10 Amazing Tips for Haggling at Flea Markets & Yard Sales

10 Freakin’ Amazing Tips for Haggling at Flea Markets & Yard Sales

If you’ve ever haggled, you know there’s nothing as sweet as the taste of a good deal. The thing is, it’s not so easy. There is a science to manipulation, and knowing tricks of the trade is pretty important when it comes to getting a real deal (and not getting totally gypped). But where do you start? Oftentimes you’re visiting a market or yard sale for the first and only time. Maybe you’re a tourist in a big city lined with booths selling the same things, but you’re not sure if you’re even supposed to haggle.

Lucky for you, the internet is teeming with tips on how to properly haggle. The first step is finding out if you should haggle at all. Once you’ve noticed what the law of the land is, it’s time to casually peruse with your poker face on. Be cool, man. Be cool. And do not exclaim, “I have to have this!” Use your gut to judge whether a seller’s going to give you a good deal or not. Sometimes outside appearances say a lot, regardless of our “judge ye not” attitude day to day.

Remember, though, that you are first and foremost a haggler. Which tends to mean you’re really cheap and you’ll only bend for a good deal. Know what you’re looking for. Do not leave with a bread baker or ice cream maker you’ll use once then watch gather dust on the top shelf in the corner of the garage. Buy what you need and want.

Here are ten freakin’ amazing tips on how to haggle like a total pro.

  1. Find Out if it’s the Right Place and Time to Haggle.

Make sure it's haggling time.
Make sure it’s haggling time.

Everything is negotiable. You’ve heard it before. But is it true? Well, not if you’re concerned with being polite.

Arguing over the price of an ornament on sale at Pier 1 Imports just isn’t appropriate. Trying to reduce the price of a sweatshirt at WalMart? Not appropriate. Talking down a barista on the price of your coffee. Don’t do it. Same goes for many places where the price you’re given is the price that stands. Do your research. If you’re headed to a specific market, look online for tips on whether haggling is an accepted form of payment. If you’re not sure, pay attention to those around you. Do not, however, ask if haggling is appropriate. This will, immediately, show a crack in your poker face if you’re not familiar with the status quo for the turf you’re on.

Still, there are some things you always haggle for. Jewelry. A used car. Furniture. A bicycle. There are some situations when haggling is completely culturally acceptable, too. Think Craigslist, front yard garage sales with little lemonade stands, and street markets packed with (sort of cheap) goods.

When it comes to testing the waters for haggling, go with your gut. And if your gut isn’t quite sure, just give it a try. What do you have to lose, anyway?

  1. Have a Good Poker Face.

Work on your poker face.
Work on your poker face.

Sometimes it’s all about looking like you know what you’re doing. You can get away with quite a lot just by acting according to the part. You can be majorly successful by putting on a firm face. When it comes to haggling, this is certainly true. If you’ve never haggled in your life, haggle like the best of them with a poker face to match. Here are a few tips on body language that engages the seller and gives you some authority as a truly savvy shopper:

  • Pick through things lightly.
  • Act like you’re only so interested.
  • Check your phone from time to time.
  • Instead of going “Oh my God, I have to have that!” let out a small “Hmm…” while fingering the item.
  • Do not buy on your first visit. Make an appearance, leave, then come back a measurable while later.

Just like in a game of cards, don’t hurry through your moves. Take your time and look only so thoughtful while you’re doing it. Of course, if the seller’s playing Sudoku or chatting with a friend, consider eventually asking a question about the item. Find ways to engage the seller without dragging him or her away from the rest of the booth. It’s all about subtlety. You’re interested, but you’re only so interested.

  1. Judge the Seller’s State of Mind.

Use your Jedi mind tricks.
Use your Jedi mind tricks.

While you’re perusing, pay attention to what the seller’s doing. Is he or she nursing a cup of tea or casually working on a crossword puzzle, not a glance up? Conversely, is this person eyeing you as if you’re going to snag a t-shirt and run down the alleyway? Chances are, something in their body language or even dialogue is going to clue you in to how you should act in this situation.

You know what your comfort zone is. Push a little past it when you’re haggling. Whether the seller is dressed to the nines or sporting a stained t-shirt, it’s hard to judge whether he’s the haggling type or not. At the same time, though, if a seller is following you throughout her booth and keeps asking, “You like? You like? Special price!” Maybe she’s the type to haggle. Don’t think that just because she’s saying “Special price,” though, that what she’s going to offer is good. Most likely, she’s upping the price already, knowing you’re going to try to haggle. So start as low as you can go when it comes to your first shot at haggling. Don’t stop at just one step down. Push for it.

Ever heard of personology? Oh, it’s real. Personology is the study of reading faces. The thing is, it doesn’t take a personologist to tell when someone is having a bad day or selling out the wazoo. The main thing to note is confidence: does the seller keep eye contact or glance away often? Chances are with the shy ones, if you’re persistent, you’re going to get that deal.

