Updated: May 14, 2020
Good Sleep Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive
Mattresses are notoriously expensive and while they have gotten significantly cheaper over the years with many manufacturers selling direct to consumers and cutting out the mattress store, mattresses are still a significant expense for anyone. For example, a queen mattress, the most common size still costs around $500 from a name brand. While we do believe in investing in your sleep, you don’t need to shell out $500+ to get quality sleep.
While there are cheap mattresses that you should avoid, there are some quality mattresses well under $500. While budget is certainly a factor in finding the right mattress for you, there are also many other things to consider such as your sleeping position, weight and sleep temperature. We created this guide to help you find the perfect mattress for you without breaking the bank.
The Cost Of Mattresses
Mattress costs are notoriously expensive! Prior to 10 years ago, most people bought mattresses in stores where questionable sales tactics involved a very high “retail price” offered with a big discount that still had at least a 50% profit margin still built in. This kind of normalized everyone to paying $1000 for a mattress when the costs were often ⅕ of that. The mattress in a box concept, and buying direct online has brought prices down significantly overall but many companies are simply still finding new ways to justify high prices with new technology, materials, and designs. The budget mattress space ignores all the marketing fluff and focuses on delivering maximum value for money and nothing else.
Types Of Mattresses
There are many variations in mattress design and materials used these days but most mattresses still fall into these three categories:
- Foam - Foam mattresses are becoming more and more popular for their comfort, support, and price. Typically foam mattresses are made of at least two layers. The outer layer and the side you sleep on usually consists of 2” to 3” of high-density foam designed to adapt to the shape of your body - Imagine the classic memory foam effect of pressing your hand into the foam and waiting a few seconds for the shape to return to normal. The nature of this foam is great as an outer layer but not supportive enough to provide resistance and level your body when you lay down. This is why most memory foam mattresses also use a thicker more rigid foam core to the mattress to provide the resistance to your body weight. The two layers work well together in supporting and leveling your body but also contouring to the shape of your body and relieving the typical pressure points. Foam mattresses are a great budget pick and there are many options below the $300 price point set in this guide.
- Traditional Innerspring - Traditional Innerspring mattresses are a century-old technology that uses a connected network of springs to support your body. Typically, these will be on the firmer side depending on the layer of padding used above the spring core. Traditional Innerspring mattresses are great at keeping you cool due to the majority of the mattress is mainly air and doesn’t contain materials that trap heat. The main drawbacks of innerspring mattresses and while they are becoming less and less popular are the lack of pressure point relief, the transfer of motion and the noise from the springs which is known to get worse over time.
- Hybrid - Hybrids, as the name suggests combines the best features of both foam and innerspring mattress designs taking the pros of each and combining them into one. While hybrid mattresses do contain a coil spring core like a traditional innerspring mattress they are often individually pocketed and sewn in place instead of being connected with a steel grid. This allows each spring to operate more independently and helps with motion transfer and pressure point relief. On top of the coil-sprung core usually sits a 2” or 3” comfort memory foam layer(sometimes multiple layers) commonly found in all-foam mattresses. This provides the contouring that all-foam mattresses are so great at providing. Hybrids, unfortunately, are not usually a budget mattress. They are usually more complicated and expensive to make and are not typically found under the $500 price point (for a queen mattress), although there are some exceptions!
Buying From A Budget Brand Vs A Name Brand
Most budget-oriented mattresses are not typically sold by big brands. Brand name mattress companies spend a lot on marketing, customer service, and product development. Here are some differences you may experience buying a mattress from a lesser-known brand:
- Warranties - You may notice that warranties are not quite as long for budget brands. Most still offer 5 to 10 years but don’t expect to see the 15 years to lifetime warranties offered by bigger brands like Nectar, Tuft and Needle or Purple. Often the warranties are also more limited for when they will actually honor warranty claim. We’ve seen some budget brands specificity a somewhat unrealistic set of requirements for them to honor the warranty. All budget brands compete on price and making sure they see fewer warranty claims is one way they can offer a lower price.
- Trial Periods - Many budget brands sell through Amazon and it’s often unclear whether they offer a trial period beyond the standard amazon return policy. Some may offer extended trial periods but we’re not exactly sure how that would work for mattresses fulfilled by Amazon. We’ve noticed there are a lot of useful questions asked on the top mattress sellers on amazon on the topics of shipping, warranties and personal experiences working with budget mattress companies - definitely worth reading.
