’t going to allow any purchase to create debt. After thinking about it throughout the week, we decided to go through with it by using what we’ve saved in our joint ING Direct account from book sales and pocket change in the last month and a half. The account totaled about $400 and she and I would each thrown in another $200. The biggest convincing argument is that the new bed, if purchased, would last fifteen years and would follow us out of my apartment to wherever we happened to live next.

Once again, we stipulated that if one of us decides to move on from the relationship, we would agree that the one of us taking the bed would pay the other $400, effectively buying the other person’s half of the original purchase.

So our limit was $800, which we knew from our first shopping experience would be more than sufficient for one of the full size mattress and box spring sets. The next step was to shop around. This proved to be more difficult. We looked online first, but that is not a good way to shop for mattresses. Since you’re buying something on which you’ll be spending the equivalent of 122 days each year (if you get eight hours of sleep each night), we could not “comfortably” buy a bed without trying the specific mattress out in a store first.

Comparison shopping is impossible. This is because the manufacturers give the same mattress type different names depending on the middlemen. A place like Sleepy’s offers to beat anyone’s price by a 20 percent margin, but taking advantage of that deal is next to impossible.

The deal itself — “Sleepy’s will beat anyone’s price by 20% or it’s FREE!” — is completely illogical. If another store did happen to offer a lower price for the same exact mattress, why would Sleepy’s give the mattress away for free when all they would need to do it lower their price to 20 percent below the competitor’s price? That should be the first clue that the price match guarantee is bunk.

After waiting a week after our initial shopping trip, we ventured on Sunday to do a little browsing at other stores. We visited the local Rockaway Bedding and spent some time resting on their offerings. Neither of us found a bed in our price range in this store (taking into account an expected discount similar to the one quoted by the salesman from Sleepy’s) that was as good as what we had found the previous week. But sense memory can play funny tricks on the brain, so we left Rockaway and drove down the highway to Sleepy’s for the second time.

By this point, we had decided the upgrade to queen size was worth it. If we measured the mattress, we would see that the queen was only six more inches wide and five more inches tall than the full, but it seemed to make a big difference when in position. Once in the store, I had hoped that our salesperson from the prior week was off that day, but we were spotted by The Man and identified right away.

We tested a few mattresses again and we agreed on the one we would purchase. The regular sticker price for the set was $999.99, but after sitting down with our guy once again, now ready for a purchase, he brought the price down to $600-something, and adding in delivery, steel frame (I would have kept the old one but the queen size requires an supporting bar as Marcus mentions below), mattress protector (a fancy pad), and tax, the total came to $775 — below our $800 limit.

We could have taken or left the offer. My girlfriend and I decided to go for a walk outside of the store to “discuss” it and decide.

On our short walk and discussion, we confirmed that we were ready to proceed with the purchase and the price was reasonable. I also decided to try to haggle a little more. We went back in and sat down with Lou who once again reviewed everything we’d be getting and the price. I tried to bargain, requesting that he give us a price closer to $700, but he reaffirmed he had already gone lower than “allowed.” I didn’t buy his excuse, but he was immovable, so we stuck with the $775.

The good news is delivery was available for the following day, so I slept for the first time on the new bed last night. Unfortunately, A. won’t have her first opportunity to test the purchase overnight for a few weeks.

So take what you want from my experience, but if you’re looking for tips, I could manage a few:

  • Understand the construction of different types of mattresses and the differences between coils and foam. Most mattresses have various layers. If you wouldn’t eat a sandwich without knowing what’s inside, pretend the mattress is a very large sandwich.
  • Don’t shop until you know if you’ll be more comfortable on a firmer or softer top. Realization of your body’s preference comes from actual sleeping experience on different types of beds; it’s hard to get a long-term feel from 120 seconds on a bed in a store.
  • The mattress and box spring will last ten to fifteen years — maybe even more if well cared for — so don’t be afraid to think far ahead. Thinking about spreading the cost over that time helps convince you the expense can be worth it.
  • Be aware of what is covered under the warranty and what actions or inactions void the contract. For example, using the mattress on a nonmatching box spring voids the warranty.
  • Don’t try to comparison-shop models — the manufacturers and sellers work hard to make this very difficult. Do spend a lot of time lying on the showroom mattresses. Buying from a mattress store can save you from headaches that you might get by trying to make a satisfying purchase over the phone or online.
  • If you’re sharing the bed with someone, involve them in the decision.
  • If you have serious back problems, speak to a doctor first. He or she may suggest therapeutic mattresses for those who will benefit.
  • Determine the size you want or need beforehand. If you tend to be more comfortable moving around during the night, you may want a larger bed. On the other hand, if you have a small bedroom, a full size may be the best fit.