  1. Research What a Fair Price Is.

Do your legwork and be informed.
Do your legwork and be informed.

I once spent hours at a French street market. What took so long was that I was noting prices for the same scarf from booth to booth. Oftentimes sellers have deals with each other, as in, We sell stuff at the same price. No negotiating. Sometimes, though, you’ll stumble upon a booth or two where they really want to beat the competition, and because of this, their prices are a little lower. Even with lower-priced booths, or especially with them, haggle away for an even lower price.

Unless you think it’s a fair price. Talking someone down to a price below manufacturing costs just isn’t possible. And oftentimes, when you shoot too low, you turn off a buyer and they stick to their bottom line. Haggle smartly. Know what you’re willing to pay, what something is really worth, (What fabric is it made from? Is it even real leather? Is it a true antique?) and bargain accordingly. If you’re unsure of what’s fair, at the very least, you could check out a handful of booths and compare that way.

Style blogger Emily Henderson gives a great sample dialogue on how to do this:

Me: Sir, how much is this?

Him: $120

Me: It’s amazing, I love it.

Him:  Right? Look how great the lines are.

Me: I don’t need it, but I love it … What would your bottom price be?

Him: $110

Me:  That’s a great deal and totally worth it. I’m not sure if it’s in my budget, but you’ll definitely get it for that.

Him: Well, what’s your top price?

Me: Probably $90.

Him: Alright. Give me cash and it’s yours, but only because you love it so much.

 

Another note: Generally people go for hard bargaining and the poker face, but sometimes compliments go a long way and can serve as a uniquely sweet form of manipulation.

 

  1. Bring a List.

Make a list. And check it twice.
Make a list. And check it twice.

You’re here to haggle. Which means you’re someone who’s thrifty and thoughtful when it comes to what you want to buy. For this reason, don’t get all wrapped up in the hoorah of a booming and exciting miles-long flea market. Once, I bought a skirt from an Indian booth. What was I thinking? I was in Italy, capital of fine leather goods, and I was buying a cheap silk skirt. How many times have I worn it since? Sadly, only once. Then it began to rip at the seams.

Glo gives us a pretty solid list of some of the top pieces to look for at a flea market:

  • Old signs make for great wall décor and they tend to be pretty low-priced.
  • Vintage suitcases. Everyone needs a suitcase, which means there are a ton of them to choose from, at low prices.
  • Great for decoration.
  • Go for some vintage plates—you can display them in a case or even mounted on the wall for a classy, girly look.

Of course, if you’ve been to a yard sale or flea market, you know some of the typical buys you can find. Regardless of what’s common, make sure to look for unique pieces as well. Challenge yourself to find something really special, and maybe just maybe the universe will give you a patch of serendipity.

  1. Don’t Act So Excited.

Go to your happy place before haggling. Be cool.
Go to your happy place before haggling. Be cool.

Haggling well requires much more than a poker “face.”

It is sometimes misunderstood that the power of a poker face stems from the face itself. The point of a poker face is to show *no* expression so that others cannot know whether you’re happy, sad, angry, fearful, or frustrated. It is this uncertainty that gives you power during games, not the face.

This is an important distinction to make because most poker faces fail when         people try to maintain a specific expression for it, such as a frown or smirk. A poker face should be neutral and unreadable–that’s where your power will come from.

In other words, it’s not just a straight face you have to keep. You need to be aware of your body language as a whole, as well as the way you speak and walk and interact with others. In short, the easiest advice is simply don’t act so excited. A seller who looks solid, sure of himself, and impenetrable is going to be a hard guy to haggle with. You’ve got to look just as solid, sure of yourself, and impenetrable as him.

Maybe it seems a little silly to take haggling so seriously. But there’s a technique you can dig up for anything, and this is true for haggling. Unless you’re haggling with someone who’s super bubbly themselves, keep the excitement down and the business face up.

  1. Point Out Why it Should be Cheaper.

Explain why you're right. Feel free to use your pointiest finger and sourest face.
Explain why you’re right. Feel free to use your pointiest finger and sourest face.

I once found a purse that I really wanted in the Florence leather market. It wasn’t too expensive, but it was still on the edge of being outside my price range. I examined it carefully for any imperfections. Whereas I’d noticed other purses at numerous booths were nicely lined, this one just showed the rough side of the leather. It was thinner for this reason as well. Although no one would notice from far away, the stitching was a little lighter than the leather, which some might not go for.

I didn’t point out all of these details. If I did, the seller would tell me to go spend my money elsewhere. You don’t want to straight-up insult someone. But I did say to him something along the lines of, “I love the color, but I wish it had a lining. Do you have any purses with linings?” I already knew the answer would be no, and it was. Because of this, I was able to point out that other booths’ purses had linings, but this one was really the one that I wanted. Still, it could be a little cheaper.

