Adulting 101: 10 Tips for Buying the Perfect Mattress

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Firm or soft? $400, $1,000, or $4,000? Most people leave mattress stores with the wrong one for them. Here's my how-to on buying your next mattress.
Many people take a painless night’s rest for granted. Unfortunately, for nearly every night within the past 4 years I’ve lived with back pains as a result of ill-fitting mattresses. However, I’m finally happy because my 4-year-long pursuit of the perfect mattress finally ended this month.

I’ve gone through 4 mattresses in the past 5 years. I had a twin-sized mattress from childhood up until I moved into my own apartment in 2012, when I finally bought a queen. After relocating again, I gave that queen to my parents and got another one for myself. Then I moved in with my boyfriend and promoted yet again to a California King.

I switched from bed to bed, seeking comfort and relief from chronic back pains, but unfortunately, it was nowhere to be found. I was a mattress nomad, and every bed I found delivered the same painful results. The only comfortable nights of rest I ever found were in hotels.

My most recent journey in finding the correct mattress was a doozy, and although we had our ups and downs, I learned a lot about the mattress shopping experience that I wish I learned the other times I’d invested in mattresses that didn’t suit me.

Familiarize yourself with the warranty

Purchasing a mattress is an investment that should last you for years to come. If you’re shelling out over a thousand dollars for a mattress, wouldn’t you expect for it to last for several years? It’s important to check and see if the mattress comes with a warranty that will replace parts or even the mattress itself if it starts to sink in over time. There are many manufacturers that have this kind of warranty, so be careful if any businesses don’t offer this.

Some stores are so confident in their products that they may offer you a comfort guarantee as an added bonus. These guarantees have become more popular, especially with online companies like Purple and Tuft and Needle entering the market. Manufacturers understand that laying in the store for a few minutes may not guarantee a comfortable night’s sleep, so stores may allow you a timeframe that you can return the mattress by and get an exchange or refund. This makes the whole mattress experience less stressful when thinking about a long-term commitment that could possibly go south.

Don’t be cheap

Be realistic. If you’re struggling with back problems like me, spending $300 on a king-sized mattress is probably going to hurt you more than help you. Cheaper mattresses aren’t made of long-lasting materials, so after months pass, the wear on the mattress will change your comfort significantly.

The only time I could probably ever allow myself to spend less on mattresses would be for a guest room – these beds won’t be used as often, and for those of you who have in-laws from hell: don’t spoil them with something like a Tempurpedic, because it’ll give them a reason to stay longer!

Expensive does not mean better

On the flip side of things, jumping at the most expensive mattress on the showroom floor won’t guarantee your best beauty sleep either. I’ve seen mattresses up to $20,000, and after laying on them for a solid 20 minutes, couldn’t understand why they were so expensive. Many mattresses that are more expensive may come with premium materials and a better warranty, but if the bed isn’t right for you, no price tag will change that.

Visit multiple stores to learn more and comparison shop

Everyone knows that expensive purchases require a bit of research, hands-on testing and comparison shopping. My most important thing I can take away from visiting different stores is learning from the opinions of salespeople. I learned a lot from every person who assisted us: I learned what were general gimmicky sales pitches, but I also learned what kind of mattress I needed to address my back pain.

Mattress sales associates are not doctors, so if you haven’t gone to the doctor for a proper diagnosis on your aches and pains, you can’t expect any salesperson to diagnose you. However, it does help to get a general idea of your needs by exploring their opinions!

Mattress salesmen are just like car salesmen. Be careful.

My boyfriend and I went to a few different mattress stores and found so many differences in selling styles. With my background in sales, I couldn’t help but observe the tactics that were used on us. We went to a Sleep Number store, where we were nearly bullied into making a $2600 purchase on a mattress as well as an expensive boxspring and many other things we did not need. I asked for the quote on the mattress, and the salesman printed up a quote with items I did not ask for – a boxspring, home delivery and assembly, and an extremely overpriced mattress protector. These items plus tax nearly jacked the price up by $1,000. I requested a quote with just the mattress and explained that we didn’t need delivery service because we had a truck, and we already had a box spring from our last bed. Despite this, he tried to persuade me why all of the things on the quote were essential. I rolled my eyes so hard the nearly fell out of my skull.

I told him we would think about it, and he fired back by informing us that the quote was actually a discounted deal that would expire by the end of the day. Unfortunately, the store closed at 8PM and it was already 7:45. I was not about to make such an expensive decision in 15 minutes. He continued to pressure us into purchasing the mattress, and as a result we wound up walking out of the store.

Sometimes salespeople are very quick to identify your basic needs, but will then tack on a bunch of other things once they earn your trust. Be very careful not to get over-sold.

