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11 Steps for Stress-Free Mattress Shopping

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Thanks to the proliferation of mattress stores of both the brick and mortar and online variety, shopping for a new bed can be overwhelming. There are so many manufacturers, models, and material types that narrowing your choices down to a half-dozen could be considered an achievement.

Why the stress? Beds are both expensive—ranging in price from $300 to several thousand dollars—and seem to harbor the promise of a better life. Sleep well and you’ll be more productive, personable, and energetic; sleep poorly and that aching back dims all of your prospects. Those consequences are often played up by mattress manufacturers, who use indecipherable industry terms (“core support,” “baffled innerspring”) to try and stand out in a crowded market. Instead, they just create further confusion.

With a little knowledge, finding the perfect crash pad doesn’t have to be so frustrating: A good, dependable mattress can be had for as little as $600 to $700. Here’s how to avoid losing sleep over your next mattress purchase.

1. DECIDE WHAT YOU DON’T WANT.

The easiest way to narrow down your choices in a store is to eliminate what you’re certain you don’t want. "Every mattress type has its own strengths and weaknesses," David Robinson, editor and publisher of the sleep-shopping tip site SleepLikeTheDead.com, tells mental_floss. "Because of familiarity, innerspring [coil] mattresses are still the most popular. Memory foam is an option, but if you have a tendency to sleep hot, they might bother you." Foam might be best, he says, if a couple is looking for less shifting of the mattress while one partner tosses and turns.

You might also decide to eliminate anything priced over $1000; certain mattresses made from wool, latex, or other materials you might have an allergic reaction to; or adjustable beds that rely on air bladders to tweak firmness. Some or all of these features you may find unwanted or uncomfortable: Getting rid of them can shrink a showroom fast.

2. TAKE THE GOLDILOCKS TEST.

Before you start jumping around mattresses at random, have a salesperson identify three models that represent degrees of firmness. In the lexicon of mattresses, “firm” signals a bed that will provide sufficient support and is unlikely to allow you to sink into it. “Plush” might have a polyester-stuffed top layer (sometimes called a pillowtop) that acts as cushioning, or may simply be designed to conform to your body’s imprint. Along the spectrum, there’s also medium-plush, medium-firm, extra-firm, and any number of labels that can indicate degrees of support. Leaning toward one side, however, will help narrow your choices. Back sleepers may like something more solid, while side or stomach sleepers will want to avoid firm mattresses digging into their shoulders and hips.

If you experience any post-purchase remorse over firmness, Robinson says that a mattress topper could help alleviate a stiff surface. "But not many toppers can firm up a soft mattress," he says, making it better to err on the firmer side if in doubt.

3. GRAB A PILLOW.

Many retail outlets will supply you with a pillow and a sanitary sheet to use as a pillowcase while you try out beds. Take advantage of them, as they’ll allow you to better replicate your sleep posture in the showroom and better identify where you might need more support. You may even want to bring a friend along to help assess whether your spine is straight when lying on your side.

Whether you bring one from home or get a loaner, Robinson cautions to make sure your pillow is the proper height. "A lot of pillows depend on a person's weight," he says. "The heavier you are, the more you'll sink into the mattress, and the higher your pillow loft needs to be." People who have comfort issues with new mattresses, he says, might benefit from getting a pillow better able to support spine alignment.

4. ASK FOR SOME SPACE.

Once you’ve scouted the showroom, ask the salesperson for some time alone. You’ll need several minutes resting on each of your options to determine how they feel in different positions, if you have any trouble turning your body, or if your bed partner’s presence creates any change in comfort when both of you are present. (Some beds might sink in further with two bodies on top of them.) While it’ll never replicate a real night of sleep at home, being left to your own devices on the display models is crucial to finding the best fit.

5. DON’T LET THE LINGO SHOP FOR YOU.

You’ll often find placards in front of mattress displays touting everything from cooling gels to “hybrids” that combine foam and innerspring coils for maximum luxuriating. "Manufacturers want to seem different from competitors, but they all pretty much refer to the same ideas," Robinson says.

Read up all you like on features and materials, but try to do it after you’ve tested the bed out first. None of the manufacturer’s “patented” hype means anything if you don’t find it comfortable.

6. CHECK THE HEIGHT.

When your new mattress (which could be a foot in height) is placed on a frame or box spring foundation—or both—you may find that getting in and out of it becomes problematic. Be sure you can climb in and out comfortably, and consider whether older or smaller pets might run into issues sharing a nap with you at home. Also keep in mind that older fitted sheets may not accommodate newer, thicker mattresses.

7. DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE BOX SPRING.

While it can add another hundred dollars or more to your tab, you don’t always want to skip on a new box spring. These wooden frames support your mattress: Using the older, sagging model you already have could cause problems with your new bed. In some cases, manufacturers might even require you to buy a new box spring in order to maintain warranty coverage, although Robinson cautions that some salespeople might be exaggerating that missive in order to move more product. (Check with the supplier.) Also, decide whether your home's layout requires a split box: that’s a box spring split in half to make navigating tight household corners easier.

While there’s not normally much else to consider in a box spring, some salespeople might try to turn you on to the idea of an adjustable base, which uses motors to make the head and foot of the bed rise 40 to 70 degrees. "These are very popular," Robinson says, "and can help people who have difficulty getting in and out of bed" or who have health issues. But since they can also add hundreds to the cost of the bed set, carefully evaluate whether it’ll be of any real use to you.

8. KNOW YOUR (EXTENDED) WARRANTY.

As with cars, homes, and electronics, buying a bed can often mean deliberating over a store’s extended warranty. Most beds come with hefty 10- to 25-year warranties and are adequate for most consumers, Robinson says, but may not cover damage beyond premature sinking of the mattress. A store policy—which can sometimes cover spills, burns, or tears—might offer a little more. Ask for a brochure to read the fine print before committing.

9. HAVE A PLAN FOR YOUR OLD BED.

Don’t just assume the store will haul away your unwanted mattress. Some retailers will refuse to take possession of used beds to avoid the potential for cross-contamination with pests in their delivery trucks or because they don’t want to bother disposing of them. If they do agree to take away your old mattress, make sure they keep new bedding sealed in manufacturer’s wrap until it’s set up in your home to avoid any cross-contamination with old bedding. If they don’t, they might still be able to put it out on the curb for you.

10. REMEMBER THAT YOU MIGHT BE STUCK WITH IT.

Before finalizing any deal, remember that mattresses aren’t easily returned. Furniture stores can take an “all sales final” approach to big-ticket items that are costly to transport, and used mattresses don’t normally make for attractive resale or discount items. Ask your salesperson what the return policy is, and whether buying the extended warranty allows for an exchange based on your desire for more comfort. (They'll sometimes call this a comfort guarantee.) Others will grudgingly take one back but slap you with a 20 percent restocking fee or ask you keep the mattress at home for at least a month to make absolutely certain it’s not for you.

11. SKIP THE STORE COMPLETELY.

If you’ve gone shopping and found that the options are too overwhelming, you may consider joining the increasing number of consumers who are opting to shop online for beds. Casper, for instance, has made it their business to appeal to non-deciders, offering just one memory foam bed in different sizes that they’ll ship right to your door. If you’re not satisfied, they’ll offer you a free mattress topper to see if that improves your comfort. If you’re still not happy, they’ll typically take a return at no cost. Other e-mattress companies like Tuft & Needle even offer to donate your unwanted purchase to charity while still offering you your money back. It's low-risk, but Robinson says that their one-size approach can't make everyone happy.

Whatever you decide, don't be swayed by salespeople who promise a perfect night's sleep only if you're willing to invest thousands. "You don't have to pay a lot to get a competitive mattress," Robinson says. "The average price for a new bed is $1600, but you can get something comparable in quality for half that if you do your research."

All images courtesy of iStock.

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11 Freshly Baked Gifts For Everyone On Your List
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Whether it's a crispy cookie or a perfectly frosted cupcake, baked goods are one of life's greatest pleasures. And thanks to the miracles of modern shipping, you can have them sent directly to someone's door.

1. T-REX COOKIE COMPANY GIANT SEA SALT CARAMEL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES; $55

T-Rex Cookie Company Giant Sea Salt Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies
T-Rex Cookie Company

Named the "Best Cookie in America" by Time Out, these 8-inch-wide behemoths are embedded with chocolate chips, caramel chunks, and glittery flakes of sea salt. They're crafted in Minneapolis by baker Tina Rexing, who has spent 20 years getting the recipe just right. The package contains five cookies, and each half-pound treat supposedly serves three. (But we won't judge if the giftee eats it all by themselves.)

Find It: Goldbely

2. REDTRUCK BAKERY LEMON AND BLUEBERRY MOONSHINE CAKE; $34

The Red Truck Bakery's lemon moonshine cake next to a bottle of moonshine
Red Truck Bakery

Chocolate is fine and all, but what about booze? This rural bakery in Virginia has been named one of the best small-town bakeries in America, and their mail-order moonshine cakes frequently receive accolades. The 8-inch ring cake is "made with real Virginny corn whiskey hooch from our pals in the next county," according to the folks at Red Truck. Add plenty of lemon zest, dried blueberries, and a sugar glaze, and you've got a refreshing (if potent) dessert.

