How to Bargain at Flea Markets

We interviewed two flea market fanatics -- a longtime seller and a devoted buyer -- to get the scoop on how to get the best price on the octopus-shaped pendant or shabby chic credenza you've got your eye on. 

You like wearing other people's used clothing. You're not afraid of bedbugs. You love shopping at flea markets.

Somewhere along the line, someone decided that the word "vintage" was a synonym for "cool," which is why we have legions of women dressing like grandmothers and decorating with needlepoint pillows.

But regardless of how many old-timey pieces you want to pick up when you're cruising the flea market circuit, your ultimate goal is to get a good deal. Just because something is old doesn't mean it's worth a million dollars, right? So, how can you be sure that you're going to walk away with the best deal upon leaving your favorite flea market?

Consider the following:

Bargain by... Knowing Where You Are
Flea markets are like snowflakes: No two are alike. "Think about the market's overall vibe: Is it aiming to be some D-list joint, shilling sunglasses, socks and cheap clock radios, or does it feature things you'd find on Etsy?" says Ashlea Halpern, a New York City-based freelance editor. "I could spend hours wandering the latter, but if I've stumbled across the former, I eat some funnel cake and get out."

Bargain by... Shopping Around
Your mama told you right. When it comes to flea markets, you better shop around. Remember that just because something is "vintage" doesn't necessarily mean it's one-of-a-kind. "Always walk once all the way through the market before making any purchases," Halpern advises. "I was so annoyed at one market last year when I dropped $18 on what I thought was a rad copper octopus pendant, only to discover an even radder copper octopus pendant for $15 two booths over." Unless you've fallen completely and totally in love with an item right on the spot (if so, get a grip), it may be better to assess what's on offer at other booths before making a deal.

Bargain by... Remembering This is Somebody's Job
While some people exhibit at flea markets as a weekend hobby, others do it as their full-time job. Joanne Adler -- a 35-year flea market veteran based out of the massive Rose Bowl Market in California -- says that's a huge factor on whether or not you'll be able to get the price of an item down. "What I'm selling is not my only source of income, so I don't have to sell something if I don't think I'm getting the right price for it," Adler says. Other people who depend on what they sell at the market that day to support themselves may be more willing to deal.

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