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Kristie Aronow

Don't pay full price for that mattress

After moving to a new city and sleeping on an air mattress for a month, I decided it was time to invest in something that didn't need to be re-inflated every night.

My quest for the perfect (and more important, affordable) mattress lead me to discover that with a little research and a lot of haggling, everything is negotiable.

Want to know how I scored a $900 mattress set for a little over $500? Read on.Don't pay full price for that mattress

Do your homework
I have a bad back, so a mattress that will support my spine is a necessity. While I've bought beds before, my method of shopping was to find a store, agree on the first bed that felt OK and pay whatever price was quoted. But this time I was determined to find a bed that was comfortable both physically and financially.

I began researching different bed types and was initially overwhelmed by the possibilities. Most mattresses can be sorted into nine categories: inner spring, waterbed, organic mattress, orthopedic mattress, pillow-top mattress, gel mattress, air bed, latex mattress and memory foam mattress. Within these main categories are several sub-categories, depending on how the core of a mattress is built. A pocketed coil mattress, which would suppress bed movement and support my back, met all my needs. Next step? Decide on my budget.

Decide on a price point
A mattress set can easily cost more than $1,000; I've bought mattresses running the spectrum of thousands to a couple hundred dollars. This time, I decided to try and find a decent queen-size mattress set for $500, planning for the total cost to run about $600 to include tax and delivery. Most salesclerks work on commission. Having held jobs where a good commission meant the difference between making rent or not, I understood the clerks' drive to sell high, but also knew they'd be willing to come down on the price to make the sale. Armed with this knowledge, I began shopping.

At each store, a sales clerk would walk me through the stock. My first step was letting the attendant know that I was in the market for a $500 mattress. Usually, they would take me to a more expensive model first -- in the $1,000 range. When they try the upsell, I become like a good bed: soft outside, firm inside. After politely telling them I wasn't interested in a bed for more than my set budget, they would then take me to a mattress that was much more compatible with my price range. Once I picked a mattress, the bargaining would begin. The key was holding out and walking away if the price wasn't right.

Channeling your inner Goldilocks
At the first store, the clerk pitched a mattress for $500 with a mismatched box spring for $99. While this offer seemed like a good deal, I decided to check a few more stores before signing on the dotted line. Later, I discovered that getting a mismatched box spring can void some warranties and affect the comfort of the bed. Also, the salesclerk maxed out my budget before delivery was included.

A second store was having a "king-for-a-queen sale." The price of any bed was dropped to the bed size below its price point. This clerk showed me a bed that was originally $649, marked down to $549, which included the box spring but not delivery. The clerk knew my maximum price was $500, so I told him I would have to think it over, but really didn't want to go beyond my $500 budget. He then gave me his final offer: If I were to come back over the weekend, he would drop the price to $499 and cut the delivery cost in half. The total would be $575, including delivery and tax. I thanked him for his time, but decided to sleep on it.

The last store I visited was having a sale, too. I told the clerk I had already gone to two other shops, and was looking to see if this store could offer me a better deal. He handed me off to a manager, who proceeded to show me the beds. The manager knew he was in competition for my business, so he applied a friends-and-family discount to a mattress set I liked instead of the sale price. The sale price of the bed was $899, but with the discount it dropped to $516 with a mismatched box spring. With tax, the total was $560 with free, same-day delivery. He assured me the mismatched box spring would not void the warranty of the mattress, which I had him put it in writing just to be safe.

Final decision
That sealed the deal. It was the best bed and the manager was offering it at a deep discount. Each store had some financing options, but the interest rate averaged 27 percent. Interest-free financing was available, but for purchase amounts above what I was spending. I paid for the mattress with a debit card to take full advantage of my discount savings.

It's all open to negotiation
If I hadn't gotten this bed on sale and had not negotiated, the total price for bed, box spring and delivery could have been upwards of $1,000. Because I shopped around and stuck to my budget, I managed to drop the sale price to manageable total for my budget.

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