Tips to scoring big at thrift shops, flea markets and yard sales

Jun 20, 2012, 9:31 a.m.

Thrift shops, flea markets and yard sales are not only fun to peruse, but they can also be quite a boon to the savvy shopper. But how do you ensure that you find what you're looking for and get the best price at the same time? Here are a few tips to bring with you the next time you visit a flea market or yard sale. Sticking to these, you'll easily find cheap furniture, handy dandy housewares, and gently used toys and clothing.

Location and timing are everything. Choosing thrift shops and yard sales in more affluent neighborhoods increases your chance of finding high-quality, brand name items in good condition. If you're looking for cheap furniture and equipment for your office or home, choose a thrift shop near business complexes. Many offices like to rotate out their furniture and equipment regularly to keep their look fresh, giving you a perfect opportunity to get high quality items on the cheap.

Many people clear out unwanted items on the weekend and take them to thrift shops. Because of this, most thrift shops put out new inventory early in the week. The earlier in the week you get there, the better your chances are of finding clothing and shoes in a particular size, as well as high-quality household items and furniture.

Flea markets and yard sales typically start early in the morning. The earlier you arrive, the better your chances are of finding exactly what you want. The later in the day you go, the pickings are bound to be slim. However, that's not to say there's no reason to go later in the day. In fact, you may be in a position to wheel and deal later in the day. This brings us to our next point.

Do you love to make a deal? Then you're in luck. Haggling is a perfectly acceptable activity when shopping at flea markets and yard sales, and even some thrift shops. In fact, it's almost expected. Don't be afraid to offer a lower price for that fancy entertainment center or living room loveseat. The seller may agree, and then you've got yourself a bargain! However, if the seller can't bring the price down into your cost threshold, leave them your phone number. Chances are good that the item in question will still be around at the end of the day -- if so, the seller may decide that your offer is better than hauling that enormous piece of furniture back into their house and give you a call instead. This is where shopping later in the day can come in especially helpful. The later in the day it gets, the more likely a seller is to reduce a price just to sell an item quickly. This can be a great way to score big on cheap furniture.

Make sure it fits. It does you no good to get a great deal on a piece of furniture if it's not going to fit in its intended space. Make sure you measure the furniture, as well as the space it should occupy, before you buy it. Most thrift shops and yard sales won't accept returns, so if you discover it doesn't fit, you might find yourself trying to sell that same piece of furniture at your own yard sale.

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