As a personal finance reporter living in Manhattan with sizable student loan debt, I'm always looking for ways to cut costs. That's why, at just 22 years old and the start of my career, I decided to sign up for the AARP.
That's right: AARP. Formerly known as American Association of Retired Persons, this interest group focuses on improving the quality of life for people over the age of 50.
An AARP membership might be one of the best savings deals you're missing out on. It's a little-known fact that the AARP does not have an age limit for membership or require you to be retired. For an annual fee of just $16, members are eligible for discounts on health insurance, travel, restaurants, entertainment, and more.
I got the idea to join AARP from Roger Ma, a certified financial planner at Lifelaidout.com. He joined at age 35, and recently wrote about his choice in Forbes.
"It's my favorite subject to talk about, and it's always a good talking point at social events," Ma told me.
Then there are the savings. Ma's membership paid for itself with his first purchase as an AARP member, when he was able to cut about $50 off a hotel stay in Houston.
Now two years in, Ma estimates he has saved hundreds of dollars.
I felt awkward about flashing an AARP card in my early 20s. But if I'm able to save as much as Ma, let's say approximately $200-$300 per year, that's an extra $5,600-$8,400 over the next 28 years.
So why wait until I turn 50?
(The author, enjoying her first discounted meal as an AARP member.)
I immediately put my membership card to the test to see how much I could save on a meal in Manhattan, where Zagat estimates the average cost of dining out is $48.56 per person.
My colleague and I decided to venture to Outback Steakhouse to see if I could score 10% off my meal. My trip was short-lived, as the only location in Manhattan was temporarily closed. But as the saying goes, "Life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you're gonna get," so I hopped back on the subway and headed to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
One appetizer, two entrees, and a dessert later, our grand total came to $61.99.
When I got the check, I handed the waitress my credit card and opened up the Wallet application on my iPhone to show her my AARP membership card. After comparing the name on my membership card with the name on my credit card more than once, she asked us to wait while she confirmed with her boss that my discount could be applied.
She soon returned with our new check in hand — a total of $55.80. That means our AARP discount saved us $6.19.
"I'd never had anyone ask me for an AARP discount unless they were retired," she said. "The more you know!"
Combing through the AARP site, I found a wide range of discounts that could help you quickly recoup your membership fee and cut the cost of regular expenses. Here are a few:
- Movie tickets: Members save up to 20% on Regal ePremiere Tickets purchased online, plus an extra $3 off any size popcorn and soft drink combo for Regal Crown Club members.
- Dining out: Among the deals at popular restaurant chains, members can save 15% at Denny's, and 10% off at Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, and Carrabba's Italian Grill.
- Entertainment and shopping: To name a few deals, members can receive a discount on select event tickets from Ticketmaster, coupons for Tanger Outlets, and 1-800-Flowers.com.
- Car rentals: You can get 10% to 25% off car rentals from Avis and Budget Rent a Car, as well as free vehicle upgrades, discounted GPS rates, and an additional driver at no cost.
My next AARP deal? A trip to the movies. After my discount lunch, by my calculations, my membership will pay for itself with one double feature.
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