For many people, retirement is the art of balancing less money with more free time, and many businesses know that money is tight in retirees' pockets. Fortunately, most products that are marketed toward retired consumers offer some sort of discount. In fact, from groceries to books to gym memberships, retirees should rarely pay full price. With a little legwork -- online or in person -- you can expect to find 10 to 15 percent discounts on almost everything you buy.
Let's look at 10 perks that are great deals for retirees and may make people still sitting at desks a little bit envious.
This is your first stop for senior discounts. Flashing an AARP card is the easiest way to get the aforementioned 10 percent knocked off just about anything, including shopping, dining, fitness, health services, home and auto repair, and travel. A full list of AARP benefits is available at aarp.org. Some of the highlights include discounts on home security and hotels.
In addition to the many existing AARP discounts, holding the card may encourage shop owners or service providers to give you a deal, even if there isn't an official AARP discount currently in place. After you ask for their best price, it's always worth asking if there's an AARP discount. Frequently, the answer will be yes.
An annual "America the Beautiful" pass good for U.S. national parks and federal recreation lands costs most people $80. But not if you're 62 or older, in which case a lifetime membership costs only $10. As an added bonus, the pass also applies to a car of non-senior adults as long as the pass holder is aboard. Not at a drive-in area? Up to three adults can accompany the pass holder without paying. The pass also cuts 50 percent off most in-park amenities, including camping, swimming and boat launch.
This replaces the former "Golden Age" passport. Travelers can pick the pass up in person at the entrance to any national park.
Many hotels offer a senior discount, usually in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 percent. Some hotels, such as Hyatt Hotels, go above and beyond, offering guests 62 and over 50 percent off the prevailing room rate. When checking rates and availability online, the search feature for many hotels includes a senior citizen checkbox, which is especially nice because you can compare your cost to the standard price to see just how much you're saving. If your travel plans are flexible and you're simply looking for the destination with the best deal, you can call the hotel's customer service number to see if they have a detailed list of properties offering extensive senior discounts.
Marriott Hotels offers a minimum 15 percent discount to travelers aged 62 or older. And while Warwick Hotels aren't numerous (44 destinations worldwide), their Senior Elite Program offers discounts up to 70 percent off standard rates.
Look in the stands at just about any weekday ballgame, and you're going to see open seats. But here's the thing: Open seats don't make anyone look good -- not the teams, the stadiums, the advertisers or the TV networks. And it barely costs the park anything to seat extra people. This is why many sporting events offer drastically discounted rates for senior citizens to attend games that would otherwise look empty.
For example, if you're 60 or older, you can get $5 Yankees tickets to any game Monday through Thursday. Just show up at a ticket window within two hours of game time, and tickets are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. The same is true at many ballparks. Check your team's Web site for details.
This also applies to movies, concerts, plays and many other events that would otherwise have empty seats. Anywhere you imagine supply is outstripping demand, it's worth calling to see about discounted rates for seniors.
Have you noticed that banking seems to cost more money these days? Features like overdraft protection, credit protection and fees for services including bill pay or identity protection can quickly make an account with the hook of free checking as pricey as a trip to the dentist's office (and about as much fun). That is, unless you do your homework. Some companies, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, offer special programs for mature customers, usually starting at age 50. It's worth asking for deals at smaller banks, too.
Generally, banking programs for retirees add features from a large menu of possible options. Popular additions include doing away with the minimum balance requirement and offering free safe deposit boxes, unlimited check writing and identity protection. Again, it's worth shopping around. If your favorite local bank that you've been with for decades doesn't currently offer discounted programs for seniors, you might consider proposing the freebies you can get elsewhere.
No one has ever accused skiing of being cheap. But if you're skiing in your 60s, it tends to be cheaper, and if you're still on those slippery slopes at age 70, it can even be free. That's because most ski areas offer discount passes starting at age 55 or 60 and offer free lifetime passes at ages ranging from 65 to 80 (though many areas have raised their age requirements recently).
Just like with those $5 baseball tickets, seniors and boomers are likely to find even better deals on tickets for midweek or blackout-date skiing. Put simply, the lifts are running anyway, so why not fill them?
In addition to lift tickets, look for discounts on lessons, lodging, rentals and anything else under the sun and snow. Check the Web sites of your favorite ski areas for details.
A whole new set of deductions are available to taxpayers 65 and older. First, the standard deduction increases by $1,250 for single seniors or $1,000 if you're married or a surviving spouse.
If you itemize, don't forget to deduct long-term care insurance premiums.