I got twenty euros knocked off.

The funny thing with haggling is you never quite know if you’re getting a good deal unless you really cut a price down. Most likely, I got the purse at a fair price. At the very least, it was an amount that I felt comfortable spending. A successful day of haggling if you ask me!

  1. Don’t Buy Just Because it’s Cheap.

It might be too cheap for good reason.
It might be too cheap for good reason.

InsideChic’s Rachel Ashwell puts it to you straight:

Don’t buy something just to make your efforts to get [to the flea market] worthwhile. Coming home empty handed is better than coming home with the wrong stuff. Sometimes you will fall in love with the potential of something. If you have the skill set, tools, and time to achieve the vision, that is wonderful. But be careful of buying projects that will just sit and sit and sit.

At this point in my life, I have to be really careful when I’m in thrift shops. I’m more apt to buy something because it’s a good deal rather than because I actually like the item and want to wear it! But this is a fool’s mistake. Do not buy something just because it’s cheap. Rather, buy something because it’s valuable (at least to you) and happens to be cheap as well.

Before you buy something, imagine yourself wearing it, sitting on it, displaying it, or using it—whatever that object may be. Although half or more of shopping is about what you want, also ask yourself, “Do I need this?” If you feel like you’d really regret walking away from it, go for it. If it’s something you could see hanging out in your closet, ditch it.

  1. Buy One Get One. Make a Deal on Multiples.

BOGO. Get a deal!
BOGO. Get a deal!

We all know how cool Costco and Sam’s Club are. You buy in bulk and you save a lot of cash and time spent at the grocery store in the process. Well, the same goes for flea markets, thrift shops, and yard sales. If someone’s trying to get rid of a matching loveseat and couch, for heaven’s sake, offer to buy both for a decrease in price. They want to get rid of these things, otherwise they wouldn’t be sitting a couple feet from the trashcan on the curb. You’re doing them a favor. The same goes for nearly anything. Ultimately, these people have a lot of stuff that they need to get rid of. Offer to take a handful of whatever off their hands, for a reduced price. This is one of the easiest ways to get a good deal, and fast.

Money Saving Queen knows where it’s at:

If you are buying an expensive item like a car, then the seller expects you to haggle, but the same idea applies to jewelry, televisions, or computers.  A shop owner, salesperson, or manager wants to move these big ticket items and will work with you on the price as much as they are allowed.

They also will work with buyers who are buying multiple items.  This applies to     small mom and pop shops, large retailers like Best Buy, or a local garage sale.  They will work with buyers who are willing to buy several items.

When you’re haggling in multiples, everyone wins.

  1. Show Me the Money.

Flash that cash to make that deal!
Flash that cash to make that deal!

This is the easiest and final move when it comes to haggling. Show the guy the money. Say you’ll pay a certain amount, show the seller you’ve got it, and make the move to hand it to him or her. Chances are, the seller’s going to give in and take what you have. You’re leading with body language, and you’ve got the power to make a sale happen with a swift flick of the wrist. The key with improvisation is to give the other player something to bounce off of. The same goes for haggling. Keep the game moving by showing the money.

Fitz the list-maker has some good, straightforward advice:

Cash is king. Cash talks. Cash enables you to buy stuff out of some old dude’s hoarder estate sale on the spot. Carry cash. Always.

Do not go to a yard sale or antique shop or flea market without cash on hand. Maybe this sounds like “duh,” but so many people don’t carry cash these days and just figure someone will be able to take their card. Not so. Scanning a card takes time, time in which the seller could decide not to give you that deal. And cash speaks. It moves fast. It’s a big must-have when it comes to successful haggling.

 

Haggling is truly an art. And like any art, it requires practice, skill, and talent for the artist to succeed. Training is available, though. Don’t be a jerk and try to haggle for something that just isn’t haggle-able. There’s a time and a place, and if you’re not sure, don’t ask the shopkeeper—ask a fellow shopper. It’s important to keep up a poker face, whatever that means for you. The main piece of advice out there is to keep a straight face and not act too interested or in love with something. That doesn’t mean you can’t be nice or complimentary, though, and the last thing you want to do is criticize something so badly you offend the seller! If the seller seems friendly, make friends. It’s a lot harder to deny a new friend than a total stranger, isn’t it?

Carry cash. Nothing slows down a sale like a card scanner.

If you know a flea market or yard sale is the type of place where you’ve got to haggle, refuse at all costs to pay full price. It just isn’t worth it, and generally these people want to get rid of things more than you even want them.

The simplest piece of advice, though, is to enjoy yourself. Use these tips, but don’t worry about becoming a professional haggler. And even if you get denied, if you’re totally in love with something and think you can afford it, well, you don’t have to haggle absolutely every time.