Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tips on How to Shop at Flea Markets

Hello there readers, this is Liz from Zilredloh.  I couldn't be happier to step in for Stephanie while shes off having a fab vacation, since she's providing me my first foray into guest blogging.  :)  Thanks for asking me Stephanie! 

I'm here today to talk about a topic that is dear to me, one that I've never fully shared before in such detail: Flea Markets.  After going to flea markets over the past 2+ years, I have lots of good tips to share with you that should help you get the most out of your flea market trip and score some good deals.  Sound fun?!  Okay here we go... 

Nearly every Sunday morning, my hubby and I wake up at the crack of dawn to head out to our local flea market.  While he takes photos of all the crazy stuff, I'm always on the hunt for that perfect vintage item whether it be vintage sewing supplies, bakelite bangles, aqua kitchen accessories, or 50's hats.

The best part about the flea, besides the low-prices, is the variety of items for sale.  You never know what you're going to find that you need, and every week brings a new assortment of vendors and merchandise.

From my experience, flea markets are one of the cheapest places to shop for quality vintage goods aside from going directly to estate sales.


There are several different types of flea market vendors.  There are guys selling items directly from estate sales, as well as one-time vendors who bring the items that didn't sell in their garage sales.  There are collectors looking for a quick buck by selling parts of their collections off, along with people selling new items that look almost new.  Each market will be different depending on your area but they're all about selling things cheap & prices are almost always negotiable.  Be prepared to encounter many fun, colorful characters.  :)

 Random Bits of Wisdom

  • Arrive within 30 minutes of opening or not at all
The saying is true that the early bird gets the worm for flea markets.  People who get there earlier do nab up all of the good stuff.  It's not to say you won't find great things at noon at your flea, but you'll be missing out on the even cooler stuff that was there at 7am or 8am.

  • Dress kinda grubby
I never go the flea wearing nice clothing.  I go pre-showered, makeup-less with my hair in a pony-tail, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a hoddie (since it's generally chilly in the morning).  I don't wear any of my cute skirts or even my engagement ring for that matter. 

If you look like a million bucks, you are probably going to be quoted higher prices by the vendors than if you look, well, drab.  Not all vendors will price things that way, but I tend to play it extra safe on this front.  I've had people look me up and down and the female vendors have even glanced at my ring finger to look at my ring.  As a bonus, this makes waking up earlier much easier since I just roll out of bed and run out the door with little to no prep.

Ladies, this includes purses!  On the drive to the flea I transfer my wallet, keys, etc to a long-strapped purse that goes across my body and leave my real purse in the trunk of my car.  The long strap on my 'crappy bag' affords two hands for snatching things up easily.

  • Guys are more willing to negotiate prices, especially guys in their 50's (or more)
I don't know why this holds true, but this is what I've come to find since I've been a flea-regular for 2-ish years.  I've tried negotiating with women in their 40's and they don't seem to haggle as willingly as the guys.

  • If you see something you want, don't walk away from it
Chances are it won't be there when you go back.  That and you also won't be able to remember which booth it was that you even saw the item.  It sounds silly, but I've gone searching up and down rows of booths trying to re-find an item, only to be unable to locate it (and leave the flea in mild frustration).  It happens. 

  • Don't be afraid to walk away if the price isn't low enough
Haggle as much as needed and then be honest as to the price you would pay.  If that still doesn't work, just walk away.  Yes, it does suck.... but will ensure that you won't regret the price/item later on.

  • Carry only the amount of cash you are willing to spend
The flea is kinda like Vegas in that respect...  I only carry the amount I'm willing to spend.  If I have a lot of money on hand, I'll most likely spend it.  But if you find the perfect high-ticket item and you need more cash, vendors will usually hold the item until you get the cash you need.

  • If you buy a large item, the vendor can hold it in the back until you're done shopping for the day.
I wouldn't wait 3+ hours to claim your item, but it's reasonable for the vendor to hold your item for an hour or two, until you've finished shopping for the day.  People do it all the time and flea vendors respect the honor code.

  • Be prepared --> with a flashlight & shopping bags & singles
I actually learned this tip from the TV series American Pickers.  They always have flashlights and they come in handy.  I have a mini one that fits in my small purse and it's been perfect for the early mornings when the sun isn't high in the sky.

Also try and bring your own canvas totes.  It makes carrying you items easier and prevents any accidental breakage that could happen with a plastic grocery bag (if the vendor even has any bags to give you).

If you're buying low cost items, vendors may grumble at breaking your 20 dollar bill.  I try and have singles when possible to avoid this... but it's not a requirement.

*Phew*  That was a ton of information for you guys in one post.  I really hope you find this post useful if you've been on the fence about attending a flea market.  Even if you go to solely look around, which is what my husband does, it's a ton of fun. 

I'd love to hear any of your additional flea market tips or fun flea market related stories. 

Thanks for reading everyone and thanks for inviting me over, Stephanie.  :)


  1. These are really great tips. I've notice that older men do tend to let things go for cheaper. It's pretty odd.

  2. wow thanks for the wonderful info! i'm going to copy paste and print out these awsome tips so i can have them handy!
    thanks again,

    1. Yay! I'm so glad you found this useful. :)

  3. Thanks for all the great tips!
    Now I just need to find a flea market near me. :)

    1. If you don't have one near you, I try to fit one in while I'm on vacation for fun. Different states in the US offer a different variety of items for sale.

  4. I totally agree about the dressing down thing. I have tested it out to see if its true and every time I arrive dressed nice, I am expected to pay more. That goes for garage sales, flea markets, estate sales, etc. My shopping clothes involve a tee shirt, yoga pants, flip flops and a diaper bag.

    1. Sounds like you have your shopping wardrobe perfected Brittany! :)

      I first learnt this while I was looking for wedding venues for my reception. The first thing anyone did was look at my engagement ring to assess my income level which I think is just tacky.

      It helps to leave all of the 'finery' at home while doing any kind of bargain shopping. :)

  5. Great tips, thanks for writing them up! I usually just haunt my local flea market, but I'm trying to cast my net a bit further this summer and try some new ones... I'll be keeping these tips in mind!

    I must say, though, I've had the opposite experience with dressing up. I wear '40s and '50s vintage on a daily basis, and I've found that many vendors love talking to me about my outfits, and will often cut me much better prices because they know it's going to a home where it'll be appreciated. Could be a regional thing, as I live in a rural farming area where most vendors are just chatty old people clearing out barns and such ;)

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your finidings Dakota. :) I do know some of the vendors where I go are a bit chatty, but the majority of them at my flea just want to make a sale and move on.
      I think it would be refreshing to go to a more rural flea that has more local color and frendliness. At least I wouldn't need to dress in grubby clothes and skip my morning shower.

  6. Wow, I wouldn't ever have thought about dressing down, very interesting. Maybe I'll give that a try this summer. We live a lot closer to that flea market now (at least I think it's the same one), so I'm hoping to get there a lot this summer. Can you believe I've only been once!

  7. Great tips, Liz! I have definitely found all of these to be true!