Your sleeping style, preferences, and statistics - Your budget
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Budget is of course an important part of any mattress purchase and is a big part of what determines the quality of materials you will likely have available in your choice of mattress. It is important to have a good idea of the types of material that are available in each budget range since there are many mattresses that have lower quality materials with a "story" attached to them that sell for far more than they should. It is also important that the biggest "sacrifice" for budget is not necessarily comfort or support but durability and how long your mattress will last. It is possible with knowledge of your needs and where to buy a mattress to purchase a pressure relieving supportive mattress
For the sake of simplicity I have separated this article into general budget ranges and given an idea of a reasonable expectation of available materials for each range. These prices are based on a Queen size which is the most popular choice in size and without a foundation or innerspring which would add slightly to the cost. Of course a larger size than Queen will cost more and a smaller size will cost less. It is also important to know that these are very general since every material and layer comes in a range of different qualities and prices and I would use this as a guideline and not take it too literally.
Less than $500:
You are looking here at what I call a "throwaway" mattress. This in no way means that it cannot provide you with both comfort and good support but only that the materials that will be available to you will be less durable and you will likely need to replace or "throw away" the mattress in a few years. In this range you will unfortunately also find mattresses that use materials that may only last you a few months so a little homework ... even for a throwaway mattress ... is important.
You will be looking at a Bonnell or Continuous coil innerspring or HD polyfoam as a core material with either a mid quality/density memory foam or HD polyfoam comfort layers in thinner layers. It is important here to use the resources on this website to make the best possible choices so that even at this price range you are able to find a mattress that will give you comfort/pressure relief and support/spinal alignment. Avoid conventional low density polyfoam (less than 1.5 lbs / cu ft) as much as possible (no more than an inch or so) and the cheapest memory foams (less than 4.0 lbs / cu ft) as they almost certainly will not last and you will probably have better choices available. While a good quality Bonnell or Continuous coil innerspring makes a good choice with a good insulator to keep the foams from sinking into the springs and the mattress from getting lumpy, HD polyfoam as a support layer will last much longer than it will as a comfort layer and makes a good choice here as well. Base your choices here on how well the mattress relieves pressure and supports your profile. Your comfort layers should also be a minimum of HD polyfoam in the 1.5 lb range or better (longer lasting and better pressure relief) or 4.0 lbs or greater memory foam. You will likely be restricted to lower quality fabrics in the mattress ticking and synthetic materials in the quilting layers but you can certainly purchase a mattress that will last you for a few years and give you the comfort and support you need in this price range. Your main focus should be on a basic mattress with good comfort/pressure relief and support/alignment rather than any "extra" benefits (leading to extra cost) of a mattress.
$500 - $800
In this range you are looking at higher quality innersprings if you decide to use them as a support layer. It should be a high quality Bonnell, Offset, or perhaps Pocket coils. They should be good quality in this range but not necessarily the highest coil count. Alternatively, in this budget range you will see some mattresses with a better quality HD polyfoam (1.8 lbs and better) support layer and some with latex layers or higher quality memory foam as a comfort layer. You will also be able in some cases to buy a quality innerspring mattress with natural fibers in the comfort layers as some of the least expensive of these will start in this range however bear in mind the limitations of these before you go in this direction. You may also begin to see some natural fiber in the quilting layers or a higher quality ticking with a thicker more stretchable material. This is a very popular range and is "targeted" by many manufacturers so there is often good value here.
$800 - 1200
At this price range you will see the beginnings of all latex mattresses (mostly Dunlop which tends to be a bit firmer than Talalay and usually thinner such as in the 6" range) and higher quality innerspring constructions. There are many mattresses in this range but be very careful as many of them made by the larger manufacturers use materials that would be more suitable for the two budget categories below this one. At a very minimum you should look for a high quality innerspring or polyfoam core with higher quality memory foam, latex, or HR polyfoam or combinations in the comfort layers. While you can expect higher quality materials inside your mattress in this range, you will not likely get this in combination with a high quality ticking or quilting layer which generally becomes available in the next budget category upwards.
$1200 - $1600
At this price range you will more commonly see latex cores, HR polyfoam cores, higher quality innersprings of all types with better construction, and latex, high quality memory foam, HR polyfoam, and much higher quality and construction natural fibers in the comfort layers of mattresses. You can also expect to see more Talalay latex as some or all of your mattress as well as higher quality ticking and quilting materials. There are some very nice very nice and exceptionally high quality/value mattresses available in this price range and many people would not do better than what is available here ... if they spent more.
$1600 - $2000
In this range you will begin to see very high quality mattresses, many with special features designed to help with more difficult comfort and support issues. For example you will more commonly see zoned comfort layers and zoned support layers, side by side zoning for two sleepers with different needs, special features or quality of materials or stronger gauge and greater number of coils in innersprings, higher quality ticking and quilting, or thicker mattresses made with high quality materials. Special materials or quilting layers that are higher quality and more durable or more breathable are also more common here as are construction methods which can improve the overall quality, comfort, and durability of your mattress. This is the range of a very nice mattress. As with all the higher budget ranges though, be very careful as there are many mattresses in this range that should be in a range one or two levels lower but have a "story" attached to them to justify their price.
Over $2000 - $3000
Now you are in the more luxury mattress range. It is important here to be educated as there are many mattresses sold in chain stores or furniture stores that once again are in this range or even much more than this but actually belong in budget ranges several categories lower. It is not uncommon to see consumers pay $3000 - $4000 for a mattress in the belief that they were buying something "special" when in fact they could have purchased the same materials through a different source or manufacturer for half the price. This is where education about what is in your mattress really pays as most people who buy a mattress in this category will pay hundreds and often thousands more than they need to because of misinformation they have received about how it is made and the qualities it has. Do not depend on any warranties to protect you from materials that break down long before you expect them to as this is considered "normal" wear of an inferior material and is usually not covered. Warranties only protect you from manufacturing defects ... not poor quality materials used in mattresses. Even if you have a legitimate warranty issue that a retail outlet or manufacturer decides to honor (fairly rare), there are many escape routes including the slightest stain on your mattress. When you are in this budget range, you should be able to buy the mattress of your dreams with the highest quality in every part and layer of the mattress' construction.
$3000 and over.
The only real reason to buy a mattress in this range is because of personal considerations that really have less to do with value, comfort, or support than with special features, needs, or designs. At this price range you are paying for something which is rarely if ever necessary and most of the time overpaying for that as well. This is the range where "stories" become very expensive. I would take great care to find out the truth behind any story that justifies a mattress in this price range since there are so many local, regional, and online manufacturers where you can buy a custom built mattress to your personal specifications, using your choice of materials, ticking, and quilting, for less than this. Some of us are fortunate however to consider this price range as reasonable and then more exotic materials, methods of construction, or even extras like "gold impregnated thread" or "essential oils" added to a mattress are options that may be chosen. Many of these may be of questionable benefit or at worst no benefit at all outside of the satisfaction of owning something that is as much a work of art as it is a functional mattress. The only extra value that I would consider truly reasonable in this price range would be hand crafting which can certainly produce a higher quality mattress however even this will not likely produce a final product which is noticeably more comfortable than a "custom built" mattress made to your personal specifications. I also realize that this may be a rather controversial statement when some will spend $5000 - to as much as $50,000 on a mattress in the belief that they will have greater benefits than is otherwise available but I will stand by it based on personal experience and research and am always happy to talk about this in more detail on the forum :).
So now you have some ideas about what is available at different budget levels and what a "reasonable expectation" looks like ... it may be time to begin some "field testing" and begin to actually lay on some mattresses. To help you with this, we have a section called "Five steps to your perfect mattress".