Also, Social Security disbursements aren't taxed at the same rate as income. Instead, only between 0 and 85 percent is taxed, depending on a senior's total amount of income. To see how your Social Security benefits are taxed, visit the IRS' frequently asked questions page.
Your state taxes are another (long) story. For example, Kentucky doesn't tax Social Security benefits, while West Virginia does. Pennsylvania doesn't tax pension income, while Ohio does. New Hampshire has no sales or income tax, while Vermont has both. And Virginia has no estate tax, while North Carolina does [source: Mannes].
By the time you qualify for senior tax breaks, you've been filing long enough to know that taxes and tax law are more complicated than the minotaur's maze. Luckily, professional tax advice is deductible and often discounted for seniors.
Many studies have shown that seniors living with pets are in better physical and mental health than those living without. This includes having lower blood pressure and decreased measures of stress. In fact, having a pet has been shown to help lower health care costs, as seniors with pets visit the doctor less frequently.
But pets are expensive. Food, vet visits, licensing and adoption fees can add up to a costly best friend. Luckily, there are breaks for seniors that lower every one of these listed expenses. Purina's Pets for Seniors program offers a $50 reduction in adoption expenses for spayed or neutered, microchipped pets 3 years or older with all their shots. Enrollment in the program also includes a coupon booklet for reduced prices on Purina pet foods.
Many local Humane Societies offer similar discounts to seniors.
In this time of rising fuel costs and fierce competition for passengers, airlines are condensing legroom, charging for baggage, cutting flights and charging premiums for everything from choosing seats to overhead bin priority. Many airlines have also cut reduced fares for seniors. Not so at some, like Southwest Airlines, where passengers aged 65 or older get deep discounts on flights, especially those that are unlikely to fill. Searching for senior flights early in 2011 returned an average 40 percent price reduction over standard, adult fares. For example, a roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to Newark in April 2011 was listed standard at $489 and $263 for seniors.
Many other airlines offer reduced fares for seniors, though they may ask you to enroll in senior travel programs, and most require you to call rather than simply clicking a senior option when booking travel online.
Have you heard that learning keeps the brain young? And what better place to learn than college? Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont and Virginia all have statewide tuition waivers for students starting at ages ranging from 62 to 65 years old. Many other states allow senior citizens to audit classes for free or at drastically reduced rates -- meaning that while you may not be working toward a degree, you can scratch that longtime itch to know more about Slavic history, learn a foreign language or take lessons in music composition.
Additionally, scholarships exist specifically for senior citizens. Call your local college for more information. Community colleges and online education programs are also likely to waive or reduce fees for seniors.
For more information on life as a retiree, check out the links on the next page.
HowStuffWorks takes a look at what government entity decides when Americans get an increase in Social Security benefits.
- The Associated Press. "A Look At College Deals For Retirees, Seniors." The Huffington Post. Aug. 6, 2010. (Jan. 11, 2011) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/06/college-deals-for-retiree_n_673526.html
- Brandon, Emily. "6 Ski Town Deals for Retirees." U.S. News & World Report. Dec. 15, 2008. (Jan. 11, 2011) http://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2008/12/15/6-ski-town-deals-for-retirees.html
- Brandon, Emily. "Tips on Paying for College as a Retiree." U.S. News & World Report. Oct. 26, 2006. (Jan. 16, 2011) http://www.usnews.com/usnews/biztech/articles/061026/26retireescollege.htm
- Mannes, George. "Best tax states for retirees on the move." CNN Money. April 29, 2009. (Jan. 16, 2011) http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2009/moneymag/0904/gallery.Money100_retiree_taxes.moneymag/index.html
- Powell, Robert. "Top Seven Tax Breaks for Seniors (and Their Families)." Yahoo! Finance. Dec. 20, 2006. (Jan. 15, 2011) http://finance.yahoo.com/taxes/article/101947/top_seven_tax_breaks_for_seniors
- Purina. "Purina Pets for Seniors." (Jan. 16, 2011) http://www.purinapetsforseniors.com/
- Stern, Linda. "Stretching the Savings." Newsweek. Dec. 1, 2008. (Jan. 12, 2011)http://www.newsweek.com/2008/11/30/stretching-the-savings.html
- Smidt, David. "Banks Offer Wealth of Special Discounts, Benefits for Senior Citizens." Senior Journal. Aug. 16, 2007. (Jan. 15, 2011) http://seniorjournal.com/NEWS/Discounts/2007/7-08-16-BanksOffer.htm