Consider investing in a mattress protector

If you let your dog sleep in your bed like me, you’re already at risk of voiding your warranty. There have been times where my dog has thrown up in the middle of the night, blowing chunks all over my bed. Investing in a $25 mattress protector is one of the wisest things I’ve ever done, because I was able to remove both the fitted sheet and the mattress protector underneath and toss them in the washing machine.

Many mattress stores will try to sell you on an overpriced mattress protector, but I got this $26.99 one on Amazon for only $4 through Elite Deal Club (to learn how I snag items for this cheap, read my EDC guide here).

Soft, medium or firm?

Don’t be tempted to buy the first mattress that feels like a cloud. Many sales associates from different mattress stores shared one universal piece of wisdom: Soft is not always better. I was informed that the right mattress should keep your hips at an equal level with the rest of your body. Something too firm will push on pressure points, causing pain, while something too soft will not support you and cause muscle strain from sinking.

  • Side Sleepers: A medium firmness may be the best choice, as it provides support in you hips without being too soft to sink. When picking a mattress, make sure that your spine stays in a horizontal and straight position.
  • Back Sleepers: A mattress on the firmer end of the spectrum may help support your lower back. Make sure it’s not too firm though, as an overly-firm mattress can push against your spine and cause pressure points.
  • Couples: If both of you have different needs, getting a custom half/half bed so you can both meet your needs (Jun and I got one, keep reading to see where we got it from). If your partner moves around throughout the night, a movement-isolating memory foam bed may help from waking one another up.

Taller than the average person?

Investing in a California King will provide more foot space for people who are on the taller end of the spectrum. A California King is 4 inches taller and 4 inches narrower than a regular Eastern King. If both you and your partner are average height, a regular Eastern King will give you ample space to roll around and not hit each other. For taller individuals, a Twin Extra Long is practical.

Here are the standard mattress sizes:

  • Twin: 38″ x 74″
  • Twin Extra Long (XL): 38″ x 80″ (ideal for taller individuals)
  • Full: 54″ x 74″ (ideal for individuals who tend to roll around)
  • Queen: 60″ x 80″
  • King: 76″ x 80″ (ideal for average-height couples)
  • California King: 72″ x 84″ (ideal for taller couples)

Springs or memory foam?

A common type of spring used in mattresses are innerspring mattresses: each spring is individually wrapped to prevent wear-and-tear damage and also helps create a better contour that hugs your body, reducing pressure points. A general rule is that the higher the spring count, the better, since the mattress can better contour to your body. Try not to be sold on outrageous numbers of springs, though – a good area is probably around 390. Anything above that may not make a significant difference.

Memory foam mattresses have become very popular, but they aren’t for everyone. I made the incorrect choice of choosing a soft memory foam mattresses when I needed more support, and I received years of terrible back pains as a result. I was sold on it the moment I fell into the mattress at the store and it felt like a cloud.

On the positive side, for those who experience joint pains or have pressure points, memory foam allows for a custom contour that continues to support your body in the right areas even as you move throughout the night. Memory foam also absorbs movement, which can serve as a solution for those sharing a bed with another person or pets.

The down side to memory foam is that the materials tend to retain heat, resulting in a hot slumber. If you go for a memory foam mattress, gel foam mattresses are a better option because the gel keeps cool, something essential for warmer places like Southern California.

Box springs or slats?

I love Ikea, but their bed frame designs require the usage of slats instead of box springs, which are essentially wooden planks lined up in a rope-ladder fashion to support the mattress. What caused my back problem was using slats that were spaced out too far, causing my mattress to sink in the middle.

Slats can be an affordable solution to keeping your bed lower to the ground, but be careful about the slats you buy – slats with a spacing of more than 2 inches may cause your mattress to sink.

Box springs can range anywhere from free to a couple hundred dollars. They keep your bed raised higher, and offer a more solid support for your mattress. Box springs can also be as thin as 2-inches, but are commonly as thick as a mattress.

My personal mattress shopping experience

I’d just recently moved in with Jun and gave away my overly soft queen-sized memory foam mattress. For a while, transitioning to his spring mattress felt a bit better… until one day it randomly started sinking inward. I always had back pains prior to this due to a sedentary lifestyle and sitting at my computer all day (the life of a blogger), but recently the pain just got unbearable. Too frequently I would wake up in tears because of it.

Jun and I scoured through Yelp to find any affordable mattress stores in cities near us. Using the star rating on Yelp, we were able to find 2 mattress discount warehouses, so we went to the one closest to us first. The place was enormous as it used to be a store for boats, so we thought a place with a huge selection would be a good place to start. Unfortunately, although I settled between 2 king mattresses that I liked, Jun was in pain because they were too firm for him.

We tried to meet in the middle, but his preference for firmness was soft and while mine was firm. We jumped at the thought of a Sleep Number bed and immediately went to the nearest one to see if they were having any deals.

