I’m all about finding unique ways to decorate our home on a major budget. Just because I’m not rolling in the dough doesn’t mean I can’t have a beautiful home that I love. Thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales, and flea markets are my favorite places to shop to decorate our home because they can offer amazing deals on cool finds.
I have a slight phobia of buying something that’s not the best deal possible. I remember feeling a sense of uneasiness the first couple of times I wandered around a flea market. I didn’t even buy anything the first two times I went to a flea market for fear that I would get ripped off. Plus, I really didn’t know what I was doing, nor did I have any confidence in my negotiating powers.
Now that I’ve shopped my fair share of different flea markets, and even sold at a couple, I think I’ve figured out the best way to score unique home decor items for the best possible price.
I’ve found some of my favorite pieces in our home from flea markets. Take this photo from one room in our house; there are a lot of flea market finds! I can safely say I got an awesome deal on most everything I’ve bought (compared to the other prices I’ve seen on comparable items ) because I learned how to effectively shop at flea markets.
I’ve narrowed it down to five key tips that, if followed, will save you time, money, and a whole lot of anxiety when shopping at flea markets.
Top 5 Tips on How to Shop at Flea Markets
1. Time of day matters
Of course, it goes without saying that the time when you shop affects the amount and types of goodies you’ll find at a flea market. The earlier you arrive, the more variety and amount of items available. Often, some dealers will have items priced to sell, and the sooner you arrive, the better chance you have to find those deals. However, the earlier in the day, the less likely dealers will want to negotiate with you.
As a flea market draws to a close, some dealers will be much more likely to come down on prices so they don’t have to pack up that item and bring it home with them.
2. Go in with a game plan
The first time I shopped at a flea market, I was completely overwhelmed. There is so. much. stuff. And, if you have a soft spot in your heart for vintage and antique finds, you will fall in love with everything.
I’ve found that if I go in with an idea of some of the items I hope to find, or with an idea of some of the projects I want to complete, I’m a much more effective shopper and less overwhelmed by all the goodness that flea markets offer.
Sometimes, though, it’s just fun to stroll around and gawk. That’s okay too.
3. Some booths are better to shop at than others
It’s taken me awhile to figure out this tip; maybe some of you savvy flea shoppers caught on earlier than I did. Basically, some booths are almost always going to offer lower prices on the items that you want than others.
I’ve found that when walking around a flea market, there are certain booths that I am just drawn to; I can’t help but walk through. Usually, these booths are curated with items that I love. In my case, it’s vintage farmhouse finds suitable for use or display in my home. For someone else, it might be industrial metals, or army gear, or can collections, or vintage fabrics and clothes, or the list goes on and on, because you can basically find anything at a flea market.
When I see these booths that draw me in, I go in, have a look around, and often leave empty-handed. Why? Often, I find the prices at these curated booths to be higher than other places because the dealer specializes in this area. They know the cost of these items, they know the markup, and they know the price online that many of these items can sell for. Because they specialize in this niche, they probably are selling the items at a higher price than if you were to find them at a garage sale, estate sale (sometimes), or at another flea market booth.
Now, this is definitely a generalization, and is not the case all the time, which is why it’s still worth while to look around those booths that just call you in.
Okay, so what types of booths do offer the best deals? I’ve found that the booths that look like a hoarder’s garage are the best. There will be stuff piled on tables, lined up against tables, stacked on top and inside of crates. It’s totally worth it to go digging through these booths! You never know what you might find, and often these dealers aren’t experts in one specific niche and therefore may offer lower prices. These booths, more often than not, are where I find my best flea market deals.
You should also always take a peek at booths with bargain or clearance tables. I’ve found some awesome items on these tables. Usually there is nothing wrong with any of the items, the dealer has just had them for awhile and most likely just wants to part ways.
For those of you that sell at flea markets with curated booths, please don’t get upset with me. In fact, when I sell at flea markets, my booth is exactly the type of booth I am telling readers to not buy from.
I’m going to be completely honest with you. There are two items in this image that I actually bought at a flea market for a steal of a deal. I thought I was going to use them in my home, didn’t end up keeping them, and sold them for a profit in my booth at another flea market. And my curated booth is a bit atypical in that many people have commented how reasonable my prices are. I’m assuming they are comparing it to other curated booths, but even then, I bet you’d eventually be able to find better deals than the prices I have on my items.
With that being said, finding that perfect item is a lot of work! Sometimes, when you find something you love, it’s worth spending a few extra bucks rather than waiting to find it cheaper. You definitely don’t want to go home and have dreams, or nightmares, about that chippy antique scale you passed up!
4. The power of negotiation
I once read in a magazine article that dealers expect you to negotiate on price. I don’t know if I’ve found this to always be the case, but I often try to remember this little tip when I feel nervous about asking for a lower price. I’ve read that offering 20-25% less is a fair place to start. More often than not, I find dealers to be receptive when you start with an offer at this point. However, I have received a couple of flat- out “NOs” when I offered a price 20% lower. Don’t let this discourage you. Move along to another booth. (More on this tip later!)
I don’t try to negotiate a deal on everything I buy. Often, I use negotiation when I’ve seen an item for a little less at another booth or at another market, or if I’m buying more than one item. Dealers are almost always willing to negotiate a better price if you are buying a few items from them.
If I’m buying a few items from a booth, I often go in with an offer for the whole bunch. More than often, dealers will take the deal, or go up just a bit but still offer the items for less than tagged.
Having sold a few flea markets myself, I can shed some light on the opposite side of the negotiation partnership. I would recommend not going in with a really low-ball offer. Often, it actually offends dealers, or they will simply say “no” and not even try to give a counter offer. Plus, if you’ve irked them a little and then try to come in with a higher price, they may negotiate with a grudge, which might cost you some money in the end.
After you’ve done it a bit, negotiation can actually be fun!
5. Don’t be afraid to walk away
Sometimes, a dealer might not be willing to come down on price. Or maybe you find an item that you like, but it wasn’t quite what you were envisioning in color, or size, or some aspect. It’s okay to walk away empty handed from a booth, or from a flea market trip.
I’ve found just walking around flea markets has helped me to determine the style I am drawn to, and also to be more knowledgeable about the price, quality, and characteristics of the items I love.
There you have it – my five best pieces of advice to shop flea markets to get great deals! Who would have thought a market that shares the name with a little bug would need so many in-depth tips for an effective shopping strategy?! Do you have any other suggestions for shopping fleas? If so, I’d love for you to share them in the comments.
I LOVE decorating on a budget! You can see all the other projects I’ve done here:
Like what you see? I’d love for you to follow along!
The graphics library is free to all of my email subscribers; you can sign up by clicking the image below.
Join the Refresh Living DIY & Upcycling Community
Join the subscriber list to receive one to two emails per month with updates from the blog. PLUS, you'll gain access to my printables and graphics library. Every new design I create will be added here, and you'll have free access - forever!