I’ve done my fair share of flea market and thrift store shopping, but I’ve never sat down and put together a post on how to navigate a flea market. Since Scott and I are heading to Round Top, Texas today (SO EXCITED), and I have heard it is the mother-load of all flea markets, I was inspired to share some of my top tips for enjoying and shopping in a flea market.
First though, why do they call it a flea market anyways? Can we talk about that for a second? Because all the stuff is filled with fleas? Eww. Luckily I don’t think that’s the case any longer—at least not with anything I bring home! 🙂 Anyways, here are seven tips for fantastic flea market shopping!
Dress for success:
If you are going to be serious about your flea market experience, I believe it starts with the outfit you choose to wear. I go to shop seriously, not look cute (although sometimes I can manage both maybe?!), so I leave my heels at home. I am always shocked when I see ladies teetering around on tall shoes, trying not to fall over in the grassy patches. They look adorable, but uncomfortable. I recommend dressing in layers—especially if you will be outside. My outfit of choice is comfy flats (I am LOVING these shoes for flea markets/thrifting lately), jeans, a tank top and a thin sweater. If I get hot, I just tie the sweater around my waist and keep on going. 🙂
In case you didn’t know, most dealers will only accept cash, and even if they don’t—cash can help you get the best deals. As Dave Ramsey says, Cash is King! Meaning, if I can flash 5 crisp $10 bills and say this is all I can offer on a piece, there’s a much better chance of my offer getting accepted over a credit card. Make sure you have a wide variety of bills—if you are lucky you can find lots of good $1 items!
Flea markets, especially good ones, can be overwhelming. The first time I went to Canton Trade Days, I didn’t know where to look. I felt like I was just running around from booth to booth, looking for something to spend money on. I didn’t do my research beforehand. Now, when I go to a new market, I make sure to spend an hour or two researching. I talk to people who have been—if I don’t know anyone personally, I use Instagram or Twitter to find people using hashtags. For example, since we are heading to Round Top for the first time today, I asked 3 people who have been what they recommended. I asked which booths they liked, where to park, and what price ranges I should expect. I also searched #roundtop on Instagram to see what people were buying and where the good stuff I wanted was.
I also will make lists of what I am looking for on a particular trip, just so I can stay focused. That doesn’t mean I don’t depart from my list, but it just gives me a starting point. For this trip I’m looking for a variety of items from rugs, vintage fans, an old scale, mirrors, fabrics and vintage wood pieces. We’ll see how good I am at sticking to my list. 😛
Don’t be afraid to bargain:
Here’s a great opportunity to take my own advice. Don’t be scared to bargain! For some reason it makes me super uncomfortable to do so, but the dealers EXPECT you to. It’s part of the experience. The worst they will do is say no. For now I mostly beg Scott or a friend to do the negotiating for me, but I am practicing and working on strengthening this muscle. Besides, the worst they will do is say no. 🙂
Carry with grace: The first time I went to Canton, I couldn’t get over how perfectly able people were renting scooters and using them to drive around the grounds, stacking the built-in baskets full of vintage treasures. While I haven’t resorted to that (yet!), Scott and I finally broke down and bought a rolling cart. They are a little dorky, okay, but whatever, I want to shop and don’t have time to go to the car every hour. Also, if you have a stroller—even if you don’t bring your kids—pack that sucker and use it to hold your stuff for you. If you buy bigger pieces, some dealers will hold them for you until the end of the day, just make sure you can remember where their booth is! 🙂
Be ready to walk away: Here’s the deal. You’ve got X amount of hours and X amount of money, so don’t feel like you have to spend it all at once. There might be an item that’s interesting, but not necessarily unique, or something that is the wrong color but a nice shape, or something that’s broken but looks okay…you have to set your price of what you are willing to pay, and if the dealer isn’t willing to meet it, or if you don’t love it—walk away. Save your money (and basket space!) for something you really love.
Love it, buy it: On the other end though, there are times you will run into items that are one in a million. The kind of thing that you are willing to blow all your money on, or spend more than you initially wanted because it’s worth it. These are the kind of things that if you love (love, love!) you should buy, because you may not see them again. Sadly I have three items in my shopping life that I loved, but didn’t buy—when I decided to go back for them they were all gone, every time. Sad day. That perfect campaign dresser still haunts me. Sigh. BUT, I learned from my mistakes and know when to “splurge”—like when I got this vintage work bench and gave it the greatest furniture makeover of all time. 😛
So those are my top tips for how to enjoy a flea market! I’m sure you guys are also experienced shoppers, so tell me what your best tips are. I might need them! 🙂