Sleep Number beds use air chambers, which allow for adjustable firmness on either side. This is great for couples like us who have different needs. But with that sort of technology, those mattresses were thousands above our budget. Next.

Next on the list was Sleep Train: don’t even get me started on how questionable that experience was. The sales manager asked about the other places I’d been to and where they were located, clearly trying to gain information on local competitors. Aside from showing us mattresses far above our budget, he focused on bad-mouthing other businesses we’d been to. We just went home for the night.

The next day we went mattress hunting, we decided to visit the other 5-star Yelp-rated mattress store in Murrieta. It was a far drive, but well worth it! Super Discount Mattress Warehouse is a small, conservative store that has budget-friendly prices. At first I was a bit cautious, as I never had good experiences with mattress warehouses or discount stores, but this business completely changed my mind.

Firm or soft? $400, $1,000, or $4,000? Most people leave mattress stores with the wrong one for them. Here's my how-to on buying your next mattress.

Alan let us climb stacks of mattresses, which actually made some cute memories for Jun and I as a couple. We’ve never bought a mattress with someone else before. Couldn’t help but be excited!

Super Discount Mattress Warehouse is owned by a man named Matt and his son Alan, whom we had the pleasure of being assisted with several times. Alan worked within our budget and selected a few mattresses based on my comfort level, and I settled on a firm one. At first, Jun was hesitant to commit to a mattress where we couldn’t both be comfortable, but Alan actually informed us that we could order a custom mattress with different firmness levels on both sides! Move over, Sleep Number! Seriously, GTFO with your outrageous prices.

Although our budget was to stay under $1,000, the innerspring pillow-top mattress that we picked out was about $1400 after taxes. With the custom half/half firmness, we were worried the price would bump up, but there was no additional charge! Alan explained to us that their store had a very good relationship with their mattress manufacturer, and that they also came with a 10-year warranty. Should the mattress begin sagging, we would just have to bring it back to their store and we could get a new one.

Warranty aside, we were also worried about the possibility of not liking it after a few nights at home. This is actually extremely common, which is why many mattress companies come with a comfort guarantee. However, because many discount mattress stores get their inventory at such a low price, many purchases are final sale. Despite this common practice, Alan mentioned to us that if the mattress didn’t work out, we could give him a call and bring it back!

Firm or soft? $400, $1,000, or $4,000? Most people leave mattress stores with the wrong one for them. Here's my how-to on buying your next mattress.

Voila! Alan was kind enough to strap down the mattress to the back of our truck with some twine. Time to take this bad boy home!

Alan ordered our mattress and we got it within 2 days. We rushed back down to Murrieta and picked up the mattress, and Jun enlisted me to carry the mattress up the stairs, which was a complete pain in the ass, I won’t lie. I don’t think I ever want to own a two-story home after this.

Unfortunately, after a few nights I realized my side was too firm, and Jun realized his was too soft. We were now both experiencing back pains. True to Alan’s promise, we called him and said it wasn’t working out, and we brought the mattress back – no penalties, no charges, no fees. Lucky for us, he already had a medium-firmness mattress in-stock, and we took it home the same day. While the custom half/half mattress was a novelty, we wound up not needing it after all.

The new mattress was substantially thicker compared to the previous one we had, so we had concerns with my mature wiener dog jumping off the bed. Older wiener dogs can experience painful and permanent back injuries like slipped discs as a result of jumping from elevated areas. I explained this to Alan, and he actually gave us extremely thin box spring splits that were only 2-inches thin! Our bed is now much lower to the floor, and makes it more convenient for my dog to get on and off the bed.

Alan also was kind enough to let us take home two brand new memory foam pillows when we bought the mattress, and even said that if we wound up returning it, we could keep the pillows. I was really astounded by the honesty, transparency, and zero-gimmick business practices of this store as a whole.

It’s been a few days since we’ve had the mattress and we’ve both had no complaints (neither does my dog, Sam). Although we didn’t stay under our budget, we got a great 10-year investment that is not only comfortable and fits our needs down to a T.

I also realized that while shopping around, staying under $1,000 for a king-sized mattress that suited both of our needs along with a great warranty was a bit unrealistic. I’ve purchased mattresses in the past that were around $600-$800, but they never stayed long, as they wound up being unsuitable for my pains. I did not want to repeat that same tragedy, and for the extra few hundred dollars I bought myself some peace of mind.

Without seeming too sale-sy, I must disclose that this post is actually not sponsored by Super Discount Mattress Warehouse at all – it’s very rare that I have such a memorable retail experience and feel that the salespeople are looking out for what’s genuinely in my best interest. So if you’re looking for a customized mattress, great customer service, great prices and are also located in Southern California, try Super Discount Mattress Warehouse out, because I’m sure you’ll have a great experience like we did!

