MONEY Shopping

How to Buy a Mattress in 10 Minutes or Less

woman on bed

Simplify your quest for the perfect night's sleep

Mattress shopping can be kind of a nightmare. There are so many choices. And since the last time you bought a new mattress was probably several years ago, you probably can’t even remember how you did it. Is this an all-day shopping event? An endless, store-hopping nightmare?

Finding your perfect bed doesn’t need to be a stressful ordeal. In fact, preparation and the right tools will help you find a mattress in less time than it takes to brush your teeth, change into your PJs, and set the sleep timer on your TV. Here’s how to find the perfect mattress in less than 10 minutes.

1. Identify Your Current Mattress’ Flaws

Before even going to the mattress store, figure out what you want to avoid in your next mattress. Too many coils? Too firm for you and not firm enough for your partner or spouse? Narrowing down your list of current mattress flaws will give you a better idea of what you do want.

2. Do Your Homework

Once you know what you don’t want, and have a vague idea of what you do want, it’s time to do a basic search online. Check for prices, sizes, and brand names you’d like to see in person. This, too, will cut your actual in-person shopping time way down.

3. Test With a Trust Fall

For every mattress I’ve ever purchased, this is the sure-fire method I’ve used to find my ideal mattress match. I stand at the foot of the bed, pretend there are eight sets of trusting arms about to catch me, and I fearlessly fall back. I wouldn’t recommend this if you prefer a firm mattress, because, ouch, or if you have pre-existing neck problems, because whiplash. But if you’re looking for a soft and cuddly pillow-top, this is all kinds of fun, and only takes one minute of your time.

4. Try Out All Options

If you’re looking for a new kind of bed, then take the homework you did and test out firm, pillow-top, adjustable, and Tempur-Pedic mattresses by laying down for one or two minutes on each one. It’s kind of like trying on wedding dresses, in that you’ll know instantly once you’ve found “the one.”

5. Don’t Go for the Cheapest Mattress

A mattress is probably one of the most important purchases you will ever make. Restful sleep is crucial to your overall health and wellbeing, so going for the cheapest mattress you can find is not the best idea. You will spend six to eight hours a day laying on this thing, so acknowledge that this is an investment and is worth the hefty pricetag.

6. Know Your Warranty and Refund Rights

You might feel confident in your mattress selection at the store, but just in case you take it home and completely hate it, make sure you know what the mattress store’s policies are with warranties and refunds. Most quality mattresses will come with a 10-year full warranty. As for refunds, some brands give you two weeks to decide if you want to keep it. Some offer a “comfort period” for your body to adjust to the mattress and then a set time frame for returns. But be wary of these “comfort periods” because they often come with a shipping fee and a restocking fee. So once you’ve found your top pick, ask about both before handing over your money.

7. Negotiate Away

If a mattress store is willing to negotiate on price, then you need to make sure they negotiate fairly. This is because most mattress manufacturers apply set minimum prices for their retailers, so many will just price them at the minimum right off the bat. If you find some wiggle room in price discussions with the salesperson, bring them down as low as possible, since you know they marked it way over the minimum manufacturer price. This might take the most time, so save five minutes for haggling, if needed.

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Get a Sale-Price Match at Walmart, Home Depot and J. Crew

Walmart, Bentonville, Arkansas
Gunnar Rathbun—Invision for Walmart/AP Images Walmart, Bentonville, Arkansas

Big retailers will happily match competitors' prices if you ask the right way

My family has been trying to save money these past few years by avoiding unnecessary purchases on everything from clothing to toys to electronics. There are times, though, when things break, clothes wear out, or we otherwise find ourselves heading to the store to fill a new need. Best case scenario in this event? Paying the lowest price possible. Over time, I’ve discovered a few tips and tricks that get us the best price matching and adjustments at a number of popular retailers.