Feel free to share any other tips or suggestions.

Updated February 6, 2012 and originally published October 11, 2005. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 13 comments }

avatar Marcus

Well done, Flexo! A couple comments:

Not all manufacturers void warranties if you don’t use their boxsprings, but many do.

A queen-sized bed is always a worthwhile investment over a full-sized. However, queen-sized beds DO require a frame with a center leg support. Fulls don’t. They’re cheap, but make sure you have it!
Your comments about the private labeling of mattresses are 100% accurate. Shop features, not names.

You didn’t mention anything about the current trendy products – swedish foam and/or air beds. I’m not a fan of them myself, and think “traditional” is the way to go.

Sounds like a great purchase!

avatar mara

Great advice! I am very suspicious of mattress salespeople, just from my own experiences. 2 years ago I decided to buy an inner-spring futon mattress, and from shopping around at various stores, the *exact same product* ranged from $240-$500. I bought the $240 version, and I expect it to last for about 5 years. Now being over 2 years into it (and I don’t flip the futon every week as the tag suggests) I recently bought a memory foam mattress topper at Costco, which vastly improved the cushiness! Dollar Stretcher has an interesting “insider perspective” on mattress-buying, by the way.

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,500 (Platinum)

Thanks for that link, mara. For a while, I was considering just buying a cheap egg-crate topper for the old mattress we ended up replacing. I used those in college on occasion… but it’s definitely not a long term solution.

avatar Caitlin

Good write-up Flexo…wish I had it a year ago when shopping for my mattress. I just didn’t even know to try to haggle the price…my mattress was nearly $1500(!!!) when all totaled up so I am sure there was some room in that price. I really noticed a difference between trying out a mattress for a couple of minutes…and lying on one for at least five. The cheaper mattresses (which I had targeted for purchase) started getting uncomfy after minute five, but seemed fine up to then. As ridiculous as the price our our mattress sounds…I have not regretted it at all. Had been using a very bad old mattress for a while and had even tried topping it with an ikea mattress topper AND a plush mattress pad (that helped for maybe a month or so) and we were both waking to daily backaches (fixed by the new mattress right away). I feel a little like princess and the pea ;) but hot damn do we love our mattress. Just wish i had haggled!!!!

avatar My Boaz's Ruth


You need a bar for a queen mattress? I had a full before I got married, and got the queen because my husband is taller than I expected, being glad that the steel frame opened up to queen size. and I haven’t had any problems. What happens without that bar?

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,500 (Platinum)

An engineer can probably explain this better than I can, but the middle bar provides more support directly for the box spring. It will help distribute stress evenly. Without one, over time, the box spring (and mattress) will sag. The sag is caused by the most stress being in the middle of the bed while the support is only around the edges.

In fact, my old full size set was doing just that, which probably added to my discomfort. You can probably get by for a while without the bar, but I wouldn’t count on the mattress lasting as long.

Of course, the salesman told me that a new frame with a steel bar was absolutely necessary. He threw a new frame in “for free” (that is, included in the price of the set).

avatar PP

Where do you get the idea that a mattress lasts 10-15 years? In my experience, they tend to give out after about 5-6 years. If you try to get 10-15 years out of them, the last 7-8 years will be some mighty poor sleeping. My wife and I shelled out around $1000 for a premium queen-size mattress/box springs 7 years ago, and we now desperately need a new one. We’re also pretty good about rotating it as well.

