Advertisers Are Ignoring Senior Spending—But That's Fine By Me

In my salad days as a 40-something, I couldn't understand advertisers' fixation on the coveted 18-to-49 demographic. What was so special about us? What happens when you turn 50?

Now that I'm a proud, card-carrying member of the Medicare demographic, I get it: We just don't buy stuff -- at least not as much.

The kids are gone. Earned income has shrunk. Our needs have shriveled. Our wants, well, who even pays attention when all we can do is think about how to get rid of the accumulated junk?

Along with our debts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more seniors than ever before are paying off mortgages, with housing expenditures claiming the largest share of senior budgets. And let's not forget the unremitting costs of aging. Health-related spending comes in fourth for the 65-to-74 age group and catapults to second place for those 75 and up.

Those two categories alone account for at least 45 percent of the household budget for people like me.

That doesn't leave a whole lot for the best, next new thing. Indeed, do I really need a new slow cooker when I've got all day to plan and prepare dinner? Should I spring for an air conditioner knowing that the resulting electric bill would send my monthly budget into a deeper chill? Or how about that new electronic device; even if I feign interest in the digital zeitgeist, what am I to do with no tech-savvy teenager in sight?

But there are some things we can't resist. I brew coffee every morning, from freshly ground beans with a Melitta pour-over cone. I like my coffee topped with hot-frothed milk, so I bought a steamer. Spending $3 or $4 every day on café au lait served in a paper cup seemed like a monumental waste of my limited resources.

The truth is, we seniors still spend money -- carefully. On food, entertainment, transportation, pets, and hobbies, and on things that absolutely must be replaced, from worn-out shoes to broken refrigerators. In 2014, the National Center for Policy Analysis found that the fastest-growing share of expenditures for the 65-to-74-year-old cohort was education. A lot of us are either staying young by returning to school or helping to defray the high cost of preschool and college for our grandchildren. And we're driving longer, too. That means shelling out for a new set of wheels when the old ones have worn out.

We're an independent lot, for the most part, and will probably live longer than previous generations. We're 46 million-strong at last count and destined to number 98 million by 2060. That's a whopping 24 percent of the total population. Our average and median net worth exceed that of other age groups.

Attention, marketers: We may not spend as much as folks in their prime, and we certainly spend what we have differently. While we don't want to be invisible, we also don't need you to tell us what to buy. As my young daughter once said when I tried to convince her to choose a beach towel she didn't want: Don't advertise me.

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