1. Target

If you find a lower price on something you bought within seven days of purchase, you can take advantage of Target’s price-matching policy. Just bring your receipt to guest services and proof of lower price (from places like Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy) via website or printed ad. Price adjustments may also be made before you buy. Note: Any purchases made online are exempt from Target’s price-matching policy.

2. Walmart

I’ve searched Walmart’s website for pricing and headed to the store only to find the item more expensive on the shelf. In this event, you can request a price match in most U.S. states at the register. For other adjustments, bring proof of price to customer service and make sure the item is identical and in stock at the competing store. Walmart also offers its Savings Catcher to compare your receipt with local competitor pricing. If there’s an opportunity for you to save, you’ll get the difference back on an eGift Card.

3. Macy’s

Price adjustment requests can be made within 14 days at Macy’s stores nationwide. Money is refunded to your original form of payment, whether cash, debit, or credit. Price changes are only made if the original purchase was made without a coupon, and you must take your item(s) back to the store for the adjustment.

4. Nordstrom

Good news! If you find an item you just bought for less at a competitor’s store, Nordstrom will meet that price provided it’s the same color and size. Alternatively, if the same item you bought goes on sale at a Nordstrom store within 14 days of your purchase, you can easily get the extra taken off your order by bringing your receipt to customer service.

5. GAP, Old Navy, Banana Republic

Keep your receipt to get a one-time price adjustment within 14 days of your purchase. Any items you bought using coupons, promotions, or other discounts (clearance, final sale, etc.) are not eligible for changes unless the promotion was free shipping. In addition, price adjustments for items sold online cannot be made in physical store locations.

6. J. Crew

Think fast, because J. Crew gives you just seven days from purchase to take advantage of its one-time price adjustments. Items must have been bought at their original prices (no clearance or final sale) and you’ll need your receipt. The same policy stands with J. Crew’s Factory outlets.

7. Lowe’s

My husband and I recently bought a new refrigerator at Lowe’s. I noticed it was $3 less at a local competitor, so I asked about the 10% Price Match Guarantee, and we ended up saving an additional $3 plus $120 on our purchase. The store gives customers a full 30 days to compare prices at local stores and websites — impressive. Just keep your receipt and bring proof of better pricing to customer service.

8. Home Depot

Not to be outdone, Home Depot offers similar 10% in-store price matching. This policy, as it goes with many retailers, does not extend to “discontinued, clearance, obsolete, seasonal, or distressed merchandise” at competing stores. Online purchases earn the matching only, minus the additional percentage back.

9. Office Depot

For adjustments at Office Depot, just make sure the item you’re requesting a change on is both new and identical at the store across town (or online). You can ask for price matching before purchase or within 14 days of receipt. The store will even match Amazon and Reliable, though third-party retailers are excluded from this policy.

10. Staples

Likewise, you can request price adjustments at the time of sale or within 14 days of purchase at Staples stores. This policy excludes any local special events, like grand openings, anniversary sales, and liquidations. In the case of items with free versus paid shipping, Staples will match if both are on the same terms. However, if the store offers free shipping and the competitor’s lower priced item does not, shipping charges will apply to the overall matching equation.

11. Toys “R” Us, Babies “R” Us

I bought my daughter a camera at Toys “R” Us earlier this year and was able to get it for the lower Amazon price by asking at customer service. The store’s Price Match Guarantee is simple and straightforward. It’s valid on in-store purchases only, limited to two items (if you’re purchasing several identical toys), and the store’s online prices are matched provided they aren’t special “online only” promotions. Exclusions include Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals; clearance, closeouts, and flash sales; as well as any pricing that is low due to typographical errors.

12. Bed Bath & Beyond

Any pricing that’s lower at direct competitors or online retailers like Amazon will be honored at Bed Bath & Beyond stores. This excludes club stores like Sam’s Club, BJ’s, etc., in addition to pricing that’s low due to clearance, closeouts, or limited time quantities. Better yet, a manufacturer’s coupon can be used in combination with the price match for even more savings.

