The Best Times to Shop Flea Markets and Yard Sales

Shop early for the biggest selections at flea markets. - Peathegee Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images
Unlike retail stores, flea markets, yard sales, and other secondhand sources don't have duplicates of every item in the store. It's a treasure hunt. Whether your goal is to find the most treasure or to snag it for the best possible price, here are the best times to shop flea markets and yard sales.

Flea Markets

Best Selection: For the best selection of flea market merchandise, get there as soon as it opens on the first day of the market. If it's open Saturday and Sunday all year round, go early on Saturday morning. For seasonal or annual flea markets, go early in the season, preferably the first weekend. You'll have first pick of the goods the vendors gathered during the year.
Best Price: For the biggest discounts, it's just the opposite. Shop mid to late afternoon during the final day, or days, of the flea market. The vendors are tired and ready to get home -- and they might just cut you some fantastic deals if you ask. You may have to haggle a bit, but you'll probably go home with some bargains, especially if you're buying large, heavy pieces the tired sellers don't want to pack and load. 

Yard Sales

Best Selection: Yard sale shopping is a lot like flea market shopping. You'll find the best selections when the sale first starts. Go early on the first day of the sale. If the sale starts at 7 a.m., be there be there a few minutes before -- but not so early that you're labeled an early bird. If you've got lots of sales on the day's route, prioritize them by the most promising sales and by starting times. Your goal is to be the first shopper at the very best sales.
Don't wait until Saturday to visit a yard sale that starts on Friday. Since most weekday workers wait until the weekend, Friday morning is a prime time to shop. If you work on Fridays, hit the sack early on Thursday nights. Yard sales start early; you can probably fit in a few sales before work.
Best Price: Like flea market vendors, yard sale sellers aren't as willing to haggle early in the morning, but the prices are usually pretty low to start. Don't wait until the afternoon bargain hours to shop yard sales. Go early, and if you can't make the right deal to start, ask when they're closing and go back. If the items you're eyeballing haven't sold, they'll probably be ready to make deals.

Estate Sales

Best Selection: Like flea markets and yard sales, you'll find the best choice of merchandise early on the first day. Go a little earlier than the start time. You may have to wait in line -- and sometimes sale organizers limit how many people can go in at one time. You want to be in the first group admitted.
Best Price: Some estate sales organizers won't negotiate price on the first day. Go ahead and ask, but don't be surprised by a strict policy. There is an upside; they usually have a discount schedule. If the last day of the sale is Sunday, they might offer 25% off in the morning, 35% off in the early afternoon, and 50% off during the final two hours. The discount percentages and schedules vary by estate sale company, so ask if it isn't posted.

Thrift Stores

Best Selection: For the best thrift store selections, ask the employees when the new merchandise arrives. It could be a certain day of the week or a certain time each day. New furniture might arrive on a different day than smaller goods. Find out, and then plan your visits for those days and times.
Best Price: Thrift store prices are usually lowish, so you might want to snatch things up as soon as you find them. If the prices are a little high, ask about their sale structure. Thrift stores don't always post their sales clearly and sometimes the sales are confusing. Find out when they discount the items that interest you. That's when you'll find the best deals.

Consignment Stores

Best Selection: The best days and times to shop consignment goods depend on the individual stores. If new merchandise comes in on certain days, that's the time to go. If it's random, you'll just have to pop in fairly often.
Best Price: Sale structures vary, but lots of consignment stores discount based on how long they've had the merchandise. For example, one of my favorites takes off 20 percent after the first six weeks, and then another 5 percent each week until it reaches half price. Ask how it works. Then, keep a list of the pieces you want and on which days the prices are scheduled to drop.

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