Unlike retail stores, flea markets, yard sales, and other secondhand sources don't have duplicates of every item for sale. It's a treasure hunt. Whether your goal is to find the most treasure or score it for the best possible price, you need to know the best times to shop flea markets and yard sales.
Best Selection: For the best selection of flea market merchandise, get there when they open on the first day they're open. If they're open Saturday and Sunday all year round, go early on Saturday morning. For seasonal or annual flea markets, go early in the season, preferably the first weekend. You'll have the first choice of merchandise the vendors have gathered during off times.
Best Price: For the biggest discounts, it's just the opposite. Shop mid to late afternoon during the final day, or days, of the flea market. Vendors are tired, ready to get home, and might cut you a fantastic deal if you ask. Be prepared to haggle a bit, but you'll probably go home with some bargains, especially on large and bulky items they don't want to pack and load.
Best Selection: Yard sale shopping is much like flea market shopping. You'll find the best selection when the sale first starts. Go on the first day of the sale, and if the sale starts at 7 a.m., be there then. If you've got a number of sales to attend, prioritize them by the most promising sales and by starting times. That way you'll have the best choice of the most merchandise.
Sales that start on Friday are particularly good, because most weekday workers won't go. If you work on Friday, just get up a little earlier. Yard sales start early, and you might be able to get in a couple of shopping hours before work.
Best Price: Like flea market vendors, yard sale sellers aren't as willing to haggle early in the morning, but the prices are usually low to start. Don't wait until the afternoon bargain hours to shop yard sales. Go early, and if you can't make the right deal to start, ask when they're closing and go back. If the item you're eyeballing hasn't been sold, they'll probably be willing to make a deal.
Best Selection: Like flea markets and yard sales, you'll find the best choice of merchandise early on the first day. Go a little earlier than the start time, because you may have to wait in line, and sometimes sale organizers limit how many people can go in at one time. You want to be in the first group admitted.
Best Price:Some estate sales organizers won't negotiate on price the first day. Go ahead and ask, but don't be surprised by a strict policy. There is an upside. They usually have a discount schedule. If the final day of the sale is Sunday, they might offer 25% off in the morning, 35% off in the early afternoon, and 50% off during the final two hours. The amounts may vary, so ask if it isn't posted, and then go back during those final hours.
Best Selection: For the best selection while thrift store shopping, ask when new merchandise arrives. It could be a certain day of the week, or a certain time each day. New furniture stock might arrive on a different day than smaller items. Find out, and hit the stores on those days and times.
Best Price: Thrift store prices are usually low, so you might want to snatch things up as soon as you find them. If the prices are a little high, ask about their sale structure. Thrift stores don't always post their sales clearly, and sometimes the sales are confusing. Find out when they have sales on the items that interest you, and shop those days and times for the best bargains.
Best Selection: Consignment stores are a lot like thrift stores on the best days and times to shop. If new merchandise comes in on certain days, that's the time to shop for the best selection. If it's random, you'll just have to pop in often.
Best Price: Sale structures vary, but lots of consignment stores base sales on how long they've had the merchandise. For example, one of my favorites takes off 20% after the first six weeks, and then another 5% each week until it reaches 50%. Ask how it works. You might want to keep a list of consignment store pieces you want, and head back on those mornings when the pieces will be discounted.