FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The last of the baby boomers turn 50 this year, and if they want to cry into their beer about getting older, at least they can now buy it at a discount.
That's because the first of the so-called senior discounts kick in at age 50, generally along with an AARP card.
Sure, there are savings at some chain restaurants and movie theaters, but like everything else with this generation, the boomers have put their own mark on senior savings.
"Some of our discounts would not have existed 10 years ago," said Lynn Mento, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based AARP.
Today's cardholders qualify for 33 percent off membership at Zipcar, an auto-sharing site; can buy three concert tickets at Live Nation and get a fourth for free; get 45 percent off a new membership at Angie's List, a website that lets people review local businesses; and qualify for 15 percent off on HP computers.
Plenty of discounts are available for those who aren't among the AARP's 37 million members, though, those often don't kick in until closer to retirement age.
For instance, Fred Meyer Senior Discount Days are for those 55 and older; the National Park Service charges just $10 for a lifetime pass for Americans age 62 or older; and Southwest Airlines is one of the few carriers still offering a reduced fare for those 65 and older.
To find discounts, the simplest thing to do is ask, said Jim Miller of Norman, Oklahoma, who has spent the past 13 years writing the syndicated Savvy Senior column.
He also recommends the website SeniorDiscounts.com, which lists thousands of memberships and is searchable by location.
Don't stop there, however, as senior discounts aren't always the cheapest option. Sometimes, other discounts or promotions will offer greater savings. It pays to search the Internet and shop around.
"The best advice is for consumers to compare the different available rates based on what they qualify for, and book the one that works best for them," said Jennifer de la Cruz of Miami, a spokeswoman for Carnival Cruise Lines, which offers senior discounts on some trips.
While many of the senior perks are marketing moves by businesses, it's a win-win as more than half of seniors really need to stretch their dollars.
There are about 76 million baby boomers in the United States — those born between 1946 and 1964. Of them, about 41 million, or 14 percent, are over 65.
Financially, a lot of them are in rough shape. More than 23 million Americans over age 60 are financially "insecure," according to the National Council on Aging, based in Washington. That's the term the private nonprofit uses to describe a single senior who make $28,725 or less per year, said Jean Van Ryzin, NCOA spokeswoman.
"A lot of times all it takes is one life event to push them down into poverty," she said. "They fall and break their hip. They lose their job. They have to take in a family member."
The agency offers a free tool on its website, Benefitscheckup.org, that helps those 55 and older find programs for which they might qualify. So far, the group has helped nearly 4 million people find more than $14 billion in benefits, including assistance with food, health care and medications, Van Ryzin said.
"This is beyond discounts of just getting 10 percent off your meal," she said.
Mento offers another piece of advice: The cheapest deal isn't always the best deal.
"The AARP is very interested in offering the best value — sometimes that can mean the lowest prices, sometimes it means that there are safeguards," she said. For example, "Our auto insurance may not be the lowest rate, but you will never be canceled."
Mento, 53, said she uses senior discounts all the time. She recently used them for her hotel and rental car in Boston, where she was attending AARP's semi-annual Life@50+ National Event & Expo.
Miller, the columnist, turned 50 this year. He hasn't taken advantage of any senior discounts yet.
"Personally, I'm not too crazy about getting older," he said.