NEW YORK — Trying to compare mattress prices can make you feel like, well, going to the mattress as salespeople and mattressmakers cajole dollars out of you. Prices run from a few hundred dollars to many thousands, depending on the size, contents, materials, construction and accessories you need. Constantly changing model names and characteristics can turn a simple inquiry about replacing an old mattress into a dizzying presentation of $1,000-plus estimates. But finding the right mattress is important because it should last many years and, after all, you spend about one-third of your life in bed. Here are some tips on managing this major purchase. Associated Press
Know your choices
• Traditional innerspring coil mattresses are cheaper than newer options such as latex foam and memory foam, which also feel different. Many hybrids have appeared, and they come in a wide range of prices.
• Brands generally considered among the most reliable in quality include Sealy, Simmons, Select Comfort, Serta and Tempur-Pedic, which is the big name in foam mattresses.
• Before you find yourself in desperate need (and even if you need a mattress right away), be sure to shop around, checking several stores. And go armed with a list of basic criteria from a consumer advice website or organization. They can tell you the basic minimum number of coils and help you understand changing definitions for the materials mattresses are made of. They can also help you determine whether you really want an extra-deep mattress, and what a "pillowtop" is, anyway.
Shop online, with caution
• Discount mattresses abound on websites such as Overstock.com and Costco.com. But resist the temptation to take this easy way out, unless you have already tried out the mattress in person — or one exactly like it. No matter how cheap the mattress, it will be a bad deal if you don't like it.
• If you find a mattress you like in a store but know of a better deal online, let the salesperson know. Not only will they usually match the price you found, but also they'll likely try to beat it. Always haggle.
Wait for sales
Never is the admonition not to pay full price more justified than when it comes to mattresses. Markups are the name of the game in the mattress industry. Wait for traditional sale periods like Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Christmas season. The whole month of May can be a good time to buy a mattress because new models tend to come out in summer, so retailers will be making room for new models. But sales can happen any time.
Think about financing it
Once you've chosen your mattress, be sure to ask about financing options that specialty retailers and department stores offer. If you pass a credit check, some stores will let you pay monthly installments with no interest and no down payment as long as the mattress is paid off within a certain amount of time. As long as you make payments on time, that's a much better deal than using a credit card with steep interest rates.
Make other improvements
If a new mattress feels too extravagant once you've done all your research, remember the other ways you can improve your bed. A memory foam mattress topper runs about $99 to $200 depending on size, thickness and quality, and they can make a big difference. A heated mattress pad can add comfort, and the right choice of new pillows can revolutionize the way you sleep.