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Cheap Mattresses Buying Guide

The top three on our list of cheap mattress sets (queen-size, including box spring) are the Serta Perfect Sleeper (starting at $560), Simmons Beautyrest Classic (starting at $477), and Sealy Posturepedic Titanium SS (starting at $391). These mid-level mattress lines include several budget models that the majority of consumer reviews say provide sleeping comfort over the long-term.

Our second-best picks are the entry-level Sertapedic (starting at $330), Simmons BeautySleep (starting at $319), and Sealy Brand Traditional Innerspring (starting at $279) lines, all of which offer a decent product that users say make good choices for lighter adults and children and for occasional use by overnight guests. Concerns about durability and comfort relegate Spring Air Back Supporter (starting around $479) and off-brand/no-name mattresses to the "don't bother" end of the list.

Cheap mattresses are sold most often as a set with a box spring (i.e., foundation), and the starting prices noted in this report reflect that norm. Although mattress reviews say box springs aren't always necessary, the warranty may require that you use the one designed for the mattress, so ask the salesperson or read the information online closely.

The cheap mattress market is dominated by Sealy, Serta, and Simmons, which offer models at all price points, including the $300 to $700 Cheapism niche for a mattress/box spring set. Other brands, such as Stearns & Foster, Bassett, Kingsdown, and Englander, show up in the mid to high end of the market. Competitors such as Spring Air and Comfort Solutions (which owns the King Koil brand) sell some inexpensive innerspring mattresses, as do no-name and private label manufacturers that supply warehouse outlets and furniture stores and also sell online.

Experts are adamant about the importance of trying out a mattress before making a purchase. So if you're about to start shopping for a cheap mattress set, pick a moment when you're feeling really tired. Then quickly get yourself to the nearest mattress retailer, find the displays that fit your budget, pick one, and lie down. Take a nap for 20 minutes, assess how refreshed you feel upon waking, then move on to the next possibility. Repeat. And then repeat a few more times. Were you comfortable? Was your spine straight and your waist adequately supported? How about your neck and shoulders?

Sounds silly, perhaps, but mattress preferences are notoriously subjective and the range of possibilities -- even at the lower end of the innerspring market -- is extensive and varied. Firm, plush, or pillow-top? Pocketed coils or continuous? Polyester ticking or cotton? Eight inches thick or 13? For a product that was once more like a commodity, the amount of differentiation in today's low-priced mattress world could keep you awake at night.

And yet, it's practically impossible to comparison shop on the basis of comfort, features, or price. Online shoppers are obviously stymied on the comfort front because they can't actually test out a mattress. Wandering into a store may not help due to the industry practice of selling similar (but not necessarily identical) mattresses under different names depending on the retailer and the geographic region. Once you find a model on the showroom floor that appeals, the exact same mattress going by the same name may not be available online. Then too, some retailers continue to sell older product lines that the manufacturers' websites no longer feature. And, what's really likely to throw you, are the nonstandard names and descriptors for the guts -- the various foams, fibers, fabrics, padding, insulation, and innerspring coils -- of whatever mattress you might be considering.

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Further complicating matters is the industry tradition of running near continuous sales. You can go to almost any online site and find two, and often three, prices for any given mattress: list, 50 percent off, and/or "our price" or "sale price" or something to that effect. There might also be a note saying the sale ends in three days, or at the solstice, or whenever. The point is, the sale is likely to start up again immediately. And if it doesn't, wait a while and check back. Almost no one pays list price for a mattress, cheap or otherwise.

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