13. Kohl’s

To get an adjustment, keep your receipt for two weeks after buying anything (original price or sale) from Kohl’s to see if the price is lowered. Items bought on Buy One, Get One (BOGO) are excluded from this offer. Kohl’s also matches competitor pricing provided you provide a dated ad — in-store only — with identical merchandise.

14. Best Buy

Electronics behemoth Best Buy “won’t be beat on price” — so you know you can get a good deal. At the time of sale, the store will match local store and online pricing in addition to online retailers like Amazon, B&H Photo Video, Crutchfield, Dell, HP, Newegg, and TigerDirect. Preordered or backordered an item? If its price drops, you will automatically get the lower price. You can also request price adjustments within 15 days of purchase with receipt.

15. Dick’s Sporting Goods

I actually live in the town where Dick’s Sporting Goods first opened its doors in the late 1940s. Their Winning Price Guarantee applies to identical items sold at local retail stores. Simply bring in the print or online ad to get the match at the time of sale. Exclusions to this policy include rebates, coupons, clearance, closeouts, BOGOs, and out-of-stock items.

16. Amazon

I had no idea that Amazon offers price-matching. But there’s a catch; it’s only on televisions and cell phones. All other items on this giant online store are exempt from the policy. Though there’s no information about formal price adjustments on the site, I’ve found several personal accounts for how to get a deal. The process involves signing into your Amazon account, clicking the help button, and then chatting with a representative about the change in price you’ve seen to get your refund. The blogger in the above scenario has only tried this approach within a week of purchase.

In the end, I’ve learned that no matter what or where you’re buying, it never hurts to ask about a retailer’s price matching or adjustment policy. The worst answer you can get is “no,” and usually you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the extra dollars you’ll have left in your pocket. Every little bit counts!

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7 Things That Annoy Shoppers—and Why They’re Not Going Away

There are obvious reasons why movie theaters and airports charge rip-off prices, and why milk and eggs are located in the back of the supermarket. But the common explanations for these annoyances often don't tell the whole story.

It would be great if some of the everyday annoyances consumers encounter while shopping, traveling, and going to the movies would simply disappear. Unfortunately, in all likelihood that just ain’t gonna happen. But it may help a little to at least understand exactly why the powers that be seem to intentionally be inconveniencing, confusing, and ripping us off at every turn. Here are the reasons behind 7 common shopper complaints.

  • Why is the milk in the back of the supermarket?

    milk in supermarket
    Patti McConville—Alamy

    It’s fairly common knowledge that grocery stores place milk, eggs, and other staples far away from the entranceway in order to tempt shoppers into buying all sorts of other goods they must walk past. This is undeniably one reason why supermarkets inconvenience the shoppers who’d love to be able to get in and out on quick errands.

    An NPR story points out, though, that there’s another, more practical reason for the placement of the milk, and it has nothing to do with coaxing customers into making impulse purchases. Another theory for why milk is usually in the supermarket’s back corner holds that this location helps keeps costs down. Milk is a heavy product, it needs to be restocked regularly, and it requires refrigeration. Delivery trucks can pull right into the back of the store near where the milk winds up for sale. That’s simpler and more cost-effective and keeps milk fresher than if the cartons were lugged through stores and stocked in refrigerators that are, say, right near the cash registers.

  • Why does water cost $5 at the airport?


    The restriction on bringing liquids through airport security checkpoints means that anyone wanting a bottle of water while waiting for a flight has no choice but to buy in the terminal—and pay rip-off airport prices. At Los Angeles International Airport, the price of bottled water is so inflated ($5) that a lawsuit was filed. To some extent, the situation boils down to simple price gouging: Retailers know that there are no real other options if travelers want bottled water, so stores can charge whatever they want and people have little choice but to pay up.

    Yet a Wall Street Journal report points out that there are legitimate cost factors that lead to higher prices for water and other products sold at the airport:

    Airport stores are small, so there’s limited space for inventory. They also require off-airport warehouses. Deliveries to stores are often limited to off-peak hours and have to be made in small containers, because everything needs to pass through security screening. Employees have to be badged by airports and pass through security. All that adds time and cost.

