Flea markets and swap meets are one of the best ways to save money and find some treasures.
What Are Flea Markets and Swap Meets?
Different name, but pretty much they mean the same thing. In the western states, the swap meet is more common, while the flea market is the preferred name on the eastern side of the country. Both are a large indoor or open-air market where dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of vendors and bargain hunters gather to buy, sell an insane amount of used goods.
Every flea market is a little different. They’re great places to find deals on goods that may not be available anywhere else, even in specialty stores. Some specialize in specific item classes, such as home furnishings, while others are more eclectic.
Here are a few tried and true tricks that are designed to make you a better flea market shopper and to reduce the amount of money and effort involved.
Make the Most of Your Shopping Experience
1. Take Cash
Though many flea market and swap meet vendors now use mobile credit card processing systems such as Square, many remain cash-only Its simply helps them keep their costs down. On your next flea market outing, bring as much cash as you’re willing to spend on the items you’re targeting for purchase, plus a little extra. Be sure to bring small bills. If you are an early bird, you will clean the vendor out of their change quickly if all you have is a $100 bill.
2. Dress the Part
Wear comfortable, bland, even unfashionable clothing, such as a low-key tracksuit or off-brand jeans and shirts. Avoid clothing that’s obviously expensive or even overly stylish. Leave the jewelry at home.
You want to appear frugal as if you don’t have much disposable income to spend on fashionable clothing, jewelry, or personal accessories. Haggling is given at flea markets and swap meets, but if you appear to have money, they will be reluctant.
Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes. Some of the largest swap meets are hundreds of acres. Nothing is worse than leaving without your great finds because of sore feet. Wear running or tennis shoes.
3. Arrive Early
It’s funny how many people differ in opinion on this one. The die-hard will argue that the best deals are found just before markets close for the day when vendors are looking to offload their remaining inventory at all costs.
This strategy works sometimes, but it’s taking a chance. Vendors may sell out well before closing time and hit the road. You might end up paying less for your purchases but have to compromise on your choice of items.
I have been to many Flea Markets and Swap Meets, and in my opinion, show up prior to the market’s opening time.
4. Bring Something to Carry Your Finds
One of the most important and underrated flea market accessories is a wheeled cart, wagon, or even a wheelbarrow – whatever your preference, as long as it doesn’t impede your movement or interfere with others. Running back and forth to your car is really a pain, and time-consuming.
5. Bring Snacks, and Stay Hydrated
Before you leave for the market, eat a hearty breakfast and take in plenty of fluids. Bring high-energy snacks for your time at the market so that you don’t have to stop your hunt for deals to find a food truck or concession stand. Take along a refillable water bottle too.
6. Always Haggle
Haggling is a fact of life at flea markets and swap meets. Unless a vendor says firm and non-negotiable – which is rare – the first quote you hear is not the bottom dollar.
Usually, you can expect to knock 10% to 15% off the vendor’s initial offer, usually by setting your first counter-offer at 20% to 25% below the ask.
Flea markets and swap meets aren’t the only places to find great deals
Though they’re typically smaller and have less variety, run-of-the-mill garage sales are often filled with amazing finds. So are thrift stores, consignment shops, and vintage shops
When it comes to bargain hunting, flea markets and swap meets are truly just the beginning. That’s great news for anyone who likes a good deal. Sometimes the best option is often to shop online, where retail and auction websites such as Craigslist, and eBay entice shoppers with millions of individual deals.
What’s your best strategy for bargain hunting at flea markets?
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