Tag Archives: United States

Senior Discounts: Thanks for Nothing

3 Apr

senior-discountsRecently 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.”

Some businesses and restaurants have tried to accommodate Baby Boomers by using euphemisms like Boomer Bargains, to describe their senior discounts. The American Association of Retired Persons (rebranded simply as AARP) accepts anyone over 50 years of age, retired or not and they consistently use the term “member” rather than senior. They are also careful to refer to their specially negotiated discounts as “member benefits” rather than “senior discounts”.

Former organizational development consultant Roland Hansen has recently complied a comprehensive list of many well-known businesses that offer senior discounts on his blog (rolandsramblings.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/discounts-for-senior-citizens). Caroline Mayer, a consumer reporter who worked for The Washington Post, warns, however, that senior discounts are not always the best deal. She says that other promotions that are available to the general public, regardless of age, are often better deals. One investigative reporter found that the senior checking account at one bank actually was much more expensive than the regular checking account the bank offered. In addition Mayer says you may be able to save even more through bargain websites, like Groupon or Priceline than you can with a senior discount

In 1997 political scientist Ted Rueter wrote an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor entitled “Senior Citizen Discounts are Affirmative Action for the Wealthy”, in which he called for an end to senior discounts saying,They cost American business billions of dollars. They breed resentment among the young. They are part of the battle over generational equity. [and] They are probably unconstitutional.”

Just last year a USA Today op-ed piece written by a journalist named Don Campbell (a senior himself) again argued that senior discounts should be eliminated mainly because, older folks, on the average, are considerably wealthier than young adults, who end up subsidizing the discounts. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals the gradually increasing net worth of people over 65 and the simultaneous decreasing net worth in households headed by people under 35. Many senior discounts start at the age of 50 or 55, which is usually prior to retirement for most Americans and are often a worker’s peak earning years.

Young single parents are probably a more deserving demographic group for such discounts, but of course senior discounts are not based on altruism. Originally they were intended to encourage older people, with fixed incomes, to make purchases they might otherwise avoid. Today, however, they are clearly designed to attract an expanding market segment that has lots of disposable income, as well as lots of time to shop. Jim Gilmartin, the owner of Coming of Age, a marketing firm specializing in reaching older consumers, says that senior discounts “sort of exploded exponentially as older shoppers came to represent a fast-growing demographic.”

Campbell concluded his anti-discount tirade saying, “What I wonder about is why thirty- and forty somethings aren’t livid that senior citizens — the most pampered, patronized and pandered-to group in America — get to save money simply by maintaining a pulse.”

Personally it’s not so much getting older that bothers me as constantly having it pointed out in unexpected ways. Not that long ago Diane and I went to a restaurant where they featured live music at night. After a while I went up to the counter and ordered a pizza. The cheery waitress, who looked to be about twelve years old, took my money and said that she would bring it to our table when it was ready.

The room was very crowded, so I was surprised when 10 minutes later the girl arrived and delivered the pizza right to us, without any difficulty or hesitation. I was innocently eating a slice and enjoying the music when I absentmindedly looked at the back of my receipt. There written quite clearly were the unforgiving words “Old guy in blue shirt”. And I didn’t even get a discount.

I’ve read where people have successfully sued businesses where employees have written insulting comments or discriminatory descriptions on receipts to be able to remember the customer. I’m afraid my only grounds for going to court would be that my shirt was actually more of a teal than blue. Frankly I’m just happy she didn’t write down “Fat, bald, and stupid old guy in a blue shirt”.

In a recent study, several age-related terms were evaluated by a sample of adults who were all 65 years or older. Results showed that the labels third age and elderly evoked quite negative associations, while several other names (including “seniors”) were generally seen as favorable, despite many Baby Boomers’ objections. I’m pretty sure that the label “Old guy in a blue shirt” was not among those tested, but I’m confident that it would not have fared very well.

Some folks don’t seem to have much of a problem with their age. Glenn from our Sunday School class, tells us that on his part-time job, he has to deal with lots of out-of-towners. He says these clients frequently ask him for recommendations about where to go “to have a good time”. While they seem to expect some sort of risqué suggestion, he says he always tells them, “I’m sixty-five, I go to Bob Evans for fun.”

Based on a column originally appearing in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune.

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Lunchbucket Blues

3 Apr

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For the past several years I have been taking my lunch to work a couple of days a week.  It’s surprising how fast food smells can travel in our building.  When the hallway has the ambiance of  a movie theater,  everyone know that  someone  has been making buttered  microwave popcorn. Last month the whole building reeked of chili and shortly thereafter,  somebody  must have bought  fish sandwiches for all their coworkers,  as  going downstairs was like stepping aboard  a trawler.

