Senior discounts help older Americans fight stubborn inflation


It was a free soda at Whataburger that hooked Melvin Schwartz. Then he learned that Chick-fil-A does it too.

“I hate spending $2 or $3 on a coke,” said A 75-year-old retired IRS agent whose senior discount also earns him 10 percent off his regular 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 some time.

Reviewer mentions of “parent discounts” rose 36 percent from 2021 to 2022, according to data from crowdsourced review site Yelp. And AARP says a growing number of its more than 38 million members are taking advantage of benefits for gas, event tickets and health care.

Offers for many older buyers saving a few bucks on a meal, a soda, or a new pair of pants is a welcome perk of getting older. But others see them as necessary, especially as inflation continues to eat away at their purchasing power. This is a growing group – 42 percent of adults in their 50s and parents “are either working in retirement for financial reasons or expect to do so,” according to AARP Research.

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Kathy Lamb, 72, is looking for ways to save on her hobbies. A Chicago-based book and photo reviewer is looking for discounts on movie and theater tickets and museum memberships. Both the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Driehaus Museum offer $20 discounts for those 55 and older.

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

Historically, such promotions have proven effective among restaurants and retailers in attracting seniors as they move “from production to consumption,” said Mindy Weinstein, founder and CEO of digital marketing firm Market Mindshift. In general, these consumers want to spend and are more willing to visit places that value them, he added.

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

Yelp data backs this up: Nearly 80 percent of reviews mentioning “senior discount” were positive.

A handful of major retailers offer discounts to older shoppers. Kohl’s, Ross and Goodwill offer discounts of 10-15 percent on certain days of the week. Michael’s is offering a 10 percent discount daily, and Walgreens and Joann Fabric and Craft will receive 20 percent off select senior days, which vary by location.

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

There’s also not as much stigma around these campaigns anymore, Weinstein said. Older consumers are comfortable online. They’re on Facebook, joining groups and writing about their trips, and on Yelp, where they see others writing positive reviews about discounts, he added.

“For those older people who can see that, ‘Oh, other people in my age group — they’re active, they’re traveling, they’re going to restaurants, they’re going to the theater.’

Some perks — like utility bill credits and discounted internet and cable — are welcome reprieve for those trying to stretch their dollar. Like most Americans, older consumers are feeling the weight of relentlessly high inflation. That’s according to the US Census Bureau’s February retail sales report, which showed a 0.4 percent decline from the previous month. And while inflation cooled to 6 percent in February, the stakes remain high for retirees out of the labor force who face rising long-term care costs in nursing homes.

Many retirees have also seen their pension funds shrink thanks to the volatile stock market. By the end of 2022, retirees will lose 23 percent of their balances by the end of 2022, according to a report by Fidelity Investments.

Social Security benefits are also lagging behind inflation, despite the fact that the state agency has increased benefit checks by 8.7 percent starting this year. The increase isn’t enough to offset the rise in essential prices, forcing many to dip into their savings and some to return to work, said Chip West, a retail and consumer behavior expert at marketing solutions company Vericast.

“This, coupled with the fact that many older Americans are starting to carry more debt in retirement — such as mortgages, car loans and even credit card debt — they want to save,” he added. “What we’re seeing is that rising inflation and rising prices have created a new iteration of the very, very, very savvy consumer.”

Older shoppers are more likely to look for sales, buy store-brand items and use coupons, West added.

During this era of inflation, AARP’s Membership has increased. The benefits offered to members are a big draw, with discounts on most essentials. Among the affiliate group, use of the gas discount increased the most, AARP research director Indira Venkat said, along with discounts on experiences such as hotels and events. Members have also taken advantage of their mobile phone package offers. And as drug prices continue to rise, members showed increasing interest in drug discounts.

Corie Wagner, senior editor of industry research at, has seen similar trends in her research. Inflated prices combined with living on interest income have made the use of money strategically necessary.

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

However, he cautioned that the discounts won’t solve everything – “It’s kind of a band-aid for a bigger problem, but every little bit counts when you’re trying to get by.

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