  • Why does uncooked chicken cost more than cooked chicken?

    uncooked chicken
    Kristoffer Tripplaar—Alamy

    Grocery stores and warehouse clubs like Costco regularly sell cooked and seasoned, ready-to-eat rotisserie chickens at prices that are cheaper than uncooked chicken in the meat aisle. At first glance, this makes no sense. Cooked chicken is pricier to prepare, so why isn’t it cheaper to buy poultry you’ll cook at home?

    One explanation is that the rotisserie chicken is a “loss leader” meant to drive shoppers into the store when it’s late in the day and they’re desperate to pick up something easy to serve for dinner. Supermarkets might not make much money on these sales—in fact, they may lose money, hence “loss leader”—but they’re successful if they bring in a customer who might not otherwise be browsing the store.

    The other explanation for curious chicken pricing is that supermarkets sell lots of cooked chickens when supply is high and some are likely to go bad in the near future. Stores may make less money on rotisserie chickens, but at least they’re not throwing the chickens away. What’s more, if the rotisserie chickens don’t sell, the meat can be used in soup, chicken salad, and other profitable deli items.

  • Why don’t prices just end in round numbers?

    price stickers on cyan background
    Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—John Lamb/Getty Images (1)

    Consumer life would be simpler if prices were round numbers—$12 rather than $11.99, for instance. But apparently the so-called “left-digit effect” has a big impact on shoppers’ decisions, and the first digit in a number makes a much larger impression than what comes at the end. So $11.99 seems like a much better deal than $12, even though there’s only a measly 1¢ difference.

    Research cited by The Atlantic reveals that stores can grab the attention of customers in a different way by utilizing extra-screwy pricing that ends in, say, .78, .67, or .21. Shoppers have grown so accustomed to seeing prices end in .99 or .95 that they become a blur. But when an item features an unconventional price ($21.68 say), it registers in a way that $21.99 or the flat $22 do not. The shopper is more likely to pause, take note, and (the store hopes) consider purchasing the item, as the special pricing is used to connote, well, special pricing—specifically, a deal.

    Another reason for such oddball pricing is that they’re part of a retailer’s secret code that helps stores keep track of various discount strategies. Employees at Gap and Old Navy know that their cheapest prices will end in .*7, while Target’s lowest clearance prices end in .*4. At least that’s what the prices meant not long ago. Retailers know that savvy shoppers have caught on to such pricing systems, and they’ve been known to tweak the code to keep customers on their toes. Don’t put it past stores to also use this kind of unusual pricing to grab shoppers’ attention and lead them to assume it’s a special deal even though the item isn’t even on sale.

  • Why don’t jewelry stores show prices?

    jewelry store
    Patti McConville—Alamy

    More often than not, it’s difficult if not impossible to see how much the sparkling items underneath glass in jewelry stores cost. This may very well frustrate customers, but as one jewelry store worker told NPR, the absence of prices is a carefully calculated strategy. To find out how much something costs, customers must talk to a clerk, who will be able to tell the story behind the item, discuss how it fits into fashion trends, remove it from the case for a closer inspection, and so on. By this point, the sales pitch is well under way.

    Studies have also shown that when consumers physically hold merchandise, they’re more likely to develop an emotional attachment and a sense of ownership. Not only are shoppers more apt to buy items they’ve touched, they’ve shown a willingness to pay more money for them compared with stuff that’s been kept at a distance.

  • Why does popcorn cost so much at movie theaters?

    movie popcorn

    OK, the obvious answer is that movie theaters charge ridiculous markups on popcorn and other concessions because they have a captive audience and people will pay. As this in-depth Marketplace report explains, however, there’s a bit more to it.