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,500 (Platinum)

Most of the references I have found quote about eight to ten years for the life of a mattress, plus extra life if the mattress is well cared for and not overused. 5 to 6 years is definitely low, according to the research. Here are two examples of differing opinions:

* The Better Sleep Council (many sources seem to quote them)
* Serta’s “Comfort Life” table (I would guess that this is probably a low estimate considering the source)

Some newer mattresses — ones you couldn’t buy 7 years ago — also have better construction, leading to a longer life. But I would say it all depends on the comfort level of the individual(s) using the mattress. Something “still perfectly fine” to one person could be unbearable to another…

avatar Marcus

I should’ve thought to post the “poor man’s bar” for a queen-sized mattress: A stack of books underneath the middle of the bar that runs across the frame will do the exact same thing (and save you the $30 a retailer may charge for the frame (wholesale: $15)).

Regarding length of life for a mattress, it’s not uncommon for a good mattress to last 10 years, thought a lot is determined by size of the user. But I’ve seen expensive mattresses give out in only five, too.

The absolute longest-life mattresses are latex foam (NOTE: this is NOT the new trendy visco foam). Latex has been around for a very long time and is expensive ($1000-$2000 per set), but it lasts forever and doesn’t break down at all. When I was in the mattress industry, I replaced a few that the people had owned for 20 years, where they had actually worn through the cover.

avatar Ankit

My wife and I bought a traditional mattress set (full size, $1000) about 3 years ago from Raymour and Flannagan. It was good for a couple of month but after that we woke up with back pains every morning and everytime I moved or turned in the bed, my wife woke up because my movements transferred over to her side too. One year later, we bought an 8″ thick memory foam mattress with memory foam pillows (full size, $650) and now we can’t sleep on any other bed except for ours. Memory foam is new but is excellent and worthwhile the investment. You just have to know that the density of the foam and then the thickness of the mattress are paramount over everything else, no matter what the salesmen will try to tell you. Also, you don’t have to buy a Tempur-Pedic while paying a premium for it. I got mine online from a San Francisco retailer. Also, if you do decide to try it out, make sure the mattress is at least 9″ thick. The comfort level in these in unbelievable.

avatar BoarderX

Well, you never said how and if the mattress is better than your old one!? Do you sleep better?

When my wife and I got married we decided to buy a king size – mostly because our bedroom was so big that a queen would look out of place. We both had slept on small twin size beds all of our life. Boy, once you go king you’ll never go back! It’s quite a luxury to be able to spread out and not worry about hitting the other person. It’s totallly worth what we paid (I think it is anyway)!

Hope you like the new bed…

avatar Michael

We have friends in Europe and what they do there is interesting. Many have two extra-long twin beds side by side. This equals the size of a King bed but because each person is essentially on their own bed, tossing and turning isn’t transferred to the other sleeper. You also get the benefit of cheaper sheets and over there (Europe) they use two seperate down comforters instead of a top sheet. It’s really the way to go I think. Easy to make the bed in the morning. the only downside is that two twins is more expensive than a single King. But the benefit of not being rattled and rolled because of a tossing and turning neighbor outweighs the cost difference.

avatar Dennis

You’ve made a few mistakes, and as someone whose brother was once in the business I feel confident in commenting. Firstly, you CAN comparision shop. The “class” of the mattresses can be compared between vendors, and then you can use the coil-counts to match them up. There aren’t that many models so you can usually compare between the major vendors. They do use different pillow-tops to make it more difficult. One sure rule of thumb; whatever sleepy’s “Best price”, you can get it for 20% less. I’ve found the best place to get stuff is at a discount furniture store that also sells major brand mattresses. I’m from NY (where sleepy’s has sucked up all of the competition), but in FL there is “mattress warehouse” and “mattress mall”, both sleepys-like in the way they are run and operate. Both quoted me in the $600-$700 range for a high-end Beautyrest mattress only. I found the same mattress with a superior pillowtop in city furniture for $499, no haggling required. They get $40. for delivery but if you buy a few other things its next to nothing. Its a 10 year purchase so the $150. you can save isn’t much per year, so its not worth fretting over, but you never get a deal at sleepy’s; their entire strategy is convincing you that they are giving you a deal.

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