Higher discounts help older Americans fight stubborn inflation


It was the free soda at Whataburger that Melvin Schwartz became addicted to. Then he learned that Chick-fil-A does it too.

“I hate spending $2 or $3 on a Coke,” he said the 75-year-old retired IRS agent, whose senior discount also earned him 10 percent off his usual Hungr-Buster combo at Dairy Queen and nacho salad at Taco Bueno near his Dallas home.

Senior discounts have been around for decades. Now they have a moment.

Reviewer mentions of “senior discount” increased 36 percent between 2021 and 2022, according to data from the crowdsourced review site Yelp. And AARP says a growing number of its more than 38 million members are taking advantage of gas, event tickets, and healthcare benefits.

For much older shoppers, sort out promotions Saving a few bucks on a meal, soda, or new pair of pants is a welcome benefit of getting older. But others see them as a necessity, especially as inflation continues to eat away at their purchasing power. This is a growing group – 42 percent of adults over 50 and older are “retired for financial reasons or expect to do so,” according to AARP Research.

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Kathy Lamb, 72, looks for ways to cut back on her hobbies. The Chicago book and photo appraiser seeks discounts on movie and theater tickets and museum memberships. Both the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Driehaus Museum offer a $20 discount for those 55 and older.

“I go to museums all the time and I like to join museums anyway, but the discounts encourage me to join more,” said Lamb.

Historically, such promotions have proven effective for restaurants and retailers in attracting retirees as they transition from the “production to consumption” phase of their lives, said Mindy Weinstein, the founder and CEO of digital marketing firm Market Mindshift. Normally, these consumers want to spend money and are more willing to visit places that value them, she added.

“We all like exclusivity,” Weinstein said. “So when companies offer that, it’s a sense of, ‘I’m part of this special group… I’m being recognized and rewarded.’ And it builds loyalty.”

Yelp’s data backs this up: Nearly 80 percent of reviews that mentioned “senior discount” were positive.

A handful of major retailers offer discounts for older customers. Kohl’s, Ross and Goodwill offer 10 to 15 percent off certain days of the week. Michael’s offers a 10 percent discount daily, and Walgreens and Joann Fabric and Craft have 20 percent off select senior days, which vary based on location.

It is also common for local grocers, restaurants, salons and stores to advertise offers for older customers. United markets, a family-owned grocery store in Marin County, California, offers a 10 percent discount for people 60 and older on the first Thursday of every month. On Tuesdays, Joe Randazzo’s Fruit Market in Detroit has a 10 percent discount. Signature Style Lounge, a hair salon in Hopatcong, NJ, has a 15 percent discount for appointments Wednesday through Friday.

There’s also not as much stigma around these promotions anymore, Weinstein said. Older consumers feel more comfortable being online. They’re on Facebook, joining groups and posting about their outings, and on Yelp, where they see other people writing positive reviews about discounts, she added.

“For those seniors, being able to see that, ‘Oh, other people my age group — they’re active, they travel, they go to restaurants, they go to the theater.’ It takes a little bit of the stigma off,” Weinstein said.

Some perks — like credits for utility bills and internet and cable discounts — are welcome reprieves for those trying to stretch their dollars. Like most Americans, older consumers are feeling the weight of relentlessly high inflation. This was evident in the US Census Bureau’s February retail sales report, which showed a 0.4 percent drop from the previous month. And even though inflation cooled to 6 percent in February, the stakes are still high for seniors out of work and facing rising costs of long-term care in assisted living facilities.

Many seniors have also seen their pension funds shrink due to an unstable stock market. A report from Fidelity Investments found that retirees lost 23 percent of their balances year over year by the end of 2022.

Social Security benefits are also lagging inflation, despite the government agency increasing benefits checks by 8.7 percent from this year. The boost isn’t enough to offset rising prices for essentials, leading many to tap into their savings and some to return to work, said Chip West, a retail and consumer behavior expert at marketing solutions company Vericast.

“That, coupled with many older Americans starting to carry more debt for retirement — such as mortgages, car loans and even credit card debt — they want to save,” he added. “We see that rising inflation and those rising prices have created a new iteration of a very, very, very smart consumer.”

Older shoppers are more chasing sales, purchasing store brand products and using coupons, West added.

During this inflationary era, AARP has seen increasing membership enrollments. The benefits offered to members are a big draw, with discounts on most major essentials. The advocacy group saw the biggest increase in usage of the gas discount, said Indira Venkat, AARP’s vice president of research, as well as discounts for experiences such as hotels and events. Members have also taken advantage of their mobile plan promotions. And as drug prices continue to rise, members showed greater interest in drug discounts.

Corie Wagner, a senior editor of industry research at SeniorLiving.org, sees similar trends in her research. High prices coupled with the pressure to live off a fixed income have made spending money strategically necessary.

“A few dollars could add up to $100 at the end of the month…and that could go a long way toward your rent, on medicine, on whatever you absolutely need,” Wagner said.

But she cautioned that discounts won’t solve everything: “It’s like a Band-Aid on a bigger problem, but every little bit counts when you’re trying to make ends meet.






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