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3 Tips for Buying a Mattress

3 Tips for Buying a Mattress

Buying a mattress is something that you don’t do very often. Unlike going to the supermarket and selecting an apple, you don’t go mattress shopping every week.

You don’t have time or opportunity to hone your skills at buying a mattress, so it is probably not something that you are very good at. Which is unfortunate, because when you buy a mattress you are committing to spending about 8 hours a day on it for the next 8 to 12 years. That’s a big commitment to something that you’re not very skilled at buying, and unlike an apple, the stakes are quite a bit higher should you get a rotten one.

Recently my wife and I went mattress shopping. We had bought a cheap mattress from Ikea shortly after we got married a number of years ago. It has served us well and survived a couple of moves around the province, but a recent car accident has changed how my wife sleeps, and our soft and cozy mattress is no longer sufficient.

After a consultation with a lawyer and a doctor, we’ve recognized the need for a new mattress, so we went shopping. Here’s a few things we learned that you can benefit from.

It’ll Get Weird

Mattress shopping can feel awkward. You walk into a store that is full of beds, you’ll have a couple of employees that will attentively come over to you to see what you need, and then you’ll start testing mattresses.

How do you test a mattress? You lay on it, in your regular sleeping position, for as long as you can stand to do so. The reason you do this is so that your body can settle into its sleeping position.

Ideally, you’ll want your spine fair level horizontally if you’re sleeping on your side. Some mattresses, depending on how firm they are, can introduce problems if they allow your hips to drop below parallel, and that can depend on your body weight among other factors.

So wear some comfy clothing because you’re going to lie on a bed for 10 or 15 minutes while a salesperson ensures that your spine is straight. Then you’ll move onto another bed, and another bed, and another bed. I know that I get sleepy as soon as I get horizontal, and I’m sure many others do as well, but try not to fall asleep when shopping for a mattress – you might drool.

Don’t Go For Gizmos

When doing some pre-shopping research, my wife and I heard about the “Sleep Number” bed. Basically it is a bed that has two air chambers on each side of the bed. The air chambers are attached to pumps which will control how much pressure each chamber contains, effectively firming or softening each side of the bed individually.

This is marketed for couples who may want different firmness’s to their bed. One may want it super soft, the other super firm – so great! You can buy this bed and solve two problems at once, right? Well, while some people swear by them, the salesperson raised a couple of good points when we bought them up.

First, he mentioned that the more things that are going on inside a bed, the more likely something is going to break. A regular mattress has coils and foam – two things that don’t have a very high rate of failure. A pump, air pockets, and electrical gizmos have a much higher chance to fail.

Secondly, when he sold those beds they had the highest rate of return. The reason? They simply weren’t comfortable or effective as a sleeping mattress. Its main benefit – the air chamber – is the opposite of what you want in the middle third of the bed.

Most beds these days have more or stronger coils in the middle third of the bed as that is where the majority of a human’s weight is. If you want to keep your spine in a neutral position, an air bed is the worst type of bed to have as it’ll sink where the heaviest weight is.

When you are firming up a Sleep Number bed you’re firming up the entire thing – not just the middle third like most other manufacturers. Finally, don’t get sucked in by marketing language. Almost all beds are made in the same factories and have the same “technology” to keep you cool and supported throughout a night. Ignore the lingo and brands and just focus on what makes you the most comfortable.

The Price is Not the Price

While we were shopping the salesperson was explaining how we should trail some of the beds out, and which ones he wanted to show us based on our requests. Near the end he said, “and then we can work out a price – the price is the easiest part”. The first thing that popped into my mind was, “Well, maybe for you!”

Cost is obviously a huge factor in any major purchase, and a mattress is the same. Mattresses can cost anywhere from $500 to $5000+ depending on which mattress you get and from where, so that is quite a range that we’d have to contend with.

The main purpose of our shopping trip was just to see which mattress we’d have to save for, so the salesperson would have to do a very good job of convincing us it was a good price before we’d make any purchasing decision that day. Well, he did just that.

We were expecting to end up paying between $1500 and $2000 for a mattress. We knew that this would be a major investment for the next 8-12 years, and would drastically change how we slept at night, an integral part to my wife’s recovery.

We are more than willing to pay that price in order to improve our lives in that fashion. We also decided that we wanted a king sized bed. We both noticed a big difference when we slept on king sized mattresses in the past. The extra few inches improved our ability to move around at night without disturbing each other, and we figured it was worth the price premium. So once we figured out which bed we wanted, we asked for a price for a King Sized bed.

Total cost, including box springs and delivery? $1250 – or about $1000 less than the listed price. How is that possible? They decided to take it onto a corporate order, and include it as part of the current mix and match sale, meaning that the cost of the mattress is less with some off-color box springs than it would have been on its own.

Never pay full price for a mattress, the markup is insane on them. If you aren’t offered an amazing price at one store, go to the next until you are.

Return or Exchange Program

The only other major thing you should consider while mattress shopping is a return or exchange program. We went to Sleep Country, and their exchange policy is pretty good. After a mattress is delivered, you have up to 60 days to exchange the mattress for something else. So you can sleep on your new bed for 7 weeks before deciding if it is the right bed for you.

New beds take some time to get “broken in” so it is definitely worth exercising that option should it start out great and get progressively worse as you sleep on it. Sleep Country will come and pick up the old bed, and deliver a new one, for $50 should you choose to do so.

Even if you’re not sure, it is probably worth going back to the store and re-testing some other mattresses even once you have yours delivered just to be sure that you’ll be comfortable sleeping on it for the next decade.


  1. Michelle

    We last bought a mattress when we bought our house over 4 years ago. We went cheap and regret it now!

  2. Zinc

    What happens to the “exchange” mattresses? Do they get re-wrapped and sold as new?

    How do I make sure my new mattress hasn’t been already test driven by the neighbours for 7 (or 14) weeks?

  3. Bryan Jaskolka

    I have to say, I disagree with you on just about every point you’ve given. Firstly, me and my wife LOVE the Sleep Number beds! No, we don’t have one in our home even though we’ve recently purchased a mattress, but we’ve slept on them in hotels, and we did in fact look for them while mattress shopping. We also went from place to place to place and found a great price on a mattress that WAS in fact the sticker price. We were in Ottawa, a huge city, and were never offered a discount on the sticker price. I just don’t think it’s something that’s often done but may just have been a nice bonus in your case. Okay, I do agree that lying on bed after bed with at least one stranger staring at you is awkward. Very awkward.

    • Glenn Cooke

      …and I’ll disagree on the king sized bed thing :). My wife and I slept on a king sized bed at a B&B this past weekend and it was so vast that I felt like I was sleeping alone.

  4. GetRichWithMe

    My wife and I are in the market for a new mattress – she has been suffering from a bad back for a while now, and has decided a new mattress might help (our current one is also from IKEA)
    She likes soft, I like hard – so its a bit of a tug of war.
    If someone ever devises a mattress where the two sides are different they will make a fortune

    • Jakob

      A friend of mine has a mattress that’s soft in one side and hard on the other, which matches his and his girlfriend’s preferences. The trick is to buy floor models (they tend to have two different sides so people can try out both, which comes with the added bonus that you can get steep discounts when the model is being sold off at the end of the season.

  5. Megan Alder

    My fiance and I are planning to buy a king-size bed, and we are looking for advice to make the best purchase. We like that you talked about the importance of buying a mattress that you feel really comfortable with other than what it costs. We know it’s definitely better to buy something you will enjoy although it’s more expensive than buying something cheap you will not enjoy.

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