- Sleep Innovations - Most budget mattresses are not using the latest and greatest innovations in sleep and rather focusing on what is the cheapest to manufacture - which is honestly okay. Many new materials and material infusions do not make a significant difference over traditional materials, rarely justifying the sometimes 2X price.
- Eco-Friendly Materials - Making mattresses have never been very eco-friendly and while more and more companies are using more environmentally-friendly materials such as latex and bamboo these materials are not as cheap as existing materials and therefore not typically found in budget mattresses.
How To Choose A Budget Mattress
Overall your goal is to find a mattress that will give you neutral spinal alignment when you sleep. Netural spinal alignment is when your spine is in its resting position with minimal strain, flexing or twisting. This gives you the best chance of quality sleep and waking up free of aches and pains. Achieving this is a delicate balance that many mattress companies oversimplify when selling mattresses to you. The reality is that different people need different mattresses. Your weight and your sleeping positions are critical considerations in finding the right mattress for you. Here are some general guidelines:
- Your Weight - Since mattresses support your weight it’s only common sense that a light person would need a slightly different mattress than a heavy person. Typically, the lighter you are the softer you can go and the heavier you are the more firm you should go. Heavy sleepers, 250 lbs+ should look for a hybrid mattress while anyone less than 250 should be able to find a soft or medium firmness foam mattress that meets their needs. If you’re a heavy sleeper, read our guide dedicated to you.
- Your Sleeping Position - When you think of the shape of your body, especially the side profile compared to your back or front you will notice a difference. Sleeping on your side, for example, requires much more contouring and pressure point relief from your mattress. Sleeping on your back or stomach, on the other hand, requires less contouring but more support/firmness. Generally, average weight side sleepers do great with memory foam mattresses and back and stomach sleepers
- Your Sleep Temperature - Your sleep temperature can also play a part in your mattress decision. Those of us that sleep hot can benefit from a hybrid mattress or a memory foam mattress that has a cooling design. If your struggling to stay warm at night and find yourself piling on the layers, a traditional memory foam mattress, often offered by budget mattress companies is a great choice for you.
- Mattress Thickness - One of the best ways to reduce the price of your mattress is to go with a thinner version. Many budget-focused mattresses models are available in a variety of thicknesses ranging from 6” to 14” and sometimes even thicker. A thinner mattress is lighter, cheaper to ship, cheaper to make and requires fewer materials. The feel of the mattress, even within the same model will vary based on thickness and therefore you should choose carefully. Generally, we recommend the heavier you are the thicker the mattress you get. A thicker mattress will be better for heavy people at leveling their weight while providing good support. A light sleeper can get away with a much thinner mattress. Again sleep temperature is a consideration. A thinner 6” mattress will trap much less heat than a 14” memory foam mattress for example. To learn more about mattress dimensions read our guide.
So if you can’t see the mattress in person, how do you know you’ll like it? Great question! Here’s how we approach it:
Best Cheap Mattresses
We’ve invested around 22 hours of research to create this guide on the best cheap mattresses and how to pair them with your sleeping position. As usual, we've also supplemented our research with an in-depth interview with a chiropractor who frequently helps patients with their sleeping positions and sleep-related back and neck pain. You can learn more about our review process here
- The Linenspa Hybrid is essentially in a category of its own as most hybrid mattresses cost at least 2 to 3 times the cost.
- While the coils are not individually pocketed, the Llinenspa Hybrid does offer the benefits of both a traditional innerspring mattress and a memory foam mattress in one affordable package
- Thick comfort layer provides great contouring for side sleeping while overall firm enough for back and stomach sleeping for average weight sleepers
- Note: this is not a medium-firm mattress as reported, it’s more of a medium.
- Available from Twin to California King in 10” and 8” thicknesses
- 10-year limited warranty
Zinus Ultima 6"
Best Budget (on a budget)
- If you want rock bottom cheap it’s hard to beat the Zinus Ultima, especially in the 6” thickness with a queen at ~$130 with free shipping. This is nearly 1/5th the typical price of a queen mattress and you’re not getting 1/5th the mattress value.
- The two-layer design offers good contouring in all available thicknesses but get an 8”+ version if you’re heavier than 200 lbs or a side sleeper.