    One might think that theaters could actually boost profits by lowering prices on concessions and enticing many more moviegoers to get snacks and drinks. But those in the business are under the impression that filmgoers fall largely into two consumer categories—big spenders and extremely price-sensitive—and whatever money is earned from the latter would be negated by lower prices charged to the former. Also, it should be noted that theaters make very little money from ticket sales, meaning it’s essential for the business to milk customers for as much as they can at the concession stand. If it weren’t for rip-off concession prices, ticket prices would have to be much higher, and neither moviegoers nor movie theaters want that.

  • Why do some stores make you show a receipt in order to leave?

    Costco store
    Katharine Andriotis—Alamy

    Last fall, an Oregon man sued Costco for $670,000 for an incident in which he refused to show his receipt when leaving the store—and in which his leg was broken in multiple places in a scuffle with employees that allegedly followed. One might ask: Why do Costco and some Walmarts, Best Buys, and other major retailers demand to see receipts in the first place?

    There isn’t a big mystery here. The receipt check is a loss-prevention measure. The point is to lower theft, mostly by discouraging it with a policy in which everyone will be eyed over upon leaving the store. This doesn’t stop people from being miffed about confrontational store employees treating paying customers like criminals.

    Some retailers say receipt checks aren’t necessarily about shoplifting, but that employees are there to ensure customers have the correct model they were charged for, or supposedly provide some customer service along those lines. “That’s garbage,” one anonymous Best Buy staffer explained to the Consumerist. “It’s patronizing, and you deserve to feel insulted by statements like that.” Still, the Best Buy employee maintains the policy is a good one for retailer and customer alike, because without it, theft would rise and prices would have to increase to make up for the difference.

    Apparently, treating everyone like a criminal makes actual would-be criminals give pause to stealing from stores.

MONEY Travel

9 Things You Should Never Skimp on When Traveling

couple pulling suitcases
Walter Zerla—Getty Images

A few smart splurges can make your trip a lot more fun

Travel should be pleasurable — not stressful. While it’s almost inevitable for something to go awry from time to time, you can avoid most issues with a little foresight and planning. Sometimes all it takes is investing a bit more upfront in order to ensure a better travel experience.

Take a look at these nine things you should never skimp on when traveling.

1. Luggage

I’m not including accommodations or method of travel on this list because I think those two items are relative. Some people like five-star hotels and first-class seating, while others are perfectly fine in hostels and economy class. To each their own.

What we can all agree on, though, is that decent luggage is an important trip component for several reasons, namely because it needs to hold up against all the wear and tear you’ll put it through in your travels. I’m not saying that cheap luggage will fall apart and expensive luggage is bar none, but there is something to be said about brands with a reputation for quality — and that usually comes at a cost.

Personally, I prefer Herschel Supply Co. for my luggage, while my husband likes Tumi. Those aren’t endorsements (I don’t have any affiliation with either of those companies), but rather suggestions to help inform your future purchase if you’re in the market for sturdier luggage.

2. Comfortable Shoes

A lot of people vacation in warmer climates. And why not — there’s an abundance of things to see and do when the weather outside is perfect. But before you head out to explore, make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes and socks that can handle a day of walking without killing your feet. These should be the real deal — and definitely not right out of the box. You also want to avoid going sockless. I’ve worn both canvas slip-ons without socks and flip-flops on heavy walking days, and both footwear choices resulted in bloody, painful feet.

3. Personal Safety

Because I live in New York City, I’m generally not afraid of new surroundings, seemingly seedy neighborhoods, or people who look like they might be up to no good. I stay vigilant, of course, but I don’t want to let a black cloud of fear follow me wherever I go just because the area doesn’t look like it’s maintained by Ritz-Carlton. There was a time in the Bahamas, however, that this joie de vivre could’ve gotten my friends and me into a sticky situation while traveling down a lonely road from one club to another — a mistake I’ll never make again. Now I loosen the purse strings and spring for a cab to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.

Safety first, people.

