The golden years bring golden opportunities. Many cultural institutions, retailers, supermarkets, and travel companies offer discounts to seniors. There are also many services available to help people navigate tricky issues that can turn this stage of life into a gray area of sorts. Here are 15 discounts and resources that seniors can tap to save money and make their lives easier.
Virtually every museum in the country offers some kind of discount to seniors, and some host days when seniors get in free. For example, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago takes $5 off the suggested admission for seniors. Symphony orchestras, opera companies, and other venues offer discounts on concerts and season passes. Movie theaters usually give seniors a dollar or two off ticket prices, and some offer free matinee tickets. AARP members get $9.50 online tickets to Regal cinemas, a savings of up to 25 percent.
The National Park Service offers seniors a 50 percent discount at national parks or park sites. Visitors 62 and older can also buy a lifetime pass that costs $20, although the price will go up to $80 later this year. Since the park system also manages the National Register of Historic Places, the discounts apply to some registered presidential homes, such as those of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.
Some airlines -- although fewer and fewer -- have discounts for older travelers. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines offer some options for discounted flights but only for certain markets, dates, and destinations. To be sure that discounts are available, it's best to call the airlines. There are so many other travel deals around, however, that a senior fare may not even be a bargain.
Many cable companies offer a discount to seniors. Although this is not generally publicized, speaking to a representative from a cable company often results in a lower price. Additionally, AT&T Wireless customers who are AARP members can get 10 percent off qualified monthly service plans.
There's almost always a senior discount for public transportation, a great boon to urban dwellers who may have trouble driving. In New York, for example, the senior MetroCard (age 65 and up) is worth half off the regular fare. In San Francisco, a Senior Clipper Card (65 and up) comes with an automatic discount. For those traveling farther afield, Amtrak gives seniors 15 percent off the highest coach fares. Many communities also provide transportation help for seniors through social services departments.
They are far from extinct. In addition to having tons of free reading material, almost all municipal libraries offer classes -- many specifically for seniors -- on basic computer use, including document creation, email, photo editing, and sometimes even website creation. Some also provide job-hunting help.
Every state has a waiver that provides free or reduced college tuition to seniors, although it's not always publicized. (One place to research what's available is A Senior Citizen's Guide for College.) The minimum age varies from state to state. In some states, seniors must be retired and not working more than part-time. The waiver rarely applies to books and materials.
Several supermarket chains -- such as Publix, Albertsons, Waldbaum's (which owns A&P and Pathmark), and Kroger -- offer discounts of 5 percent or 10 percent for older shoppers (starting at ages 55 to 65, depending on the store). These are usually offered once a week -- always in the middle of the week, when working people are less likely to shop. Apparel chains -- Banana Republic, Clarks shoes, Dress Barn, Kohl's, and Marshalls among others -- offer discounts of 10 percent to 15 percent at their bricks-and-mortar shops, also usually mid-week.
AARP and other senior organizations like the conservative Association of Mature American Citizens provide many discounts for members. They charge yearly fees and offer deals on car rental, hotels, dental and vision plans, and Medicare supplemental insurance. AARP also acts as an information center for caregivers, job seekers, and anyone interested in saving money, or maximizing their retirement years.
Social relationships may help forestall the most severe effects of aging, and there are offices within city governments as well as religious institutions that give seniors places for recreation and mingling. In San Antonio, for example, the Department of Human Services runs senior centers that offer art, exercise, and computer classes, as well as field trips and work-search programs.
While Medicare Part D covers prescriptions, it does not cover all prescriptions, nor does it cover all of the cost. For people with a lot of prescriptions, the expense can really mount. Medicare lists drug manufacturers' discounts, and there are also discounts through AARP and from pharmacies such as Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS.
Social service organizations can help seniors obtain in-home care, assistance for caregivers, counseling, and information about housing alternatives. They sometimes also offer volunteer opportunities. For instance, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE, addresses the needs of the aging LGBT community nationwide. The Eldercare Directory lists social services that states provide and links to each state's agency.
In Seattle, the Gold Card for Healthy Aging, available through the Mayor's Office for Senior Citizens, provides discounts on goods and services. A directory of participating businesses also lists nonprofit agencies serving the elderly, and the office provides information and referrals regarding caregiver support, home care, and other needs. New York and other cities have similar offices where the elderly can find discounts and services. Seniors can check to see what's available from the local municipality.
Many auto insurers offer mature-driver discounts along with discounts for seniors who take defensive-driving courses specifically geared toward them. The courses usually cost about $25 but are good for three years and can save close to $100 a year. Insurance providers offer details. People who no longer drive long distances and use a car only around town can get pay-as-you-go insurance, which usually nets a 5 percent to 10 percent discount.
Tax-wise, there are some advantages to aging. In addition to the standard deduction on federal income taxes, there is an extra deduction of $1,550 for single taxpayers over 65 and $1,250 for married couples. Many states with an income tax also cut seniors a break by exempting all Social Security income, and many also allow some exemption of pension income. Local governments offer senior exemptions that lower property taxes.