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Boomers reap the rewards of senior discounts

Mon., Jan. 13, 2014

Russ Nobbs and his wife enjoyed some of their most memorable dinner dates thanks to a local senior discount.     Sometimes they dined on baked salmon or opted for a nice pork loin. There were always candles and a table cloth, transforming the unconventional and ambiance-lacking Deaconess Hospital room into a romantic setting.    “We’d have a little normal time because chemo is not normal,” said Nobbs, 70, who spent the summer having weeklong chemotherapy treatments every three weeks to fight his T-cell lymphoma.

The dates brought joy to the nursing staff, who Nobbs joked would say “You old guys are cute.”

His wife, Dee Mueller, learned of the Senior Circle discount after whining about the parking situation that made it difficult to come and go throughout the day. Finally a parking attendant told her of the discounts, which included the free companion meal.

The Deaconess chapter of the national, nonprofit organization charges a $15 annual membership, which entitles members to free parking in designated areas, discounts on meals and gift shop items in addition to other perks such as exercise classes, monthly activities and health fairs and screenings.

Nobbs, the founder of Rings & Things, likes to hit Monday senior discount day at the Goodwill near his Second Avenue business and often asks for a discount at the Main Market Co-op. Like the 37 million AARP members, Nobbs likes getting a good deal even if this former self-described long-haired hippie now still feels 25.

Yet some seniors, especially the youngest baby boomers who turn 50 this year, just can’t bring themselves to admit they qualify for an age-based discount. Others just forget or don’t associate themselves with the “senior” category or enjoying “early-bird specials” at the buffet.

“Honestly I just don’t think about it,” said Leslie Kueffler, 58. “You just don’t feel like a senior. That’s what you associate with your parents and their friends.”

After agreeing to an interview, Kueffler said she was suddenly more conscious of asking for a senior discount.

“I asked at the car wash the other day, but you have to be 60,” she said, with a tone of justification that she is not yet a “senior.”

Kueffler, who doesn’t retire until June, hasn’t yet joined AARP.

“What we know is there is a natural sense of denial,” said Clay Buckley, AARP’s vice president of lifestyle. “Our memberships are still given as jokes.”

That’s why AARP is focusing on the 50-59 age group, partnering with more “lifestyle” businesses that offer discounts for concerts and shows and delivering them in a more savvy way. That’s a newer concept than the traditional focus on retirement, health and insurance.

Recently AARP launched an iPhone app, AARP Member Advantages Offer Finder APP, giving members an easy way to find offers and discounts at their fingertips. AARP now partners with Cirque Du Soleil and Live Nation Concerts in addition to the more traditional partners such as Denny’s and Michaels. Travel discounts have been popular for 30 years, but Buckley said many of the offers are now geared to the younger seniors interested in skiing and action adventures, Buckley said.

“It’s a significant portion of our membership base,” he said. “It’s a very large and growing population.”

Buckley said the AARP’s membership roughly consists of one-third people age 50-59, one-third age 60-69 and one-third 70 and over. Alone there are 79 million baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964.

Another popular way for seniors to find discounts is on the AARP website. Last week, offers advertised near Spokane included discounts for Walgreens, the UPS Store, Michaels, Geek Squad, Avis and various motels.

For local dining, the website’s most popular restaurant certificates near Spokane were Laguna Café, Herbal Essence Café, Das Stein Haus, Maggie’s and Lalo’s Pizza and Gibliano Brother Dueling Piano Bar.

Debbie Bever, 62, is proud to use her discounts wherever she goes, whether it’s AARP, AAA or just the local senior deal. Now that she stopped coloring her hair, she often doesn’t have to ask and sometimes gets the premium 65 and over discounts even though she hasn’t reached that birthday.

“I never say anything,” she said.

The discounts, even if just 10 percent to cover the tax, add up when you live on a fixed retirement, Bever said.

“I’m not shy about asking,” she said. “I’m always a good tipper, so why not.”

When quizzed on Facebook, the most regularly praised discount was for thrift stores. One reader repurposes thrift store treasures to resell at her nursery. Another used his senior discount for the first time at Value Village to buy used socks. He was surprised the clerk didn’t question him or ask for an ID.

“I slunk to the car,” wrote Richard Miller, a Washington State University communications employee. “They shouldn’t call it a senior discount. More like a sadness discount.”

Krystal Bradley, a supervisor at the Third Avenue Goodwill store, said the weekly 20 percent senior discount is very popular.

“Mondays are a huge day for us,” she said.

Nobbs loves the Goodwill discount and laughs at the younger seniors who don’t use the perk.

“I guess they are just aghast that they finally reached that age,” he said.

Asked why the thrift store discounts are so popular, he said it’s because the elderly don’t need to buy new.

“It might mean we don’t want to buy lots of durable goods,” he said with a big hearty laugh.

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