To haggle or not to haggle,

Thursday, February 26, 2009

that is the question...

(I'm reprising this post for Friday thrift store finds July 2015 as I'm often asked about this subject!)

By the time I was 9 years old, I think I had been to every antique shop in the greater Portland/Vancouver area. Not to mention abandoned properties to study heirloom plants or to old dump sites where my mom would take us to enjoy her bottle digging expeditions.

These experiences gave me a good idea about what to look for when it comes to antiques or vintage items. While I am not a collector of high priced antiques or artwork, I do enjoy them and I'm always up for a trip to the flea market or local antique store. Not only is it fun to dig around and find a cool item for your home, but saving a buck or two is even more fun.

So, if you are planning on going to the flea market this weekend, or any time in the future, I thought I'd share some key money saving "haggling" tips that work for me. These could apply to antique shops/malls as well.

I always scoop up a few keys 
First - Mind your manners.
Be polite. Don't insult the seller by offering too low of a price. For many, this is their income. If you see something you like, ask "Are your prices firm?" or "Is this your best price?" (Personally, I like the first question and use that one because no one wants to come across as non-negotiable.) Nine times out of 10 they will ask,"What are you interested in?" so you show them the item and they'll quote you a price. If you don't like the price, you can counter (with a smile of course) and they'll either accept or reject. If they reject, say "Aww, worth a try!" (still smiling) Any discount is better than no discount. I had to ask some ladies to leave my mother's estate sale because they didn't understand this. Also, be engaging, chat with the seller! Not because you want a better deal but because they have great stories to tell and you're probably like minded people. Yes, a better deal may come of it but that's secondary to a good experience where you both walk away with a win-win. I'm serious on that point. Imparting any bit of goodness makes this world better.

Second - Show me the money
Have a budget in mind and stick to it. 40 dollars can go a long way and always bring cash. Most outdoor fleas are cash anyway, At antique shops, they are more willing to give discounts when you have cash because they're saving on the credit card fees. Also, have an idea of what you are looking for. This will save you time and keep your wallet more full because you have a goal in mind. Of course there is the unexpected find but at that point you have to decide what you want more. When I get to this point, I have to think about which item I am more likely to run into again and then choose the more rare item.

Third - Be cool as a cucumber.
Don't appear too excited about an item and give away your bargaining power. Although the best items are out in the morning, sellers aren't going to haggle just yet. If you really want those vintage locker bins (I would) you may have to pay full price (I would again!) or else the next person will snag them. You have to decide if you want to take that chance. If it's something I have been looking for forever and finally come across it, I'm absolutely going to throw myself onto it. I've lost out a few times on the gamble.

Fourth - Hate the game, not the playah.
Don't worry that you are being cheap. Haggling is part of the fun and most sellers are expecting the game to be played that way. When I had a boutique inside an antique mall, the lowest price I would accept on an item was put into the computer so the salesclerk knew how much to discount when asked. Unless the tag has a ND (no discount) written on it everything is negotiable. Thrift stores usually don't haggle though as most of them are working for charities and already have pre-set prices. They are also getting into the silent bid game on more of the vintage items I've noticed.

Fifth - Know when to fold 'em. 
Be prepared to walk away. If an item is priced just too high or the condition is too poor, you probably don't need it anyway. You can always refinish or reupholster something but are you going to get to it in a reasonable time? I always think I am and end up keeping stuff for too long. I have to really ask myself that question on the bigger pieces of furniture. Remember, one man's trash is another man's treasure and sometimes one man's trash is just one man's trash. Chances are, you'll come across something you like better. And then the game begins again...
I'll see you at the market on Saturday! Play on!


Linking to A Shabby Nest | The New Mrs Adventures


  1. I would like to do a flea market with you sometime. I have never been a huge fan and find them intimidating. Maybe going with a pro would make it less scary.

  2. Can I got with you? It would be such fun!

  3. Well how stupid did I sound in the last comment? Can I GOT with you? Duh! One more time, can I GO with you? :) Love ya

  4. Dang, I wish we had flea markets in our little town. They would be so fun. I remember visiting my grandparents in Arizona as a small child, and we went to one there. I loved it, and would love it today.
    Have fun!!

  5. yay i can go with you now that it's getting warmer outside! (well if i'm not too tired to go at 8AM)
    luv ya mom!

  6. I love your tips Laura! I am thinking of looking around for some antiques to decorate in the basement. :)


  7. Fun! Cute blog by the way. Where is this flea market? Thanks for the tips. I'm always nervous when it comes to price haggling. :)

  8. Jenny,
    It's just off 283 going to Middletown. Not far from E-town. I was always nervous too but it got easier. I think because I asked the 'price firm' question first - it seemed to make it easier anyway. You'll have to come!


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