questionswhat's the best choice for a cheap mattress?

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Look for a memory foam mattress at Buy.com or the like, preferably one that's made here in the USA. It's no guarantee that there won't be some lingering VOCs, but odds are better than ones imported from countries that don't have good consumer safety standards.

So long as the box spring is intact, just reuse that.

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If you have a Sams Club membership, check out their mattresses. I don't know how much they go for right now but I got a twin set for less than $300 a few years ago. It's comfy enough for me and has held up well. Costco might have similar deals, but I've got a Sams membership.

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I'm finding myself in need of two beds for the house, but I plan on moving cross-country in less than a year, so I'd rather avoid expensive purchases that I'd only be selling for a fraction of the price a few months from now.

http://www.walmart.com/ip/Insta-bed-Raised-Air-Bed-with-Integrated-AC-Pump-Twin/19515125 I've been eyeballing these as a temporary solution. Reading some of the reviews, some people have slept comfortably on them for years. They might be a good temporary solution if you wanted to just buy some time and get pricier mattresses later.

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I've been mostly trying CraigsList so far but haven't contacted anyone, since so much on that site can't be trusted.

@narfcake "Intact" would be the tricky word here. I mean, it holds up a mattress but is literally falling apart inside. It's a perfect playground for a cat but unfortunately I don't have one.

@purplefeather I have a nice, raised bedframe (great for storage underneath) that I would like to continue using, and it isn't so bad that I can't sleep on what I've got. I may look into those as a potential guest bed idea though, now that I have the space. (This was all brought about as the result of a recent move.)

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@jleh123: A (polite) correction to what @narfcake said: if you end up getting a memory foam mattress (which can certainly be done for less than $500 and I recommend highly based on comfort), it most definitely should not be used with a box spring. Ikea has appropriate frames starting at $49, if you're anywhere near one. (A memory foam mattress can be placed on a box spring if you put plywood between the box spring and the mattress, but I think it's less comfortable than if it's placed on slats).

Are you anywhere near an Ikea? They have a wide selection of different types of mattresses; in addition to being fairly cheap, it would be a great way to compare inner spring versus memory foam versus... I think they have some other types of mattresses too, but I'm not sure what they are.

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I will agree with @neuropsychosocial on the memory foam. There are no box springs needed. Since you have a raised bed put a sheet of 3/4" plywood underneath the memory foam mattress. Cut the plywood yourself if you are able, or have someone do it for you if you're not. Excellent sleep here. :)

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@jleh123: I worked in retail sales for a while. Here is some basic advice which applies to anything you will ever purchase.

1. Set a budget. You have done this which is very important. But you only set your maximum limit. You need to have a minimum you are willing to spend also. For your case, I set your budget at $350-$500 for a new mattress.
2. Shop within that budget. Since you only have a set amount of money to spend when you go to look at items, only look at items that fall into your set price range.
3. Do not even consider or look at items outside of what you are willing to spend.
4. Remember, sales tax, delivery fees, etc. will be added.
5. Never buy an extended warranty. Where I worked they were 75% profit to the store and the salesman (myself) made 50% of the warranty sale.
6. Avoid the up-sale and add-on.

Running out of lines/words. Hopefully that will get you started.