Roughly two-thirds (63%) of Americans aged 55 and older say they plan to stay put during retirement, according to a 2016 survey from Freddie Mac. But housing can be incredibly expensive, and depending on where you call home, even basic living expenses can eat up your retirement savings quickly.
If your savings aren't quite where you want them to be (for example, if you're among the 42% of Americans with less than $10,000 stashed away for retirement), that expensive mortgage and those high taxes may become unaffordable once you retire. While one solution is to simply continue working and saving, not everyone is able (or wants) to do so.
Although you can slash your budget elsewhere, one of the most effective ways to save money involves packing your bags and retiring in a less expensive city. Choosing the right city, though, involves more than simply throwing a dart at a map or moving to the place with the most beautiful beaches. If you're moving for financial reasons, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
The best U.S. city to retire in is...
According to a recent GOBankingRates study, the most retiree-friendly city in the United States is Fort Wayne, Indiana. Researchers looked at cities across all 50 states and examined four factors:
- Taxes: The average property tax and the dollar amount the average household pays, as well as Social Security taxes
- Living expenses: Mean home listing price and median home value
- Social Security: The amount the average beneficiary in the city receives
- Healthcare costs: The amount the average citizen pays in health insurance premiums
This helped determine which city is not only the least expensive, but also the best for retirees in particular.
Fort Wayne held the lowest average property tax bill of all the cities profiled at roughly $947 per year (a tenth of what homeowners in San Francisco typically pay), and the city earned an 81.2 on the Sperling's Best Places cost-of-living index (where the national average is 100) when it came to living expenses.
Compare that to some of the most expensive cities to retire in, and it's easy to see why the Indiana town is a good option for retirees. Irvine, California, for example, ranks No. 207 on Sperling's index, meaning the cost of living there is roughly double the national average. (For comparison, New York City has a ranking of 180.)
All that being said, it's important to do your own analysis to determine which city is the right fit for you. The GOBankingRates study only focused on four criteria, which may or may not be the most important factors in choosing a retirement city. For instance, the amount the average Social Security beneficiary receives in benefits each month is largely irrelevant to whether the city itself is a good place to retire, because the amount you receive in retirement benefits depends mostly on your income and when you choose to file -- not where you live.
Quality of life is another important factor that the GOBankingRates survey doesn't consider. Sometimes the most affordable place to live isn't the best place to live, and even if you're saving money, you still want to be happy. According to a study from WalletHub, Indiana ranks 35th in the quality of life category, which is based on factors such as the availability of jobs for those aged 65 and older, access to public transportation, crime rate, and the number of attractions like museums and theaters per capita.
Choosing the right city for your lifestyle
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing the best city to retire in. While Fort Wayne may look like a winner on paper, there are advantage and disadvantages to living there.
If you have health concerns, for example, it's a good idea to not just consider the cost of healthcare, but the quality, too. Although Indiana may have affordable health insurance premiums, the quality of healthcare ranks 41st in the nation compared to other states, according to WalletHub's report.
Similarly, if you plan to continue working during retirement, you'll want to check out the labor market for retirees in your potential city. Small, rural towns may be more affordable, but they also may not have as many options if you're looking for work. Browse job boards such as Indeed or CareerBuilder to see the types of listings that are posted in your potential city, then think about whether you would be happy working those types of jobs.
Also don't forget about the costs of long-term care. If you're moving away from family and won't have anyone to help take care of you as you age, you may need to move into an assisted-living facility -- and the costs can vary widely depending on where you live. For example, according to Care.com's 2017 "Best and Worst States to Grow Old" report, in Utah, the median annual cost of assisted living was $35,000, while North Dakota had median assisted-living costs of $129,276 per year.
It's also important to note that Care.com's survey ranked Indiana the second-worst state to grow old in, citing a lack of a sense of community. That's not to say that it isn't a good place to retire for some people, but it's important to examine your options from different angles and decide which factors are most important to you.
If you're struggling to start researching potential retirement locations, there are several resources that can give you a jump-start. As an example, Niche.com can help you narrow your search, allowing you to sort through cities based on factors such as crime rate, cost of living, political views of residents, and access to restaurants, coffee shops, and parks.
Once you've decided on one or two potential cities, take them for a test drive. Spend at least a week or two in your preferred area of the city and pretend you're living there. Be critical at this stage and think about whether you'd truly be happy there. Talk to the locals and ask them whether they enjoy the city. Drive through the city during rush hour to see what traffic really looks like. And if you're hoping to join a church, synagogue, or other religious organization, you may even browse a few options or attend a service or two to see how it compares to what you're used to.
This is also a good time to get an idea for how much you'll be spending on everyday expenses. While housing expenses will be the biggest cost, don't forget about things like groceries, gas, and transportation. Sales tax may also take a bite out of your budget if you're moving to a city with a higher rate than you're used to, so during your trip, try to live like you normally do to get an accurate picture of how costs compare in your potential new city versus your current town.
You likely won't find the perfect city that checks every single box on your list of must-haves, but you can make an educated decision. By being strategic about choosing where to live during retirement, you can ensure you live your best retirement lifestyle while also making the most of your money.
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