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That senior discount? Sometimes, it’s not worth it.

Erika Beras Aug 27, 2019
Hermogenes and Martha Beras have different approaches when it comes to seeking out senior discounts. Erika Beras/Marketplace

That senior discount? Sometimes, it’s not worth it.

Erika Beras Aug 27, 2019
Hermogenes and Martha Beras have different approaches when it comes to seeking out senior discounts. Erika Beras/Marketplace

When it comes to senior discounts, there are two types of people. There are the ones who love them, like my father, Hermogenes Beras. 

“When I was 45, I was ready already to be a senior citizen. I was looking for a discount but people would say, ‘Well, you have to be 55,’” he said. 

Then the are the ones who, even when a discount’s on offer, don’t want to talk about their age. That would be my mother, Martha Beras. 

“No, I don’t bring it up,” she said. “If I’m not asked, why should I bring it up?”

My parents are from the Dominican Republic. They’ve lived in New York City for about 50 years and have been married for more than 40 years. They’re now retired. Their days are slower; they visit museums, see friends, and celebrate milestones like my mother’s recent 67th birthday.

Because they’re seniors, my parents qualify for all kinds of discounts. My father, a lifelong coupon cutter, unapologetically asks for every single one. He says he doesn’t have a list of the discounts he regularly gets, but then he spends a while rattling them off:

“Restaurants, supermarkets, some local stores, when I go to buy wine … ”

On the other hand, my mother will take a 5% or 10% discount if it’s offered. But putting herself — and her age — out there?

“I don’t think there is that incredible difference that will be worth it,” she says. 

Someone passing on a discount goes against the norm, said Art Carden, an economics professor at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

“The standard story in economics would be that anybody would take any discount they can get their hands on,” he said. Whether they deserve it or not — think students who hang onto their school IDs for years after graduation so they can get discounted meals. Or even when it doesn’t make sense, like when people drive miles out of their way to save a few pennies on gas.

But Carden says sometimes saving money isn’t as important as saying something about ourselves.

“We’re willing to pay a price in order to construct certain identities we find comfortable,” he said. “Foregoing the AARP discount on a movie ticket might cost you a couple of bucks, but that might be a small price to pay in order to indulge the … well let’s be frank, to indulge the fiction that you’re younger and more vibrant than you actually are.” 

It’s a standard  economic trade-off, only framed by social identity. Is this worth that? Sometimes it is.

One afternoon, I’m on a family outing with my parents. They qualify for senior Metrocards that allow them to take the bus and subway at half price. Before we get to the turnstile, my father hands my mother her card — he’s been holding on to it for her. As soon as they swipe through, my mother hands her card back to my father.

When I ask her why, she blames her purse. 

“Because I know if it put it here, I’d never dig it out,” she said. 

And not because she doesn’t want to be reminded of her age, I ask. She denies it and laughs, but my father gives me a look. We know the truth.

“She doesn’t even want to carry it with her,” he tells me later. “She doesn’t want to show that we are the same age.” 

Because of what it tells people about her  — and as she gets older, what it may remind her about herself.

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