If you want to drive yourself nuts, shop for a new mattress. You'll hear dozens of theories on coils, fabrics, stuffing, foam density and warranties.
What I know about buying a mattress I've learned from the best: insiders now retired from the bedding industry. Here's a list of important topics to know about.
THE NAME GAME: All of the major brands - Simmons, Serta, Sealy, etc. - make decent mattresses, but if you're planning to go from one chain store to the next comparing prices, forget it. The major brands change the names of the same mattress for each of the stores so it is impossible to compare by make and model.
S HOP BY LEVEL: Each company makes "levels" of mattresses: Very cheap, decent cheap, good and best. That's not what they call them, but you can tell by the pricing within each manufacturer's line of products. Expect several models in each price level.
PRICE MATTERS: You get what you pay for in a mattress. A very cheap mattress is about 10 percent materials (foam, steel, padding) and 90 percent air. A mid-level mattress is about 40 percent materials and so on. The more material, the better the product and the higher the price. A high-quality mattress will be up to 90 percent materials, and therefore the heaviest. You can lift a mattress to determine its quality.
WEIGHTY MATTERS: The heavier the sleeper, the heavier you want the mattress to be. You will do just fine with a lightweight mattress in a guest room that is seldom used, or for your 50-pound child. But for heavy adults, opt for the heaviest mattress you can afford.
NO PILLOW TOP: A "pillow top" mattress is a normal mattress with a layer of extra padding on top. It will wear out and flatten down long before the actual mattress will begin to show a dent. But it is sewn on permanently. You'll pay an extra hundred bucks for it ($200 if it has a pillow top on both sides). Buy a great mattress pad instead. Pay $40 and throw it away when it mashes down, and then get a new one. Your mattress will last many years longer.
TAKE A NAP: Once you've narrowed your selection to two or three, take a nap. Spend at least 15 minutes on each of the beds you're considering. Comfort is key, so don't make a hasty decision.
NEGOTIATE: At the very least you should get free delivery and removal of your old mattress.
TRUST THE CLUBS: Warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam's Club carry a limited choice of name-brand mattress sets in all sizes. Typically, they're top of the line at cut-rate prices. But you won't have a salesman to consult (perhaps that's a good thing); you won't be able to take a nap, either. However, I can say from personal experience that the clubs make wise choices. Trust them and you'll knock hundreds from the cost of your purchase.
Mary Hunt is the creator of The Cheapskate Monthly newsletter, which can be ordered online at www.cheapskatemonthly.com/um. You can e-mail questions or tips at email@example.com or Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2135 Paramount, CA 90723. All correspondence becomes the property of Cheapskate Monthly.