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20 Dos and Don'ts for Flea Market Shoppers

Flea Market Shopping Tips

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Attending a flea market is the ultimate treasure hunt. It’s exciting because you never know in advance what you’ll find. To snag the best pieces at the lowest prices, read the dos and don’ts for flea market shoppers before you head out for a day at the flea.

  1. Do attend early on the first day of the flea market for the best selection. Stop back by during the last couple of hours on the last day to get the biggest discounts.

  2. Do get a map of the flea market if there’s one available. As you shop, mark the booths where you left purchases for later pick up, and those you’d like to revisit later in the day.

  3. Do shop the outdoor booths first at flea markets with a mix of old and new goods. The permanent indoor vendors tend to be the ones selling new, imported, and closeout merchandise. The outdoor vendors typically have the antique and vintage stuff.

  4. Do take cash, including plenty of small bills. Many flea market sellers don’t take credit and debit cards, and not every flea market has an ATM machine on the premises. Even if there is one, you may have to wait in a long line to get cash -- and the machine could be out of order.

  5. Do keep your cash in a front pocket, or in a cross body bag positioned in front. Don’t carry a shoulder bag that’s swinging behind you, or your cash may be missing when you get ready to pay. Flea markets get crowded and it’s not unusual to get bumped or jostled from time to time. Pickpockets take advantage of that crowding, and they use it an excuse to liberate your cash.

  6. Do wear comfortable walking shoes, and don't wear shoes you haven't already broken in. Your feet will be aching by the end of the shopping day.

  7. Do dress in lightweight layers so you can add or remove as needed. The weather can change quickly at outdoor sales, and many indoor flea markets aren’t temperature controlled.

  8. Do take a cup of coffee or a bottle of water with you, if it's permitted. Even if the flea market has a concession stand, the lines may be long and the prices are likely high. Save your concession money for nibbling on the gourmet food truck offerings.

  9. Do take a folding cart with wheels. You’ll keep your hands free for browsing as your purchases accumulate, and your arms won't ache from schlepping them all over the market. Take bubble wrap or newspaper for wrapping fragile items.

  10. Do pack a flea market tool kit and take it with you when you shop. You’ll have your floor plans, dimensions, and color swatches on hand so you don’t make buying mistakes. Most flea market booths have “no returns” policies. Once you buy something, it’s yours – even if it won’t fit through your front door.

  11. Don’t hand over the cash for large items such as furniture without inquiring about pick-up or delivery options. Most dealers don’t mind holding a sold item while you finish your shopping, but they may not be willing to hold it until the next day.

  12. Do stop to chat with the dealers in your favorite booths at flea markets you attend regularly. Sellers remember their good customers, and good customers usually get the biggest discounts.

  13. Do ask for a lower price or make an offer if the price on an item seems too high. Most flea market vendors expect shoppers to haggle, and they’ve probably priced the merchandise accordingly.

  14. Don’t expect huge discounts during the morning of the first day of the flea market. You may get some consideration, but dealers save the big deals for the end of the last day. That’s when they’re pooped and just want to get home.

  15. Don't negotiate price on item after item if you're not serious about buying anything. When you do find a piece you just have to take home, the vendor will assume you're not serious, and he'll be tired of wasting his time.

  16. Don’t walk away from an item you just have to have. If you love it, someone else will too. It probably won’t be there when you go back for a second look.

  17. Do check the condition of furniture, lighting, rugs, and other furnishings. Estimate how much time and money each piece will take to repair -- and make sure repairs are even possible. Bargains aren’t bargains if the piece can’t be put right.

  18. Don’t pass on sturdy, low-cost pieces just because they need a little work here and there. Cosmetic repairs -- such as painting, refinishing, replacing hardware, and some reupholstering -- are easy fixes.

  19. Don’t take your pooch unless you know the flea market allows it. As much fun as it is to stroll an outdoor market with Rover in tow, some flea markets only permit service animals. If you can take your pet, be responsible about picking up his waste. Your dog is adorable. His droppings are not, especially when they’re smeared all over someone’s shoe.

  20. Do think of ways to repurpose flea market finds if you can’t use them for their original purpose. You might be able to turn an old microscope into a table lamp, or repurpose an old set of French doors as a new headboard for your guest room.

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