Find It: Goldbely

3. ANCHOR BAKERY DOUGHNUT OF THE MONTH CLUB SUBSCRIPTION; $25 PER MONTH

These mini-donuts from Anaheim's Anchor Bakery are free of additives and preservatives, so the post-doughnut glow can linger a little longer. The subscription includes a dozen of their monthly featured flavors, and comes in three-month, six-month, and 12-month subscriptions—for people who love doughnuts, but not commitment.

Find It: Anchor Bakery

4. SWEETIE PIES BAKERY PUMPKIN PIE; $40

Sweetie Pies pumpkin pie
Sweetie Pies

There’s nothing quite like digging into the creamy custard of a pumpkin pie encircled by a perfectly flaky crust, and Sweetie Pie delivers (literally). In fact, Food & Wine says this is the best mail-order pumpkin pie in America. Plus, it’s topped pretty with pastry leaves for a rustic-looking decorative flourish.

Find It: FoodyDirect

5. MILK BAR B'DAY TRUFFLES; $25

These little truffles from the inventive Milk Bar bakery pack in all the joy you felt eating birthday cake as a kid—they're moist vanilla rainbow cake mixed with vanilla-infused milk, coated with white chocolate and rolled in rainbow cake crumbs. And the lack of candles means there's no need to pretend it's anyone's birthday.

Find It: Goldbely

6. WE TAKE THE CAKE RED VELVET CUPCAKES; $52

This Oprah-approved South Florida bakery has been shipping cupcakes around the country since before it was cool. Their eight large cupcakes arrive topped with both cream cheese frosting and a delicate buttercream flower and pearl, packaged in a custom cake box that’s nestled in a dry ice cooler to keep things fresh. If red velvet isn't your thing, they also have chocolate, coconut, and golden butter options (or get an assortment to try all three).

Find It: We Take the Cake

7. BREADS BAKERY CHOCOLATE BABKA PIE; $53

For those unfamiliar with babka, imagine a chocolate croissant married with brioche cake, only better and more Eastern European. Named "Best of NY chocolate babka" by New York Magazine, this creation presents babka in the shape of a pie, for a holiday delight that is sure to wow the recipient.

Find It: Foodydirect

8. KILLER BROWNIES THE ORIGINAL; $5

For some people, nothing less than a brownie will do for the ultimate treat. Send them these pecan-studded goodies filled with gooey caramel, and watch them die of happiness.

Find It: Shopdldm.com

9. PERFECT PIE HUCKLEBERRY AND BLUEBERRY PIE; $35

Perfect Pie's huckleberry and blueberry piece
Perfect Pie

Berry pie aficionados will love this fragrant dessert. Created by former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, the "It's Pie Day" Huckleberry and Blueberry Pie features Northwest Passage huckleberries and Maine blueberries in a buttery crust. The pie arrives in a handcrafted birchwood presentation box to make it feel even more special.

Find It: Perfect Pie

10. CALLIE'S CHARLESTON BISCUITS CINNAMON BISCUITS; $40

Callie's Charleston Biscuits Cinnamon Biscuits in a red package
Callie's Charleston Biscuits

What can make your favorite person's morning coffee a bit better? These cinnamon biscuits baked in Charleston, South Carolina. Send them to someone living in a biscuit desert and watch the thank-you notes roll in.

Find It: Goldbely

11. ZINGERMAN'S BREAD CLUB; PRICES VARY

An assortment of Zingerman's bread
Zingerman's

Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor is known for its hearth-baked breads, and they have an exclusive club for carb-lovers: Zingerman's Bread Club. You can choose from three-month and six-month options, with one or two loaves arriving each month. Many of the options are savory—think sourdough and rustic peasant breads—but there's also cinnamon-raisin and chocolate varieties sprinkled throughout, for those who like their mail-order surprises with a bit of sugar.

Find It: Zingerman’s

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11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal
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Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).

1. FURNITURE

Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.

2. TOOLS

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Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.

3. BEDDING AND LINENS

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Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.

4. HOLIDAY DÉCOR

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If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.

5. TOYS

Child choosing a toy car.
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Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.

6. ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND JEWELRY

Rows of rings.
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Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.

7. PLANE TICKETS AND TRAVEL PACKAGES

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While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.

8. FOOD AND SNACK BASKETS

Gift basket against a blue background.
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Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.

9. WINTER CLOTHING

Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.

10. SMARTPHONES

Group of hands holding smartphones.
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While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.

11. KITCHEN GADGETS

Row of hanging kitchen knives and utensils.
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Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

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