Senior Discounts: Boon or Bane?

In a recent “Dear Abby” column, a woman who signed herself “Upset” complained about having been given a senior discount without her requesting it.

She wrote in part, “Abby, I have more than 10 years before I turn 65. By today’s standards, this is far from old. This has caused me considerable embarrassment. . . I think these employees should be given some sensitivity training. I’d like your thoughts on “senior citizen” discounts.”

Dear Abby replied, “The age of eligibility for senior discounts can begin from a person’s mid-50s “and they can be a blessing for people who are no longer working and living on fixed incomes.” Dear Abby went on to suggest that instead of being embarrassed, “Upset” should simply say she is not eligible for the senior discount and would prefer to pay full price.

Some time ago, I spoke to a group of midlife and older women. After my talk, an older woman raised her hand and said some of my suggestions about how to maintain youthful attributes were offensive to older women. In an agitated voice she said, “There is nothing wrong with being old. It’s a fact of life. You are preaching snake oil.”

I commended her for accepting her stage of life and asked what she liked best about being old.

In a flash she snapped, “Senior discounts.”

I’m with Dear Abby – to a point. Senior discounts have become a way of life. And folks no longer working and on a limited income appreciate all the help they can get. I would not for all the world deny anyone a senior discount if – and this is a big if – it’s really needed.

However, if I catch you at McDonald’s asking ( I would like to use the word “begging” but I know that would be offensive) for a senior coffee and your new Mercedes is parked outside, I may be tempted to let the air out of your tires. Not that I would do such a dastardly thing, but I might want to try.

Let me repeat, if you need a senior discount, I’m on your side. Go for it.

This is why I don’t like senior discounts. First, the discount is factored into the cost of doing business and is reflected in the prices non-seniors pay. I think that’s a tad unfair. But I can live with it because some folks do need help.

Another reason I don’t like the senior discount is that it is discriminatory. Think about it: Why have a discount based solely on advanced age? It suggests ALL seniors are needy. It’s not only unfair, it’s irritating to those, like “Upset,” who do not want to be regarded as a senior.

If any segment of society should get a discount, I think young parents, especially single parents with kids should be eligible. But it is obvious a discount for any part of the population is divisive.

I polled a couple of young people about what they thought about senior discounts. Youthfully altruistic, they didn’t really give it much thought, but upon some reflection seemed to think it was the right thing to do.

An older woman with whom I work strongly disapproves of them. She is struggling with financially demanding teens and it irritates her that some retirees seem to think the senior discount is an automatic entitlement – needed or not.

I understand her angst when financially able retirees take the attitude, “I’ve worked all my life and now I’m entitled to whatever I can get.” This attitude is more common that you might think. Perhaps I run into it more often than usual because I deal with seniors who take a lot of medication and understandably, would rather spend the money on something else.

What really bothers me about the concept of a senior discount is that it suggests class victimization: Seniors are victims of a government that doesn’t care about them. Seniors are victims of inadequate income. Seniors are victims of high drug prices and inadequate health care. While all of this may be true, a special discount doesn’t help correct any of it. It just breeds discontent.

We simply don’t need anything more to compound and perpetuate a senior victim syndrome. A feeling of victimization lessens self-worth, and diminishes contentment. When you are encouraged to believe you may not be “getting yours”, it can stir up resentment that spills over into an attitude about life that is hurtful to self and others.

My solution to financial woes of seniors is better financial preparation. Failing that, delayed retirement when possible should be encouraged. There is nothing better than productivity and accomplishment to keep the mind and body up and running, and your pocketbook in good shape.

While some may see a senior discount as an entitlement, being able to say “No thanks, I don’t need it” is great for self-esteem. And like “Upset,” choosing not to accept a senior discount tends to keep you feeling younger longer.

Of course, I could be wrong. What do you think?