I keep forgetting that when I'm asked what appears to be a seemingly obvious question, that there is a generation who have grown up into their twenties without ever having bought a record. So before you head out to a second hand record shop, here are some things to consider.
1- Buy something you want to listen to.
This may seem ridiculously obvious, but time spent on deciding on what you like listening to, be it music, genre, band, era, sound effects, stories etc, will help inform the following points.
2- Realistic Expectations.
The most affordable vinyl albums will generally be late sixties, seventies and early to mid eighties. By affordable I mean in the 4-8 pound region. Earlier recordings in good condition could be a lot more expensive due to their age whereas bands from the nineties had very small and limited runs of vinyl and are quite scarce, so be prepared to pay more for those eras. Try to have a good list of options, at least five popular titles from five well known bands/artistes to get started.
3- Check before you buy.
Don't be afraid to look at the quality of the record before you buy it, is it scratched, are they hairline surface scratches of larger gouges? You may not hear the hairline scratches, but you probably will the larger ones. Is the record clean, is the inner sleeve in good condition, what is the cover like? All these should be reflected in the price, it's not unusual to see two identical albums at different amounts.
Don't be afraid to introduce yourself and explain what you are looking for. If there are two identical albums for different prices, ask why they have been valued differently.
5- Give yourself time.
Part of the experience of digging through records is to lose yourself, worrying about when the parking will run out or supervising a bored partner will not add to your pleasure in any way shape or form.
I cannot recommend this point enough. If you have some idea what you would like to buy, a resource like www.discogs.com will give you a good idea of price. Remember, earlier pressings of the same album can be substantially more expensive than later ones. For example, Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" can be several hundred pounds for a mint first pressing, while later pressings can be had for around a tenner.
7- Fools Gold.
You have more chances of winning the lottery than finding a gold Parlaphone stereo "Please Please Me" in a record shop. Even charity shops have someone checking what is passing in through the back doors these days. If you want to win big money, you probably need to find a different hobby.
Whether it's for new or used records, Happy Diggin!