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Firm or soft? $400, $1,000, or $4,000? Most people leave mattress stores with the wrong one for them, making their new bed a bad investment. Here's my 10 best tips on buying your next mattress that will actually last. -
Firm or soft? $400, $1,000, or $4,000? Most people leave mattress stores with the wrong one for them, making their new bed a bad investment. Here's my 10 best tips on buying your next mattress that will actually last. -


  1. / 9:58 am

    I really like that you mentioned a more expensive mattress doesn’t equate to better comfort. My wife and I are moving into our first home together and naturally need a bed to sleep on. Finding something we both love that can last for years to come is something I’m looking forward to.

  2. / 1:59 pm

    Thanks for pointing out that the more springs a mattress has, the better it’ll be because it will fit your body better. I’m going to be moving into my first unfurnished apartment in about two weeks, and I would really like a bed to sleep in. Your tips should help me so much to find the right queen-sized mattress for me.

  3. / 10:30 pm

    Thank you for your great article. There is definitely good points to both buying a mattress online and buying a mattress in store or in a warehouse. If you are a Canadian reader like I am it is good to know some good Canadian Options as well. We have recently purchased from Direct Bed which allows you to either buy a mattress online or buy a mattress out of their store / warehouse… it is kind of the best of both worlds.

  4. / 12:50 pm

    Thank you for stating that when buying a mattress, you need to visit multiple stores and compare. My mattress is really old, and I need a new one. I will definitely keep all of your great tips and information in mind when looking for the perfect new mattress for me.

  5. You’ve got some great tips for buying the right mattress. I like how you said that it’s good to choose medium firmness for side sleepers. I always sleep on my side, so I’ll keep this in mind.

  6. / 11:19 am

    My aunt can’t decide wither to buy her mattress in a mattress store or online. I like how you mention when you are buying a mattress, you can try and compare each product and decide for yourself over comfort and price. Thank you for the advice. I’ll recommend my aunt to buy her mattress at a mattress store.

  7. / 8:50 am

    I liked that you mentioned if you have back problems trying to save money on a mattress will end up hurting you more. My husband and I are thinking about replacing our mattress, and we are looking for advice. I will let him know about the benefits of investing a fair amount of money on a good mattress to prevent problems.

  8. / 7:37 am

    It’s good to know that a medium firmness will probably be best for people who sleep on their sides so that it can support without giving too much pressure. My fiancee and I want to get a larger mattress for when we get married since we aren’t living together right now, and we both tend to sleep curled on our sides. We’ll have to keep that in mind when we’re shopping for mattresses together next week.

  9. / 10:08 am

    Thank you for explaining that softer is not always better because if it’s too soft, it won’t support your body as well. My wife doesn’t like our mattress since we’ve had it for years, and she wants us to get a new one. We’ll make sure to find the one that fits the best for both of us.

  10. / 10:39 am

    Much obliged to you for clarifying that milder isn’t in every case better provided that it’s excessively delicate, it won’t bolster your body also. My significant other doesn’t care for our sleeping pad since we’ve had it for quite a long time, and she needs us to get another one. We’ll make a point to locate the one that fits the best for the two of us.

  11. / 10:50 am

    I liked what you said that a medium firmness is best for people who sleep on their sides because it can support without giving too much pressure. My dad wants to buy a new bed because the one he has is causing him back pain. I will go through this with him and see what kind fo mattress calls his attention the most.

  12. / 6:14 am

    Thank u so much for the tips. It will really help me a lot as I am going to purchase a mattress soon.

  13. / 2:06 am

    I just loved the 2nd one. I found some of amazing ideas of home decor. I want to decor for my teenage girl. Her room size is not so big…. I need some ideas.. I don’t want it to be very crowded. Love these ideas so helped to my girls room they love them !!

  14. / 9:15 pm

    I read your post and have been throught the EXACT same issue. My husband thinks I am ready for the looney bin. We have had 6 mattresses in the past 5 years. Current is a Serta Hybrid which is very comfortable in every way except the heat is unbearable. I too considered the crazy BedJet, but also concluded that it would not likely help the problem of the hot spots from underneath. I was just wondering how you are doing, if you have found a solution and if so, what mattress you are using? I am now considering returning the Serta for some type of latex. BTW, I tried the wool blanket insulation suggestion, but didn’t find that to be of much help either.

  15. / 10:32 am

    It was helpful when you listed the standard mattress sizes and explained that a king is the best for couples of average height. One of my resolutions this year is to research mattresses and get a high-quality one to improve the sleep of my husband and me. Thanks for teach9ing me what sizes to consider as I start looking at mattresses for sale online soon.

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