4. An Unforgettable Experience

Finally, we’ve gotten to the fun part — activities! I’m an activities-oriented guy, and I like to be out and about experiencing everything I can in the short time I have in a location. The problem, however, is that an unforgettable experience can be costly. Still, it’s not something on which you should skimp — your fond memories of your trip will last much longer than any tchotchke — and there are ways to make it affordable.

Remember when I mentioned earlier that the preference for high-end flight and hotel accommodations are relative? They still are, and personally this is how I justify splurging a bit on a great experience — I choose to stay in modest digs and fly the cheapest way I can, so when I get to my destination I can have all the fun I want without feeling guilty for spending too much money.

5. Travel Insurance

I once went on what was meant to be an unforgettable European vacation that included London, Dublin, and finally, Paris for New Year’s Eve. But thanks to Mother Nature and an incompetent, famously low-priced Irish airline that shall remain nameless, my hopes of ushering in a new year in the City of Lights were dashed. The worst part? I was young and dumb and I didn’t have travel insurance. Hotel, train fares, and airfare all went out the window — along with my usually jovial attitude. Don’t let this happen to you, especially if you’re planning a special-occasion trip. Spend the extra money to protect your investment.

6. Vaccinations

I suspect that pre-travel vaccinations are not only overlooked a lot of the times, but probably actively avoided sometimes due to cost and inconvenience. In that case, let’s play a game of “Would You Rather?”

I’ll go first.

Would you rather pay for pricey vaccinations that will help you avoid common illnesses, or would you rather spend your trip becoming besties with a toilet and visiting the very questionable local hospital?

I win.

Get the proper vaccinations before you depart. If you can’t afford it, don’t go. In some cases, it really could be the difference between life and death.

7. Health Care

Speaking of questionable local hospitals, they’re the very last place you ever want to visit while you’re traveling — even worse than jail. If you’re ill, spring for quality medical care.

Blogger behind Broke Girl Gets Rich, Chelsea Baldwin, just wrapped up a few years in Asia, and soon she’ll embark on an extended stay in South America. As someone who has caught her fair share of stomach bugs while traveling and was subsequently treated at public health facilities, she advises better-quality healthcare as well.

“If the public health care in the country you’re visiting is known for its quality, that’s fine, but otherwise it’s always worth the extra cost to get more attention and better care from a private doctor,” she says. “Most American health insurance companies will cover you for emergency situations overseas, but if you think the cost of visiting a private doctor at your destination could get expensive, there are numerous travel insurance companies you can get plans from to help cover you.”

8. Cell Phone Data

When I travel to destinations outside my wireless provider’s coverage area, I try to stick with the hotel’s free Wi-Fi. If you want to be fully connected — it’s not a bad idea despite the faction of people begging us to unplug every once in a while — there’s a solution that will cost you a few bucks. Still, it’s much cheaper than the fees you may incur from your provider.

“Buying a SIM card upon arrival in a country will cost you little more than $10 to $15 and it’s invaluable for all the times you get lost or you’re unable to communicate with your cab driver,” says Matthew Newton, CEO of Tourism Tiger. “Many small emergencies are solved through the simple asset of a SIM card charged with one gigabyte of data.”

9. Bottled Water

My Wise Bread colleagues and I generally try to steer you clear of buying bottled water, but Dr. Irene S. Levine (who moonlights as a freelance travel writer) makes a good case for bottled water when you’re traveling.

“There is no reason to take a chance,” she says. “Even if tap water is safe to drink, it may have a different mineral composition that is upsetting to your stomach and can potentially ruin your trip. Additionally, don’t try to save money by not drinking enough water. When you’re traveling, it’s easy to get dehydrated either on planes or in hot climates when you’re more active than usual.”

As someone who prefers tap water, I agree that this is a good practice to adopt, especially when traveling outside the United States. To save money and waste, consider buying a few large jugs of distilled water with which you can fill your permanent water bottle, instead of buying many single bottles the whole trip.

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