How to Shop at Flea Markets

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One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday is strolling through a flea market.  It’s refreshing to be outdoors, getting some exercise, all while finding some great deals too!

With vintage-style decor continuing to grow in popularity, a flea market can be your best friend when you’re looking to create that great vintage style on a budget. 

If you’ve never tried shopping at a flea market though, it can be a little intimidating! So here are a few tips on how to shop at flea markets and get the most for your money. 

Guide to flea market shopping

1.  Do some flea market research on the front end.

Not all flea markets are created equally! Take some time before you head out to find out which ones are worth your time, and which ones may be a bust.

The best markets are the ones where dealers actually bring vintage items.  Many markets though are being taken over by cheap, wholesale vendors selling reproduction items or just plain old junk (I mean, who wants old VCR tapes, really??!). 

Ask around at antique malls or thrift stores in your area about what flea markets may be around.   Those are the folks who will know if a market has something to offer, or if it’s not worth the trip. Try and talk to people who have been to the market you will be shopping, and ask them where are the best places to go at that particular market. Every market will have its must-shop areas and the areas you can skip.  A little bit of digging on the front end can save you a lot of time once you arrive.

Many flea markets now have Facebook pages where they will post some of their wares. Take a few minutes and scroll through their photos to get an idea of what they have to offer.  You should be able to get a pretty quick feel about if this is a market that may have some real treasures, or if it’s one you can skip. 

2. For the best deals, head to the fields.

how to get deals at flea markets

Many markets have both indoor and outdoor spaces.  You can be certain that the items for sale in the indoor spaces are more expensive, so I always make a point to head to the outside grounds of the market for better deals. You may have to wade through more junk outside than you do inside (hopefully not piles of junk as big as this one!), but it’s worth it for the better prices.

Don’t be afraid of digging–that is where you can find some of the best prices! In general, the fancier of a display the vendor has, the higher their prices will be. If you’re willing to go out into the less organized areas of the market and spend some time hunting, you will for sure be rewarded. 

3. Bring your flea market gear

Plan on doing a lot of walking when shopping at a flea market.  Comfortable clothing and shoes are a must. Also, bring some water and a snack–all that walking and shopping always makes me hungry!

A small pushcart or wagon is also helpful for hauling around your purchases. Often times it’s quite a distance between where you shop and where you park, so it’s best to bring some wheeled transportation to help yourself out.

Some markets will have carts you can rent. That will work in a pinch, but if you plan on making flea marketing a regular thing, go ahead and purchase some sort of cart or wagon.  Those rental fees really add up over time!.

tips for flea market shopping

CASH is also must! Flea market dealers thrive on cash. It’s easier for them to make deals and to make sales. So, bring more than you think you’ll need (you never know what treasures you will see!) and keep it in a small bag that you wear over your chest.  Some dealers will accept a check if that’s all you have left, but it’s best to just make sure you have plenty of small bills.

Some vendors are now beginning to accept credit cards, but they are less likely to deal with you if you pay this way. In fact, some may even charge you 2-3% fee to cover the credit card processing fee.  So paying in cash is just the best way to get a good deal.

4. Don’t judge the book by its cover–think creatively about what you see for sale

The ability to score a great deal is my favorite thing about shopping at flea markets.  The best way to find the best deals though is to think outside of the box when it comes to what you see for sale.

Just because a piece of furniture is finished in an outdated color doesn’t mean it can’t become what you want it to be–refinish or paint it!  And that old, rusty pan you see lying on the ground can be turned into an adorable hanging planter for your garden!

enamelware pan repurposed into plant hanger

Just like department store shopping, shopping out of season at flea markets is another way to score great deals.  Back in the spring I found this beautiful iron sled for sale at a local market.

tips for scoring good deals at flea markets

Because it wasn’t the winter holiday season, the dealer was willing to sell this item for really cheap.  Rather than just holding onto it until Christmas time though, I looked past its winter theme and decided to use it as a beautiful Easter display.

how to find good flea markets

When you see out of season items at a flea market, don’t pass them by . . . Try to think about other ways to use them and scoop them up then for a much cheaper price!

5. Don’t be afraid to haggle over price

We don’t do a lot of bargaining in our American shopping culture. But in the flea market world, it’s expected! 

99% of the time, the first price the vendor gives you is not what they actually expect you to pay.  A great follow up question is, “Is that your best price?” Don’t be afraid of offending anyone, I promise it’s all part of the game!

You can also grab a small pile of items, and ask for one price altogether. Quite often the “bundle price” is much less than each item would be if sold individually.

Smile, have fun and be friendly.  Strike up a conversation while you’re browsing, and don’t be scared of the back and forth of flea market haggling.  It’s just the way that world works.

I hope that you feel more confident now in your upcoming flea market shopping adventure. Some of my favorite items in my house were found out in flea market fields. You just never know what treasures are waiting, so enjoy yourself and get ready to find some great deals!

Barbara Ann

Thursday 18th of September 2014

Great score on the iron sled!! I so envy you! That is something I would use all year..I have never really hit flea markets, I have a lot of great estate sales around me. Bad me, and I live close to the Rose Bowl Flea Market. I think I am afraid of never wanting to leave..

Barbara Ann

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