ScoreCard Research Steffanie Howard - The Penny Hoarder

While in college, my luxurious twin-size mattress from the third grade finally gave out. The springs sagged, and the plush top was indistinguishable from the flat bottom. The headaches, backaches and poor sleep finally pushed me to my limits, so I dumped the mattress and started looking for a new option.

After much searching, my choice, though a little unconventional, cost only $28! Even more surprising was that my chiropractor gave it the thumbs up.

But making my choice took time.

Spending a couple hundred dollars on a replacement mattress was not in my budget, so I quickly gave up on shopping big-name mattress brands. I needed something cheap and durable -- it had to last for at least a year without breaking down.

I was not willing to buy used -- watching my mom suffer from Lyme disease gave me a hyper-phobic perspective on all bugs. I also needed something that would provide ample support and comfort. What’s the sense in investing money in a mattress that ensures you won’t get a good night’s sleep?

If you are short on cash and need a new mattress, I found several ways to score a new bed at a low price.

How to Buy a Mattress for Less Than $100

In my search for an inexpensive new bed, I gathered four tips that helped me choose the best bed for me.

1. Choose an Odd-Sized Mattress or a Discontinued Model

Bed frame permitting, choosing an odd-sized mattress can make a luxurious sleep surface more affordable. For example, some companies make custom-sized mattresses to fit in RVs, imported or antique bed frames and truck beds.

However, many of these companies do not accept returns if the mattress doesn’t work out for the buyer. So buyers try to resell these odd-sized-but-brand-new mattress, often at a discounted price, on eBay, Craigslist, and other online marketplaces. In one instance, a couple was selling a brand-new, custom-made yacht mattress for less than 10% of what they paid! Checking these sites can be a great way to snag a bargain.

Even at steeply discounted prices, however, these mattress options were too expensive for me.

2. Look Beyond Big-Name Brands

Some companies have gotten smart about creating cheaper mattresses. IKEA, for example, makes a sub-$100 mattress that’s firm, well padded and quite comfortable. However, many of the reviews say this mattress is not durable.

If you want a comfortable, cheap mattress to get you by until you have the money to purchase something better, a mattress like this is not a bad investment. But if you’re looking for something more long term, you may want to consider other options.

As always, make sure you check product reviews before making a purchase.

3. Think Multiculturally

The Asian futon-style floor bed tickled my brain. For some, floor sleeping is a little too rustic and primitive, but I liked the look and cultural experience. I also liked the water-heated mats that could lay under thickly padded blankets to help keep you warm in the winter.

After much consideration, though, I decided floor sleeping was not a good idea for me. Mice have visited my basement room a couple times, and the thought of being accessible to their creepy-crawly selves while sleeping made me uneasy. Furthermore, the mats and blankets that make these floor beds more comfortable are quite expensive, particularly if you must order them through the mail.

However, if you can adjust to floor sleeping without foam play mats, water-heated mats or plushy floor covers, this option can be cozy, affordable and space-saving. Plus, you will get the chance to experience K-dramas in a whole new way -- for the thousands of Americans who caught the K-wave, that’s a big deal.

4. Don’t Look Past a Seemingly Bad Idea

Air mattresses were not at all appealing to me, but I humored the idea. Their compact size eliminates the need for a truck. They don’t hold moisture, which was a nice selling point for me since I have a basement room. You can adjust the firmness by adjusting the amount of air in the bed. They are also a popular clearance item, so I knew it would be easy to find one at a cheap price. Finally, because there are no springs or foam to sag over time, they are durable.  

The downside of an air mattress is that sleeping on plastic is noisy and sweaty, and neither of those seemed appealing. When camping, I’ve never found sleeping on an air mattress more comfortable than zonking out on the cold, hard ground.

Despite my negative sentiments, I shopped around for a cheap inflatable mattress.

Hodge-Podging the $28 Mattress That My Chiropractor Loved

Closeout stores and clearance aisles are the best places to look for air mattresses. I found a basic twin-size model with an electric air pump for $15 at a closeout store. Even though I wasn’t convinced the mattress would last a long time or be good for my aching back, I knew I needed to save money. College wasn’t going to pay for itself! So, I bought the cheap air mattress.

I still hated the thought of sleeping on plastic, so I also bought a cheap, easily washable foam topper at Walmart for around $10. Because the foam topper would keep my body from directly contacting the plastic, I wouldn’t have to worry about sweating in the summer or freezing in the winter. I figured the foam topper would also reduce the noise from the plastic bed and protect me from breathing the chemicals the plastics and other synthetic materials put off.

One side of my inflatable mattress has a velvet-like coating. While the foam topper clung to it effortlessly, I worried the foam would bunch up under the sheets over time. To help keep it in place, I bought a zip-on mattress protector for under $3, and stuffed the inflated air bed and foam topper inside. This further reduced my contact with the bed’s materials, gave the mattress a more conventional feel and allowed the sheets to properly cling to the bed.

Even though I slept well on the mattress, I thought, “You get what you pay for! A $28 mattress does not buy spine care.” Even though my back didn’t hurt, I really expected my chiropractor to ask me if I had just gone bungee jumping or something crazy like that at my next appointment. Sure enough, when he felt my back, he could tell that I had bought a new mattress.

“What kind of mattress is it?” He asked. I cringed as I confessed. “It’s just an air mattress.” He replied, “Oh, very good! That’s the best thing you could be doing for your spine.”

I was shocked by his response. My $28 mattress was better for my back than the luxurious, expensive options I gawked at? Yup.

When you lay on an air mattress, the parts of your body putting pressure on the bed, like your shoulders and hips, push the air to the areas not putting pressure on the bed, like the lower spine and neck. This helps the bed support you entire body. Because you can add or remove air as you desire, you can adjust the bed to your back’s needs.

Three years later, I am still sleeping comfortably on my $28 mattress.

NOTE: Please mind that air mattresses are not suitable for infants and young children.

Steffanie Howard grew up watching her mom find ingenious ways to make and save money and listening to epic-like stories of her penny-pinching great-grandfather who as a 13-year old, bought the family farm during the Great Depression. She works as a freelance writer, editor and co-conspirator in her and her mom’s Lucy-and-Ethel style schemes to make money for the family.