With money being tight, a flea market can be an excellent place to search for items you need and desire. If you've never been to a flea market, you just don't know what you're missing. There are so many treasures to be found! Don't let those rows and rows of tables intimidate you! You'll surely find some great deals but it does require a little effort and planning before you head out the door in search of treasure.
1) Do your homework. Find the right flea market depending on what you're looking for. Are you wanting to spruce up your living room on the cheap? Looking for kids clothes? Trying to find collectibles to resell? Different flea markets offer different items. Some have collectibles and antiques others offer newer items, clothing, electronics and whatnot, and then there are the ones that have a combination. Do an online search of "flea market and your state", ask friends and family and check local newspapers for flea market listings. If you don't know how to get to a location, be sure to print out driving directions online.
2) Dress properly and be prepared for any kind of weather. Wear comfortable clothes. Jeans or shorts and a t-shirt will do nicely but make sure you have pockets for your cash. Comfortable shoes are a must as you'll be on your feet for long periods of time. If there's a chance of rain bring a raincoat with hood and If it's cooler have a jacket. Leave the purse and umbrella behind because flea marketing is a hands on sport. Sunblock is very important as well. Make sure you apply it and keep some in the car. Having a pair of sunglasses isn't a bad idea either.
3) Eat before going because flea market food is usually expensive, greasy and may give you the runs (sorry, it's true). Porta-potties aren't so great at flea markets either. You might want to pack a lunch because some flea markets have no concessions. Pack your cooler with sandwiches and drinks then leave it in your car. Consider a canteen style drinking container that attaches to your jeans or belt so your hands will be free to dig for treasures.
4) Arrive early if you're worried you'll miss out on the good stuff. It is common sense that being first in line will give you first pick at items. Don't discount arriving later in the day though. Many times you'll get a better deal toward the end of the day. A lot of sellers would rather let something go for cheap than pack it back up and lug it away.
5) Cash is king. Carry plenty of cash in all denominations. Most vendors won't accept personal checks or credit cards. Get a receipt when you buy a high ticket item to help you keep track of money spent.
6) Shop alone if possible. You'll want as little distraction while you're bargain hunting. If you do take someone, make sure they'll leave you alone and let you "snoop".
7) Learn to haggle. Don't be afraid to offer less for an item. Most flea market vendors expect it and usually mark items up just a bit for that reason. Consider buying more than one item from a vendor making them more likely give you a discount. Don't feel bad about walking away if they won't deal with you. It's all part of playing the game.
8) Don't buy something just because it's cheap. Make sure you actually have a use for an item before handing over the cash. It's a shame to waste money on something that will end up in the attic or on a shelf at Goodwill. Ask yourself "Who will use this or where will it go?" If you can't answer, don't purchase.
Know what you're looking for and research it. If you're buying antiques and collectibles, have some idea of the value and condition. Consider making yourself a cheat sheet as a quick reference about the items you seek. I like to carry a running list of things that I want and need so I can keep my eyes open for those items.
If you're shopping to resell, think about carrying a mobile device that will allow you to quickly research and compare prices. I like to text ChaCha (242242) to find the going prices on eBay.
Take a tape measure if you'll be buying clothing or trying to find a piece of furniture. Speaking of furniture, make sure you have a way to transport any larger pieces you may find.
What are your flea market shopping tips? Do you have any awesome finds to share? Tell us! =)