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How to Shop the Flea Market Like a Boss (on an Intern's Budget)

Apr 17 2014 - 4:08am

Let's talk shop flea markets. While they've been around forever, these trendy spots are now a place for hunters and hipsters alike. Plus, it's no secret they're right up there with Target for scoring a good deal [1]. Enter the Rose Bowl Flea Market [2]. Likely the queen bee of all swap meets, I took to Pasadena, CA, last weekend to give you the breakdown on how to finally make your bargaining dreams come true. Below is everything you need to know to master the massive garage sale (including the ideal #ootd). Let's get to it, shall we?

Consider Your Transportation

Transportation is one of those things that is easy to overlook but important depending on what you want to buy. If you're only looking for accessories, any car will do, but if you're trying to furnish your space, it's a good idea to borrow or rent a truck. Bribing your friends who own trucks — maybe with In-N-Out? — never hurts.

Arrive Early

Sorry, sleepyhead — the saying "the early bird gets the worm" truly applies to the flea market. Not only will you score a prime parking spot, but you'll also get to shop the vendor's selection before it has been picked over.

Carry Cash

Since most vendors only accept cash, bringing Andrew Jackson along (i.e., a few $20 bills) is extremely important. Having cash will also help you negotiate a price, not to mention keep you on budget. Don't rely on the flea market's ATM either; it will probably charge you a withdrawal fee — and nobody has time for that.

Stay Open-Minded

Although it's very easy to get caught up in finding one particular item, try to keep an open mind. Do have a general idea of what you're looking for, but don't let tunnel vision prevent you from finding cool decor . . . That would just be a shame.

Get Ready to Dig

Don't expect the flea market to be a carefully curated boutique; there is digging involved. No doubt, you will have to search through piles of things in search of a treasure. Sure, it takes a little elbow grease, but nothing beats the satisfaction of finding exactly what you wanted.

Go For Color

Here's the deal: unique, colorful pieces should be your focus. Since they can't be found elsewhere, one-of-a-kind finds will easily boost your decor. As for neutrals? Leave the basics to these affordable decor resources [3], not the flea market.

Act Quick

. . . But not too quick! It's very easy to say "yes" to the first thing you see, yet at the same time, it's also common to pass on something thinking it will be there when you return (hint: it won't). I'm guilty of both and suggest you try to picture how the piece will be used. If you can't come up with a scenario, pass. But, at the same time, some things are completely impractical yet shouldn't be left behind (these lamps [4], currently too big for my studio [5], are the perfect example!).

(Always) Make a Deal

Seriously, do not pay full price — ever! Trust me, vendors want to sell, so there's always room for negotiation. Don't be afraid to walk away either.

Dress Comfortably

Warning: even if you're in shape, the flea market can feel like a marathon. I'm not saying you should wear an old pair of sweats, but do dress comfortably. Even in flats, my back began to hurt toward the end. I also carried a large tote with an extra tote folded inside. Lastly, don't forget the sunscreen and sunglasses — I was guilty of a sunburn that unfortunately never turned into a tan . . .

Have Fun With It

I know "having fun" is cliché, but it has to be noted. Sure, you want to score a good deal and get in before the crowds, but at the end of the day, the flea market is just another resource for inspiration and decor that will make your space truly yours.

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