- Recently revised to be more natural and improve mattress freshness
- Available from a Narrow Twin to a California King in 6”, 8”, 10”, and 12” thicknesses
- 10-year warranty
Best For Side Sleeping
- The Zinus green tea is slightly more expensive than the first two mattresses on our list but you’re getting a 12” thick all foam mattress which is great for any side sleeper less than 250 lbs.
- Still incredible value just under $270 for a queen with free shipping
- 4 layer design provides a more luxurious plush feel compared to other budget mattresses with 2 or 3 layers.
- Made with green tea extract, natural plant oil, and charcoal to maintain freshness, reduce orders, absorb moisture and offer a greener mattress.
- Available from Twin to California King in 8”, 10” and 12” thicknesses.
- 10-year warranty
Best For Heavy Sleepers
- While not a budget price, if you’re 250 lbs + you should be searching for a mattress that’s designed for you. The Titan Hybrid is just that, a mattress designed for big and heavy people but still relatively inexpensive compared to similar mattress types.
- Hybrid design features an individually pocketed coil layer with a 2 2” layers of foam for proper support and contouring.
- Great for heavy sleepers of all sleeping positions
- Available from Twin to California King sizes in one thickness: 11”
- 10-year warranty
Best Mattress For Light Sleepers
- If you’re 150lbs and below the soft version of the Amazon basics memory foam mattress is a great choice that allows you to save and still have the contouring you need, especially if you’re a side sleeper
- Three-layer design includes a 2” outer comfort layer with a 2” middle layer (still soft) with a 4” core for support - most middle layers are not soft, this is where you get that soft plush feel light sleepers appreciate.
- Available from Twin to California King in 8”, 10” and 12” thicknesses
- 1-year warranty
Other Ways To Save
If you’re on a budget for your sleep there are other ways to save
- Changing Firmness - If your existing mattress isn’t firm enough or is too firm you can try adding a mattress topper to it. Mattress toppers are often much less than replacing your mattress and can dramatically change the feel of your mattress. If you’re on a super tight budget and trying to increase the firmness of your mattress you can try adding a piece of plywood between your mattress and it’s base. The effect may be subtle but it can improve the feel of an old mattress.
- Consider Your Pillow - While your mattress is an extremely important part of your sleep if you’re trying to address and neck, shoulder or back pain, your pillow could also be part of the problem. Sometimes you know when you need a new mattress but if you’re still trying to identify the cause of your sleep issues, try changing your pillow. To learn more about how to choose the right pillow, read my guide.
- Sleeping Hot - If you’re looking for a new mattress because you’re sleeping hot, keep in mind there are a lot of things you can do before buying a new mattress. Try changing your bedding to linen and reducing layers. You can also do this in combination with lowering the temperature in your bedroom. If these are not an option you can also get a mattress topper designed to improve cooling.
- Sleep Quality - If you think your mattress is the cause of your poor sleep consider that your mattress, pillow, and bedding is only part of the equation of getting good sleep. All aspects of your life play a role in the quality of your sleep. Learn everything you need to know about sleep and how to improve it.
What’s a good price for a queen mattress?
The costs of mattresses vary dramatically. While you can get a queen mattress for less $200, it may not be the right mattress for you. For example, if you’re a side sleeper and over 200 lbs many budget mattresses aren’t a good match because they are too thin and not firm enough. On the other hand, you can spend over $2,000 on a luxurious flush hybrid mattress and it may be total overkill and unnecessary for a lighter person. What would be considered a good price depends on your weight and sleeping position.
Is A 6” Mattress Thick Enough?
This is a common question we get from budget-focused shoppers when looking for a mattress as many budget-oriented mattresses are available in 6” thicknesses. A 6” mattress can work for lightweight sleepers 150lbs or less in all sleeping positions and average weight back and stomach sleepers 150 to 200 lbs. A 6” thickness starts to become an issue for side sleepers over 150 lbs or back and stomach sleepers over 200 lbs. A 6” mattresses can only contour and support your body to a certain extent. The incremental price of jumping up in thickness is over nominal so if you’re having concerns about the thickness bump up to an 8” or 10” thickness.
When Should You Replace Your Mattress?
There is no specific number of years to go by because depending on your mattress, how you sleep, your weight, and whether or not your sleep with a partner, your mattress could last 5 years or it could last 15 years. We think its important to consider 1) what the manufacturer recommends 2) weight gain or loss, 3) the quality of your sleep 4) an increase in body aches and pain. To learn more about when to replace your mattress read our comprehensive guide.