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If you invited me to spend my Saturday morning fighting crowds and combing through junk at the flea market, I would say, “Thanks, but no way.” Count me OUT.
Nothing against you, of course.
If you invited me to a coffee shop that same morning I'd be all in. I'll take heartfelt conversation over drinks and deliciously carb-loaded muffins any time!
It's just that my last trip to the flea market…well, it didn't go so well.
There were dozens of vendors selling produce and handmade wares, but many looked like they had just ordered their flea market items out of the Oriental Trading catalog and set up shop. I even found a place that sold used kitchen mats and area rugs, and they looked really used. Ick!
Here's What I Don't Understand
I watch Fixer Upper's Joanna Gaines shop the flea market like a pro (while typical Chip goofs off!) and design guru Emily Henderson score vintage flea market finds, and scratch my head.
Maybe I missed something. Maybe I somehow didn't do it “right” the first time. Maybe I wasn't even at the right flea market.
All of which convinced me to give this multi-booth marketplace a second chance.
This time though, I needed first-hand knowledge. I consumed several articles on how to shop the flea market, which ones to go to, etc., etc., so I would be ready when a free Saturday popped up in my calendar.
At the first sign of an opening, I dragged Joseph along (actually, he was a very good sport!) to visit the Red Barn Flea Market in Bradenton, Florida. We didn't come home with anything that was on my list, but we did find quite a few surprising things that weren't!
I also learned how to better approach the market next time, for an even more successful flea market shopping experience in the future—because yes, I'm now a redeemed flea market cynic.
So if you're like I used to be and don't love the stress of flea markets, but love the thrill of an unexpected find, soak in these tried-and-true flea market tips so you can thrive on a Saturday morning when family members drag you along.
And if you already love the flea market, arm yourself with these tips to up your deal-finding game!
1. DO Make a Plan Before You Go
The majority of my first flea market trip was spent walking up and down every aisle and peeking into almost every booth. If you love browsing, you'll adore this part. But I crave efficiency and want to be in and out as quickly as possible!
If the latter sounds like you too, you'll want to grab a map (usually found on the specific flea market's website) or pick one up right when you arrive at the market.
Then read over all the store descriptions and circle the corresponding numbers of each store on your map. Doing this allowed Joseph and I to sail right through aisles where we weren't interested in anything and quickly make our way to the places we were.
2. DON'T be afraid to barter
I used to be really scared of asking for a lower price (okay, I still am!), but the flea market is the perfect place to get over this fear.
Some prices are way too high, so offer what you would feel comfortable paying. If the vendor says no, they say no. But sometimes they will come back with another offer—or even say YES.
While there's no set rule as to which shops you do this in, I generally barter if the shop is a curated collection of flea market finds rather than an actual store with multiple pieces of the same inventory.
The curated shop owner usually wants to unload his wares; in comparison, the shop owner who can just order more from a catalog is less inclined to strike a deal with you.
Also, if you're at the flea market closer to the end of the day, some shops will start the bartering process for you! After seeing me eye an old window turned decor, the owner offered it to me for $15 rather than the $25 asking price, just so she didn't have to haul it back home.
I can't wait to take off the hooks, repaint, then add a few more starfish and seashells. It's perfect for my beach-themed living room!
3. DO shop different vendors before you buy any flea market items
Flea markets are notorious for selling the same exact things in different shops, for different prices. Most of the time, the higher priced items are located closer to the door. I didn't know this going in, but certainly wish I had!
For instance, we decided to pick up a new belt at one of the many leather shops we passed by, and finally found one for $8. We thought it was a pretty good deal, definitely better than a $20 one in Target.
But a couple aisles later, we found the same exact belt listed for $3 — ugh! For real?
If only we had waited to scout out the market before we handed over our money, we could have saved at least $5 for that purchase. Lesson learned: Scout multiple venders before buying anything!
4. DO know your prices
Not everything will be listed as a better price than a regular store, so it pays to do some market research before you go.
Many vendors who appeared to be selling close-out items of brand name shampoo, shaving cream, and other bath and body items were actually pricing them higher than the same product at CVS or Walmart!
There were also some home decor shops selling beach-themed pieces that cost about as much as ones found in high-end shops on nearby Sanibel Island. While I swoon over beach decor, I wasn't about to pay those prices when I could probably find a similar alternative online…for less!
Thankfully, a shop a few booths down offered equally as cute beach decor and I scored two adorable bedside table lamps for $13 each. At Target, the cheapest lamp shade/base combo runs about $15.
5. DON'T Forget to bring cash (and small bills!)
I rarely have cash on hand, so for my first flea market experience, I didn't bring ANY. Nada. Zilch.
Most vendors do have credit card machines, but the ones located in the middle aisles without an electrical outlet are forced to take cash. Plus, if you barter, it's a lot easier to do so with cash than it is a credit card!
Most flea markets offer ATM's, but with after the transaction fee and the bank fee, you can easily be out $5.00 or more that could have been saved by planning ahead and stopping by the bank before hand. Just another lesson learned in the art of avoiding ATM fees!
You'll also want to make sure you bring a variety of small bills. It's not only easier for the vender to make change, it's also a lot less awkward to barter a $20 purchase down to $15 without having to hand over a $20 bill and ask for $5 back.
6. DO bring water and snacks
Flea markets generally don't have air conditioning and can be quite hot (especially the ones in Florida). Plus, if you're spending a long time there, you'll feel tired and drained by the end of the day.
Pack enough water bottles to stay hydrated and stash some snacks in your purse or in small bag. These homemade chocolate chip granola bars are perfect to bring along since you can package them individually in plastic wrap or snack bags.
Most flea markets offer food courts, of course, but it's much cheaper (and healthier) to bring food from home!
Now that I know not all flea markets are bad (you can find a treasure trove of fun items if you go to the right ones!), I'm excited to add a few more flea markets to my Saturday schedule throughout the summer.
FYI: Flea Markets America has the lowdown on where to find a flea market location near you—the Bradenton, Florida one is a win if you're ever in the area!
In the meantime, I can't wait to hear all about your flea market finds and/or tips in the comments below.
How often do you go to the flea market? Do you have a favorite place you recommend? I wanna know details!
Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.