I must confess, however,  that I am not entirely blameless.  The leftover Polish sausage and sauerkraut  I had last week created quite a stench and still sort of hangs in the air.    In an article entitled Brown-Bag Lunch Etiquette, Food Network blogger Victoria Phillips suggests that if you have an especially smelly lunch,  you should eat in the lunchroom or preferably outside at a picnic table. She also advises you not to eat your messy Ruben sandwich at your desk, where it can drip 1000 Island dressing all over your keyboard or phone.  She also cautions against leaving  uneaten lunch in the office refrigerator and throwing pungent food into the wastepaper basket under your desk.  She must have worked in our office.

            Today’s sluggish economy has motivated many people to look for savings wherever they can find them. According to a study published by the marking Firm NPD Group, Eating Patterns in America,   over 8.5 million Americans routinely take their lunch to work. A number of people have found that they can save anywhere up to  $2,500 a year,  simply  by eating lunch at work. One writer did the math  and figured  out  that a 22 year-old typical New Yorker  could have an additional $650,000    in his or her  retirement account by age 62,   just by taking their own lunch everyday.

According to Harry Balzer, a food industry analyst at NPD, a marketing firm,  “There are a number of factors adversely affecting the midday meal business at restaurants, and brown-bagging is one of them.”  About half of the people who frequent restaurants for lunch say that they now do it less often due to the expense. Besides the cost savings (about an 80% average reduction in expense), taking your lunch to work,  can give  you more variety, healthier choices, and  save you time. Also don’t forget to add in the savings for gasoline each week.

According to the NPD Group’s  2009 eating survey, people  spend more time eating and drinking at lunch than any other meal. At the same time lunch is the most frequently skipped meal (13% of the time compared to 10% for breakfast, and only 4% for supper).

Men are responsible for the most lunch meals prepared at home and about 40 % of  these meals  include a sandwich, although this trend has been dropping in recent years.  Classics like bologna, ham, and peanut butter and  jelly  are still the most popular  sandwiches in brown bag lunches.  Turkey also is growing in popularity,  but seems to fluxuate  a bit with its price. For women, fruit is now more popular than sandwiches for their lunches made at home.

For almost  40 years my father took a black metal lunchbox and Thermos to work each day. He left so early for work that I never actually saw what he took to eat at work. Both of his parents where from Eastern Europe and he grew up during the depression, so he was used to eating things like blood sausage, headcheese,  and pigs feet.   I always assumed that his lunch box contained something  equally unspeakable. My father was an electrician for a steel mill and each night when he came from work his lunchbox was empty,  except for a metal can containing a single roll of electrical tape. He used the metal cans to storage things like screws and nails,  but I was never sure what he did with all that tape. I think he considered it  a tip from the company for his good work.

Except for field trips and a brief period when I owned a Roy Roger’s lunch box, I always ate in the school cafeteria.  My lunch box eventually fell apart despite my father’s valiant attempt to repair its  handle with electrical tape. When I reached  high school, I took my lunch money and bought a Hires Root Beer and Butterfinger candy bar from the vending machine most days for lunch. To add  a little color and variety to  my diet I would occasionally  eat a Snickers Bar  and a Nehi Orange soda for its vitamin C content.

My wife Diane told me that end of the year school picnics her lunch consisted of a bologna sandwich, chips,  maybe a banana,  and for dessert,  the iconic  Hostess Cupcake.  Ironically that is about the same menu that was served in most   county jails for most of 1960 and  70s.

It was pretty much the same thing I would always take on school field trips.   The threatened demise of the Cupcake and Twinkie, since the  Hostess Bakery went bankrupt,  would  leave a huge gap in the traditional brownbag lunch,  if some other bakery doesn’t  save the brand.

For some reason my mother started making me ham salad sandwiches for my lunch for the annual school picnic.  (It was actually bologna salad, since it was never made with real  ham). This picnic was always  held at an amusement park  and  was the highlight of   the whole school year.  All of those positive associations with field trips and school picnics probably accounts for my garlic bologna addiction today.

When I was in college I stayed at a dorm that had a food plan. If you were going away for the day or had classes too far away to return for lunch, the dorm cafeteria prepared box lunches that you could take with you. My friends and I always took them and stashed them in our dorm room  refrigerator, if we didn’t plan to eat them that day. They were classic bologna sandwich  and banana lunches, but they often had excellent home-baked cookies included. On warm days the mayonnaise would sort of curdle and the banana would brown a little, but the cookies were always good and  perhaps even better with melted chocolate chips.

Brown bagging  at work is also a good way to avoid eating at a restaurant alone, which many people  dislike.

I remember reading somewhere that the average office desk has more germs on it than the average public toilet seat.  Be that as it may, there is still something kind of fun about my desk.    

Base on a column appearing in the Southern Indiana News Tribune.