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How to use senior discounts to get cheaper prices

We're taught early on to respect our elders. Well, retailers do the same with promotions mostly geared to those 55 and up.

Arleen Daidone, 73, is an experienced hand at finding senior discounts. "I ask for them wherever I go," she says. "By the end of the year, the savings add up."
Arleen Daidone, 73, is an experienced hand at finding senior discounts. "I ask for them wherever I go," she says. "By the end of the year, the savings add up."Read moreSuzette Parmley / Staff

Correction: The original story included T.J. Maxx and Marshalls as offering senior discounts.

We're taught early on to respect our elders.

Well, retailers do the same with promotions mostly geared to those 55 and up.

Let's call it retail reverence.

Arleen Daidone, 73, of Center City, said she wished she had started earlier than age 62 taking advantage of senior discounts for shopping, dining, travel, and entertainment. "Now I ask for them wherever I go," she said. "By the end of the year, the savings add up."

Companies from IHOP and Hertz to Kohl's, Rite Aid, and Walgreens make buying easier for retirees such as Daidone on a fixed income.

Tuesdays, for example, is Senior Discount Day at Ross Dress for Less, where those 55 and up can get a 10 percent discount on all merchandise.

Kohl's customers age 60 and up can save an extra 15 percent on in-store purchases on Wednesdays.

Daidone ticked off some of the deals she gets in the Philadelphia region: She gets a senior discount on her E-ZPass from the Delaware River Port Authority and her SEPTA bus fare. She also receives discounts on airline, train, and movie tickets as a senior.

Retailers, hotels, and restaurants that partner with AARP (membership starts at 50) or AAA also offer discounts on top of existing markdowns for everyone.

"I realized you could really save money if you ask for a senior discount," Daidone said while shopping last week at Ross Dress for Less in Center City. "You have to be really assertive. I am not embarrassed by it at all."

Though she said she's not a big-time shopper, she still enjoys saving money.

"People don't know about them," she said of the discounts. "And, typically, most retailers are accommodating.

"Just show your driver's license or AARP card, or proof of age at the checkout counter," Daidone said. "It's really not a hassle."

While at Ross that afternoon, she inspected a pair of beige Coach sneakers marked down to $44, from $65. On Tuesdays, an extra 10 percent, or $4.40, would be knocked off, making the shoes $39.60. Same with the Michael Kors ballet flats that were selling for $49, down from $90. They'd be $44.10 on Tuesdays with the senior discount.

A number of restaurants also cut seniors a break, from Applebee's (10 percent to 15 percent off for 60+) and Arby's (10 percent off for 55+, and 20 percent off for AARP members 55+) to Burger King and Chick-fil-A, which offer 10 percent off for those 60+, with additional discounts on coffee and soft drinks, and Golden Corral (meal discounts and free beverages on certain days for those 60 and up).

Same with supermarket chains and rental-car agencies: Albertsons (10 percent off on the first Wednesday of each month for those 55+); Kroger (10 percent off, varies by store location); Pathmark (5 percent off on Mondays for seniors 60-and-up); Hertz offers AARP members up to 25 percent off on rentals, while National Rent-a-Car goes as high as 30 percent off.

"The historical origins of senior-citizen discounts are unclear," said Frank Badillo of MacroSavvy, which tracks demographic trends. "They may have developed partly from the sentiment coming out of the Great Depression, which led to the passage of Social Security, that people in their 'old age' were unprepared for retirement and needed assistance.

"Whatever the origins, businesses have seized on the idea of offering discounts to the elderly - whether they realize it or not, as a form of what economists call 'price discrimination,' " he said. "In the economic sense, the word discrimination doesn't have the same negative connotation that it does in general usage.

"It just means that you offer different prices to different groups of people, given different willingness or ability to pay," Badillo said. "This happens in other ways. Lower prices for volume purchases are common. Loyalty, or frequent-shopper, programs typically mean lower prices for members vs. nonmembers. And online pricing on some websites can be 'dynamic,' or vary depending on the day of the week, virtual traffic, customer profile, or other information."

With an aging American population, Badillo adds, "I suspect that senior-citizen discounts will gain a new popularity as we see a surge in the numbers of people age 65 and older as the baby boomers age. Most of these boomers will be unprepared for retirement and will probably look for every senior-citizen discount they can find to help make ends meet."

Jim Boscov, CEO of the Boscov's chain, which has 44 stores in seven states with a 45th opening in Utica, N.Y., in October, doesn't believe in senior discounts.

"We really have crazy pricing every day for everyone," he said. "Seniors that shop with us realize they will not find better prices anywhere."

But Boscov's does sponsor a day to benefit all nonprofit groups, called Friends Helping Friends, on which a nonprofit that sells tickets to a special discount day at the chain can get an additional 25 percent off.

"Use them," Daidone said of senior discounts out there. "You may not be there on the right day, but find out the right day, go home, and come back on that day, because you will save money."

She plans to return Tuesday to Ross for the Coach sneakers.