Senior discounts: Boon or menace?

Published 11:51 am Friday, March 3, 2017

by Danny Tyree

My mother’s favorite supermarket is undergoing a mysterious “repeal and replace” operation with its senior discount program. Of course nerves are on edge.

Senior discounts used to be a kindly gesture to help out struggling “fixed income” elders and reward loyalty; but in recent decades they have stirred up jealousy and made businessmen fear they’ve created an immortal monster.

Of course that lobbying juggernaut AARP is responsible for a lot of the discounts. Heck, gas stations that already offered “free air” were strong-armed into promising, “We’ll have Cletus install a free windmill for you.”

Statistics are a favorite weapon of senior discount critics. Many of the articles I’ve read argue that “on average” or “as a whole,” people eligible for senior discounts have higher income and more accumulated wealth than the younger folks paying full price. On the other hand, one of my gray-haired friends pointed out, “On average, as a whole, my cousins are amazing drivers. But if you depend on dead cousin Ernie to drive you to your doctor’s appointments, you’re up the creek.”

I cannot deny that younger consumers have legitimate complaints about their own bleak prospects. If some prosperous seniors want to be magnanimous and forego their discounts, more power to them. Other seniors are a little less sympathetic. (“Sorry about your debt load, but I’ve got a PROSTATE bigger than your student loan. Guess I would’ve studied up on touchy-feely stuff more if we’d had free Wi-Fi when I was in the Vietnamese P.O.W. camp!!!”)

Granted, some seniors do a better job of defending their entitlements than others. One guy went full “Charlie Brown’s little sister” when the topic of tampering with senior discounts came up. (“All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share. I’ve paid my dues — unless you count being a deadbeat dad and getting paid under the table and filing for bankruptcy to avoid my medical bills. I didn’t say I was a FANATIC about paying dues.”)

Senior resentment even figures into the immigration debate. Lots of progressive thirty-year-olds have no qualms if immigrants bring different languages, different cultures, different laws or sketchy passports — but if they’re hauling Hummel figurines or grandkid photos, all bets are off.

A dwindling number of people from the “Greatest Generation” still turn out to socialize on Senior Discount Day, but what really puts a burden on the system is the number of Baby Boomers. Yes, the people who danced to the Beach Boys, attended Woodstock and made household names of Cheech & Chong now dominate the discounts. But the former pacifistic “flower children” have a new attitude. (“Sure, I’ll still wear flowers in my hair – as long as you give me a 10 percent discount on the flowers. Otherwise, I’m going Hell’s Angels on your butt.”)

The war between seniors and those who feel they’re SUBSIDIZING seniors often turns into The Family Vacation From Hell. (“Mom, that old lady down the street is lookin’ at me — through three cataracts and glaucoma, but lookin’ at me. Make her stop!!!”)

There are always fights over how private businesses choose to discriminate between customers, whether with military discounts, teacher discounts, frequent-flyer miles, “bring in your church bulletin” discounts or whatever.

Perhaps if we all work together, someday we can achieve true fairness.

“Hey, that guy’s unicorn has more sprinkles than mine…”


DANNY TYREE welcomes email responses at and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”