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Discounts for students, military members, first responders, and more are everywhere—here’s how to make the most of them.

By Kristine Gill
April 13, 2020
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It’s always nice to save money—there’s a reason we keep going back to these affordable home decor online stores—so it pays to keep an eye out for discounts, even at places you’ve been shopping for years. If you’re one of the following eligible groups, there are even more discounts you could be taking advantage of that the general population can’t. These shopping experts have some tips on how to find those deals and take advantage, whether you’re a student, a first responder, or a member of the military.

Student and teacher discounts

Smart shopping expert Trae Bodge says college students qualify for major savings year-round, but especially around the start of each school year in late summer or early fall.

“Typically, tech companies have student discounts,” Bodge says. “And the discounts do ramp up around back-to-school time for students, and in many cases, teachers, so they can get supplies for the year.”

Check Apple, Best Buy, and Adobe for student discounts on everything from laptops and tablets to photo editing software.

Brad Wilson, CEO of Brad’s Deals, a guide to online shopping deals, has also seen an influx of student discounts on clothing and beauty products in recent years.

“The discounts are definitely geared toward the demographic, and you get the sense the retailers are being strategic about getting lifetime customers,” Wilson said.

That’s why students are likely to see discounts on clothing stores such as Banana Republic and J.Crew, Milani Cosmetics, or even subscriptions to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Bodge says some high schools issue ID cards for students, but it’s really in college when you’re going to take advantage of these discounts. Teachers can also show their work badges to qualify for discounts geared toward them.

Keep in mind that student discounts can only be used by students currently in school, so you can’t buy a laptop for your child and get the discount as the parent of a student.

Teachers can expect discounts at major bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and office supplies stores such as Staples as the summer comes to a close. If you teach younger students, you can probably decorate your classroom at a discount with supplies from Michael’s craft store, which advertises major back-to-school sales each year.

Military discounts

Wilson says active military and veteran discounts are likely offered by the largest number of participating retailers and services, but it pays to do your homework before shopping. That’s because most retailers don’t advertise these savings at the register, when you’re already about to pay for a product. Instead, you’ll want to look online before shopping or be prepared to ask at the register for a military or veteran discount. Once you’ve asked, it’s easy to cash in.

“From everything we can tell, the stores are very flexible on these terms,” Wilson says. “It’s usually just a matter of showing IDs for discounts. Sometimes the military say it’s active duty or there is some other nuanced part to it.”

To be safe, Bodge says be sure to bring your military ID. Your driver’s license usually has a military designation as well.

Wilson says the most widely used discount he’s seen for military is a 10 percent off discount at Home Depot. “That’s one retailer where it’s really hard to get a blanket discount any given day,” he says.

Bodge says that, while military discounts are active year-round, there are even better times of the year to save. Bodge says you can double up on major sales around the holiday weekend by using your veteran’s discount on top of major sales on appliances or furniture, for example.

“Some businesses offer them all year round, but they really ramp up before Veteran's Day in November when there are more freebies and specials and buy-one-get-ones and things like that,” Bodge says. “Around Veteran’s Day, it’s like a free for all.”

Bodge said it’s safe to assume that most chain restaurants offer a discount on your food, but there are some other interesting discounts up for grabs, too. Meineke offers a free oil change, Great Clips sometimes offer a free cut, and the National Park Service offers free lifetime passes to disabled military veterans.

Sarah Blansett of Military.com says the organization helps veterans navigate their benefits, but it also curates a list of discounts for active duty members and veterans.

A lot of cell phone companies will have discounted plans, Blansett says. Most tax companies will also offer some sort of military discounts. But the bigger discounts come in the categories of travel and automotive perks.

“A lot of the major car companies will offer a discount at signing and it’s not insignificant,” she says. “Those are some of the larger discounts.”

Blansett says it’s important to do a little research ahead of time to see what the terms are.

“Disney offers discounts every year and reups it every year, but the terms can change slightly,” she says.

Many military discounts also apply to military spouses, but it’s important to ask in advance exactly how that will work and what you need to prove you’re eligible. Blansett warns never to photocopy your military ID or allow it to be photocopied by a business.

And if you don’t see a business advertising a discount, that doesn’t mean they don’t.

“There’s nothing wrong with asking, and on the flipside, as a business, make sure to advertise [a military discount], whether it’s an everyday discount and you have a sign on your website,” Blansett says.

Senior discounts

There are perks to getting older. Among them are enjoying discounts on many of your favorite restaurants, destinations, and entertainment packages. Brad’s Deals lists everything from AMC movie theater tickets to discounts at Papa John’s, Arby’s, and on Royal Caribbean cruises.

“Grocery stores will offer senior discounts, which they offset a bit by saying it’s only on a Tuesday or Wednesday, for example,” Wilson says. “Those are probably slower days, but seniors might be willing to shop then.”

Bodge says the average age to qualify for these discounts is 50 and above. Other discounts kick in at age 55, 60, or 65.

“I find that AARP is the best resource for seniors,” she says. “But as you get older the discounts become more plentiful.”

Bodge says you do have to ask for this discount, as many cashiers are trained not to offer the discount by assuming someone’s age.

“I would suggest getting comfortable with that designation and then start asking,” Bodge says.

First responder discounts

When it comes to firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement, discounts usually center around outdoor gear and equipment: See if you can get a cooler for sale from Yeti or some athletic wear from Under Armour. Several cell phone service providers also offer discounts on your monthly bill.

Wilson says that, next to military discounts, the list of first responder discounts is also jam-packed—but it wasn’t always that way.

“We’ve seen discounts for students, seniors, and military for decades now,” Wilson says. “But the first responders is newer. I think a lot changed around how we think of first responders after 9/11.”

Brad’s Deals lists discounts at sporting goods stores and on your cell phone bill with proof of employment, as well as a handful of vacation destinations and hotels. It’s also common for local restaurants and car washes to offer first responder discounts occasionally through local advertising. The agency you work for likely keeps a list you can reference.

Birthday discounts

Tons of companies send emails and postcards with discounts around your birthday, so keep an eye on your mailbox (physical and digital). Even if you don’t get something delivered to your inbox, you should do a little research to see what’s available. Bodge suggests using a website like SlickDeals.net to see which restaurants offer 10 percent off your tab or a free appetizer. Think Panera, Dunkin Donuts, and Olive Garden to start.

“Things range from the common to obscure,” Bodge says.