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March 8, 2013

STAWAR: The senior discount: Asset or insult?

Recently, I was paying for some books at a thrift shop and the clerk asked me if I was “of a certain age.” At first I had no idea what she was talking about, and then it dawned on me that she was asking me (rather obliquely) if I qualified for the “senior discount.”

I try not to be sensitive about my age, but I don’t like when people try to rush me. My wife Diane had a similar experience recently when an intrusive insurance saleswoman improperly assumed that she would be interested in Medicare supplemental insurance. Whatever happened to tact?

A few years ago, a middle aged woman wrote in to the “Ask Amy” syndicated advice column, describing how upset she was when a store clerk offered her a senior discount. Hundreds of baby boomers wrote in to columnist Amy Dickenson, offering their sympathy and support for the woman. 

Let’s face it, when you are offered a senior discount the first message is always, “I think you look old.” The second one isn’t much better: “You’re also probably on a fixed income, so let us help you pay for that purchase.” 

Now these may not be the intended messages, but they’re the ones that people hear. 

According to Brad Tuttle, who covers business and personal finance for Time Magazine, almost 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 each day. He says “ ... even though baby boomers love getting a deal as much as the next person, they hate the idea of getting a “senior discount” — which is tantamount to accepting the fact that they’re officially old.” 

For the most part, boomers still think that the term “senior citizen” should refer to their parents, the so-called “Greatest Generation.” According to Jo Ann Ewing, a senior services coordinator from Connecticut, “Many individuals in their 70s and 80s are fine with ‘senior’ status and senior savings, while baby boomers mostly are not.”

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