How to Buy a Futon on a Tight Budget

Few pieces of furniture lay claim to the flexible utility of a futon. Futons are a sofa or loveseat that convert into a bed by pulling the frame into a flat position. This changeable piece of furniture is perfect for a compact college house, studio or one bedroom apartment, or guest room. A good quality futon will last for years, as long as the frame is assembled correctly.

All futons are not created equal, or necessarily cheap. High-end futons, mattress included, easily hit the upper triple-digit range. A decent full-size frame, by contrast, can be had for less than $200 and the accompanying mattress for an average $170, $40 more or less depending on mattress type. Here's a breakdown of what to look for when shopping for a futon that suits a limited budget.

Futon Styles and Sizes.

Futons come in two general styles defined by their frames: bi-fold and tri-fold. Bi-fold frames are the most common, with arms and legs like sofas, and a back that folds down the length of the frame. Tri-fold frames are rarer, and, as the name implies, fold three times instead of twice to convert into a bed. The style you choose is purely a matter of personal taste, although bi-fold frames are cheaper.

The size of the futon determines the number of people it can accommodate, whether sitting or reclining. Futons may be small like a wide chair and unfold to sleep one person, or large like a couch and sleep two adults comfortably. The size of the mattress that goes with the futon obviously depends on the size of the frame.

Easy Unfolding.

The manner in which futons unfold depends on brand and design. Bi-fold frames are usually easier to unfold than tri-fold frames, as only one action is needed. Most newer bi-fold futons come equipped with a roller system that facilitates the unfolding process.

Select bi-fold futons are known as "wall-hugger" frames because they unfold without hitting the wall behind. Futons without this feature may need to sit away from a wall to ensure they don't collide during the transformation.

Frame Material.

Futon frames are almost always built with metal or wood. Metal futons are generally a little cheaper than the wood variety but may not be as durable or well-constructed. There's little choice of color with a metal futon -- the vast majority are black -- whereas wooden futons offer a mix of wood grains and finishes, making them easier to match with the room's furniture.

Mattress Type.

Aside from the choice of frame, buyers of budget futons also get a choice of mattress. Futon mattresses are made with a combination of cotton and polyester, cotton and foam, or metal innersprings. The first two are the most common but may not offer the same level of comfort as a mattress meant for a bed. The latter approximates a regular innerspring mattress and costs more: up to $250 compared with about $130 and $200, respectively, for the other options.

Deciding which futon mattress to buy depends on your budget as well as on how the futon will be used. If it will serve primarily as a sofa in a guest room or living room, and convert into a bed on rare occasions, then a cheaper mattress is probably sufficient. If the futon will put in regular service as a bed, it may be worth springing for the more expensive innerspring mattress.