This is the first post of our $17 Saturday series. From time to time we’ll suggest some weekend activities where we challenge ourselves to only spend $17.
If you’ve never experienced the magic of flea markets I’m begging you to drop everything and just go! Get up right now, grab your shopping bags and a fist full of cash and scoot! Oh wait, read this post and get a taste of the magic and a few tips before heading out the door. First off, it’s not a barn full of fleas like I previously thought. It’s actually an eclectic mix of old, used and new treasures waiting to be taken home and loved. Be prepared for a day of searching, sifting and scouting out the best finds at the market. Also prepare yourself for a few heartbreaks. You’re bound to come across the most wonderful treasures and obscure finds that cannot be afforded, but don’t mope too long, move on and find something meant for you! Read on to learn a few tricks before heading to the market.
I knew I wanted to hit up a flea market or thrift store for an installment of $17 Saturday so this past weekend I decided to check out the flea market in Raleigh, North Carolina. It has been around since 1971 and it definitely shows. The grounds were huge! There were vendors both inside and out selling all kinds of stuff. It’s kind of like a thrift store on steroids with a bunch of individual sellers. Some sellers price high and others price unbelievably low. Some stands are organized and have a clear flow of merchandise while others are just piles on the ground. The sellers inside tended to have new merchandise for sale while the people in the outer lot tended to sell antiques and older items. While the records, kitchen supply store and handmade furniture inside the building peaked my interests the real treasures were to be found outside. I knew I wanted the flea market to be a $17 Saturday feature, but all bets were off once I saw the goods to be had.
Hundreds of vendors displayed their items on tables, in booths and overflowing out of the back of their vehicles. There were rows and rows of furniture, antique kitchen gadgets, old license plates, wooden cigar boxes, books, plates, crystal stemware, jewelry and toys. Some vendors specialized in particular items. One man had tables and tables of arrowheads that he found throughout North Carolina. Another man had hundreds of old cigar boxes and yet another had tables of colorful glassware. You could tell some vendors cleaned out houses for a living while others meticulously picked the collections displayed on their tables. Once outside I started skipping and prancing from table to table. It’s hard to contain your excitement when you’re basically standing in the middle of a treasure chest. At one point I even yelled, “CANDLESTICKS!” and started running in the opposite direction, away from my boyfriend, and towards the shiny objects. It was a glorious day. Being led around by my eyes like a dog is by his nose from one pretty item to the next.
I didn’t go to the market with one particular item in mind. Since it was my first time at this flea market I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I wandered around for a while before getting in the grove and seeking out special items. Sometimes it takes a bit of time before you can see individual gems among the piles of stuff. At first glance some stands look like one big heap of junk, but among those mounds you might find an old dictionary or a seasoned cast iron skillet or an antique film camera. Once you spot something you like there are a few questions you should ask yourself: How much do I want to pay? How much am I willing to pay? Is it likely I’ll find this item at another stand? Do I really need this or is it enough knowing that it’s out there and someone else will enjoy it if I don’t? I’m pretty thrifty so I always run through those questions before I attempt to buy something. I also don’t like to get attached to things because I like to move a lot and we all know moving with less stuff is a heck of a lot easier than towing a sixteen-wheel U-Haul. After I decide how much I’d like to pay, I ask the seller the price of the item. He or she will either quote a price or ask how much I think it should cost. If the seller asks me to price it then I’ll knock a couple bucks off the price I’d like to pay. Usually they’ll ask for a few dollars more and it all works out. If they tell you a set price and it’s too high you can usually talk them down a few dollars, but if you’re not comfortable haggling, kindly put the item back and skip on over to the next table. Don’t be discouraged by the prices or lack there of. Sellers have different ways of pricing their items and you may be surprised by how high and low each will go.
I was reluctant to ask about the price of a vintage Webster’s Dictionary, but it was the second one I saw that day. When I opened the cover and noticed that it was owned by a man from Centralia, Pennsylvania, I knew I had to at least ask. Centralia was a tiny little town near the one I grew up in. In the sixties a vein of coal underneath the town caught fire and it still smolders to this day. Because of the mine fire most of the residents have relocated and the houses have been torn down. Less than a dozen houses remain. It has always been a little fascination of mine, which is why I wanted this dictionary so badly. I told myself I would only pay $5 for it and to my surprise it was only a dollar! When the vendor saw the look on my face he said, “Well, now it’s $2.” I smiled, scurried away and tucked my little treasure into my bag. From that point on I was floating around the market finding one prized piece after another. I picked up the set of juice glasses for $5 and the little bowl for $4. I also picked up a small spoon for puddings, sauces and taste testing recipes mid-cook for $3. Lastly, I picked up a black and white bracelet for $1. It’s rare that I can resist black, white or gold jewelry. There were a few items I swooned over, but couldn’t justify buying. I saw a beautiful crystal bottle that would be perfect for alcohol or olive oil and I was extremely tempted to buy an antique lamp, but there was no shade. I currently have three beautiful lamps that I need shades for, I couldn’t forgive myself if I acquired yet another. I’m happy just knowing that those items are out there and when I’m ready to buy them I’ll be able to find them. I finished my day with a huge piece of pizza for the hefty price of $3. After three hours at the market I was pretty tired. Sifting and searching takes a lot out of you. For me it’s mostly mental. It’s three hours of arguing with myself and talking myself out of purchases, but seeing tables of beautiful old goods makes it all worth it. I ran through my purchases in my head and couldn’t believe it when they totaled exactly $17! I hadn’t even kept track of my spending all day until I walking back to the car. It’s funny how things work out like that. I almost talked myself out of the pizza because I had delicious leftovers at home, but I must have sniffed it out for the sake of $17 Saturday.
A few market tips:
- Start your day with an energizing breakfast and a coffee or tea. That way by the time you’re at the market you’ll have energy to browse and stamina to walk up and down the rows of goodies.
- Take a bottle of water and a snack along too.
- Remember to wear comfy shoes and take an empty shopping bag for your future treasures.
- Credit cards won’t do you much good at a flea market. Some vendors accept them, but most only accept cash. It’s best to take a bunch of small bills unless you plan on buying higher priced items. After haggling down a price it would feel like a slap in the face if you asked the vendor to break a $50.
- Above all, remember that it takes time to find treasures. You can’t go into a flea market expecting gems to fall into your purse. You need to put the time in. Sift through tables, talk to vendors, hear their stories and get intrigued. Who knows maybe you’ll find something worth a lot of money or meaning to you.
Here’s a final rundown of how I spent my dollars:
- mini spoon $3
- Webster’s Dictionary $1
- little bowl $4
- set of 4 juice cups $5
- black and white bracelet $1
- enormous piece of pizza $3
- Grand Total: $17
Did you ever score something amazing at a flea market? Do you have a favorite flea market? Tell us about it or show us your treasures on Instagram. Use the hashtags #liveseasoned #fleamarketfinds so we can see your scores.