The Art of Flea Market Negotiation

The art of flea market negotiation, tips and tricks plus a glimpse into popular flea markets in California.

Did you know that I have a Master’s degree in Persuasion? Yep! It’s true! I graduated from CSUF with a Communications degree. My emphasis was Interpersonal Communication and Persuasion. What does that have to do with flea market shopping? The amount of treasure you can find can quickly drain your pockets, so learning the art of flea market negotiation is a must.

Perusing flea markets is not only fun, but a great place to find unique bargains. You can find everything from clothes, jewelry, collectibles, home décor, and furniture. Here are some money saving tips:

Dress the part

Hey, I’m a fan of looking good, but leave the accessories and designer clothes and handbags at home. As humans, it’s natural to judge one another by our appearance. If you are dressed in your Sunday’s best and it looks like you can afford the item you want to haggle about expect to pay full price… just sayin’.


Vendors at flea markets can sell to whomever they want. They can say no too and move on to the next customer. It’s important to be kind and polite. Being rude is a turnoff to vendors (and in life). Complement their selection of merchandise, after all, you are asking for a favor to reduce their price. I’ve often found that Vendors are extremely interesting people! Chit chat about their wares. People love to talk about themselves! Friendly conversation builds rapport, and a higher likely hood of a discount when asked.

Buy more, save more

The more items you buy from the same vendor, the likelihood of getting a discount is greater. Vendors like to bundle. I loved these vintage glass door knobs that wanted for some repurposing projects. She wanted $10 a piece but I was able to negotiate two for $16 right away and saved 20%.

Ask, but don’t offend

Haggling is expected. Sellers are used to it and know that most people will try to negotiate. This is why they often start high in their prices. Keep in mind that large vendors tend to price their items higher than smaller ones. If you are unsure HOW to ask, a good question to start with is, “What’s your best price?” At what price should I start negotiating? My suggestion is to START at more than 50% of the asking price, around 30-40% off. Depending on the seller, the item, and your interpersonal interaction you may be surprised by how much is in your control.

Be ok with walking away

I REALLY wanted this vintage metal mirror I found at the Long Beach Antique Swap Meet. It wasn’t something I was looking for, but just HAD to have. We negotiated a little but I still wasn’t happy with the price. I said, “OK. Let me ask my husband.” Then, I started to walk away. In my head I really didn’t NEED it anyway. She stopped me and then agreed to my price.  She wasn’t willing to let me walk away and lose the sale in a completely fair price.

Cash is king

Money talks, especially in the form of cash. Using a credit card costs vendors money because they have to pay fees.  Therefore, cash gives you more leverage and negotiating power.

Come early and stay late

Who wouldn’t want to spend all day at an awesome flea market??? Early birds do get the worm (with cash) by having first dibs, BUT if you stay late and your treasure is left un-bought, you can pounce on it for less. I found this is especially true for furniture pieces.  Vendors do not want to lug it back and load it on their trucks. They’d rather make the last-minute sale, especially if they’ve had a good day.

BONUS money saving tip:

If you are looking for a particular item, shop it around the flea market. I’ve kicked myself for buying something at once price and seeing the same exact item a few booths down for much less.  Plus, flea markets aren’t like retail stores and there are likely no returns! Depending on the size of the flea market, do a quick once around to get an idea of what you can find and where it is located.

Here are some flea markets I have visited in the past. Most of these are old articles, however the pictures are fun to look at. It’s amazing what you can find!

Here’s a look inside the Long Beach Antique Swap Meet, a place my family and I frequent:

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