Flea market basics: Shopping tips, great finds

Shoppers often go to weekend flea markets with long lists and high expectations. But experience shows that the smaller your agenda, the more successful you’re likely to be. Sure, having a few purchase goals in mind helps. But the joy of flea markets is in the discovery of the unexpected. The less you have to buy, the greater the chances of finding something perfect for your home, kitchen or yard.

So for a great day of home-improvement hunting, stay open-minded and bring along these essentials, say the editors of Fresh Home magazine:

• Coffee. To get the best choices and bargains, be among the first through the doors, which often open by 8 a.m. So get up extra early, grab that java and go!

• Small bills. It’s a simple bargaining trick: If offering $13 for something, show them the $13, exactly. Pulling out a $20 bill doesn’t work nearly as well.

• Several large canvas bags and some tissue paper. Sellers will be happy to wrap items, but are likely to throw in an additional item if the customer personally does it.

• Water! When the sun is shining, open-air markets get hot quickly. A wide-brimmed hat helps too.

• A camera. There are many unusual sights at flea markets just begging to be photographed. These photos can make great art displays for your home. Just be sure to ask permission from the vendor first before shooting.

Not sure what to look for? Here are some favorite second-hand finds:

• Wall hangings. Old signs and posters add personality to any decor, be it country or ultra-modern. Make a statement–even if it’s just “Good Eats!”

• Tin tray tables. Place them on top of large planters to make a table for a screened-in porch.

• Alternative porch seating. Look for old stadium, movie-theater or assembly-hall seats.

• Cast iron cooking gear. Old Griswold skillets and soup pots last forever, work terrifically well, and are a bargain.

• Vintage fabrics. Use as a tablecloth, to cover old chairs, to make a pillow out of, for creating a retro-style headboard.