From October 10th to 12th at the RDS, I will be giving daily personal finance seminars at the ‘Over 50s Show’, one of the country’s biggest annual public events. The show, which has free entry, attracts over 200 exhibitors and last year over 17,000 visitors attended. Best of all, it is a Mecca for anyone who relishes a bargain and a discount – one of the genuine perks of being an older person in this country.
Fifty, as anyone that age knows, is on the young side of ‘older’. But it’s a fact that discounts become increasingly available the closer you get to being a being ‘senior’ citizen.
Hotels, spas, travel agents, opticians are other medical service providers are all well represented at the Over 50s Show and are eager to get your business – at a discount.
But they are joined out on the high street by theatres, cinemas and museums, hairdressers and beauticians, private doctors and dentists – for those who don’t qualify for a free medical card.
There are also some shops and restaurants who are all happy to offer older customers cut prices for shopping with them – though albeit often only during off-peak times or seasons.
For the genuine pensioner this isn’t usually a problem. Many older people genuinely prefer, for example, to stay at a special offer hotel mid-week rather than during the more crowded weekends when families may be taking a short hotel break.
Older friends of mine would never want to travel abroad during school holiday times or at the height of summer when it’s both too hot, crowded and prices have been inflated.
This is also why the free state travel pass is usually restricted – no peak hour travel – but who would opt to travel at rush hour if you could avoid to do so?
Discounts and bargain offers are important of course, because most pensioners live on fixed incomes, whether a state contributory or non-contributory pension, an occupational pension, or a combination of both plus possibly some savings.
Whatever your source of income, it is highly susceptible to the ravages of inflation and taxation, which can have a disproportionate impact because most pensioners devote more of their income to food, utilities and healthcare products than do working people.
For that reason, you need to make sure that you are paying the correct amount of tax (or no tax) and that if your income does fall below the threshold that any deposit income is exempt from DIRT tax.
Since early this year you can apply to the Revenue, via your bank, for the exemption; prior to this, you had to claim the DIRT refund at the end of the year.
Don’t forget to claim tax relief, if applicable, for your local authority charges, any medical and dental costs that are not covered by free medical cards or private health insurance, and carer’s allowances.
You should also make sure that, subject to certain conditions, that you receive all your free social welfare benefits like the living alone allowance, the free travel pass, fuel allowance, and double rent allowance if you live in private rented accommodation.
Don’t forget too that renting out a room in your home under the Rent a Room Scheme can earn you up to €10,000 tax free and not affect other benefits.
Your local social welfare office or Citizen’s Information Centre can help you claim any benefits and allowances; you can also go onto www.welfare.ie and www.revenue.ie for information and on-line assistance.
Back in the private sector, the most important thing is that you don’t hesitate to ask if there is an over 50s or seniors discount available when you do go shopping or buy a service.
Not every company automatically advertises that they charge older people less or publicise all the terms and conditions.
Also, don’t make any assumption that just because a similar establishment down the road offers a reduced price for a matinee or room that all of them do.
Keep in mind too that there is power in numbers: my late mother-in-law’s local pub always gave seniors a 10 per cent discount at lunchtime, but the person who booked in a party of six or more for dinner always got their meal free.
This sort of economy of scale works very favourably if you arrange a large party on a charter holiday – chances are you’ll get your trip for nothing.
On the personal finance front, if you are over 60 and not already enjoying free banking, you should speak to your bank and ask why not.
A number of banks – NIB, Halifax, Permanent TSB, Ulster and PostBank all offer free banking to regular customers anyway.
You should also be receiving at least a five to 10 per cent discount from your home insurer if you are a senior and your house is not left unoccupied all day. Caoga also offers discounts for older motor insurers, as does Quinn-Direct.
Unfortunately, age discounts are not as prevalent from travel insurers, which can sometimes place restrictions and higher premiums on senior citizens.
So use a good, low cost online broker like www.123.ie to get a number of travel insurance quotations and check with your health insurer or bank as well.
As the cost of goods and services keep rising over the next year – inflation is going to remain a problem for some time despite the slowdown in the economy – the more free or discounted services and goods you can accumulate the further your income will go.
Don’t be shy about asking for them.