I don't mind telling people that I'm 60. It's taken me a while to reach this point, and it's not like it's a surprise to me or to anyone who knows me. On the other hand, I'm not real excited about being referred to as a "senior citizen." In my mind’s eye, I still don’t see myself as a senior. That’s my 84-year-old dad -- not me. However, I’ve discovered it doesn't really matter what I think. It seems everyone has a definition as to when you become a senior citizen, and they apply it as they see fit.
It started at 50, yes at 50, with AARP wanting me in their marketing database. The travel discounts and various membership benefits looked like good deals, so after receiving 20 or more requests, I succumbed and shipped them the annual membership fee, and they shipped back a red embossed card. After all, Sharon Stone and Denzel Washington have been on the cover of their magazine. How bad could it be? I use the card occasionally, but I don’t flash it around. I keep it tucked discretely behind my driver’s license and credit cards.
I retired at 55 primarily because, after 31 years of working for the same company, my employer offered a pension and it didn’t get much better if I worked longer. I guess their definition of senior was 55.
Restaurants and grocery stores love to set the threshold for defining senior customers. At McDonald's, for two quarters you get senior coffee at age 55. Wendy's provides free soft drinks at 60. And at Harris Teeter, you receive a 5% senior discount on groceries purchased on Thursdays -- if you're 60. I prefer to remind these establishments of my qualification for their discounts, and I don't appreciate it if they just give them to me. When I was 21, getting carded at the bar was a rite of passage. I feel it should be the same now, at 60.
And I can’t forget Uncle Sam. The federal government has decided I’ll be a senior at 66 when I'm eligible for Social Security, or as they're now calling it, Federal Benefit Payments. Social Security eligibility is a threshold that's moved once in my lifetime, and it likely will continue to slide to the right. Somehow, I doubt if AARP and McDonald’s will follow suit and slide their senior thresholds.
Defining when someone becomes a senior citizen has a lot to do with the motivation of those setting the threshold. But for me, it's a state of mind. Sure, I’m 60. But isn’t 60 the new 40? I don't think of myself as a senior. I may never.
Well, it's food for thought. I'm off to McDonald's for my morning senior coffee. By the way… they've learned to ask.