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How To Choose Where To Retire

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You’ve paid your dues, saved where you can, and now the time has finally come to exit the workforce and enjoy those sweet golden years of retirement. The question becomes, should you retire where you already live or move across the country somewhere else? How do you choose a retirement location?

When deciding where to live in retirement, keep in mind the following important factors:

  • Cost of living
  • Climate
  • Taxes
  • Crime rates
  • Proximity to family
  • Easy access to medical care
  • Activities 

In this guide, we’ll provide our best advice for deciding where to live in your senior years.

Whether you decide to stay in your current home and make the most of it or pack and move somewhere new, be sure to gather as much information as you can about the important things so you can make an informed decision and have a happy retirement!

Is It A Good Idea To Move When You Retire?

Ultimately, it’s your life and your money that you’ve spent years saving, so you can do with it what you please. However, there are both advantages and disadvantages to moving in retirement that extend beyond the financial.

Let’s take this section and go over those pros and cons: 

Pros

  • Moving makes your retirement feel special, like this is truly the next chapter of your life. 
  • Moving doesn’t always have to be expensive.
  • You’ll have plenty of time to acclimate to your new environment since it’s not like you have to go to work.
  • You can finally downsize to a home that’s easier for you to manage in your older age.
  • You can live in a climate that feels comfortable for you. 

Cons

  • Moving can be expensive, and even if you use every money hack in the world, you’ll still chew into your retirement savings to move.
  • Moving on top of retiring can be too much of a lifestyle change at once for some people.
  • Having too much time on your hands and not knowing anyone in a new location can make moving isolating. 
  • You’ll need to find new health care providers. 
  • You’ll have to say goodbye to friends and community members. 

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Place To Retire

Per the intro, let’s next investigate the factors to keep top of mind as you select where in this big, wide world is the perfect place to retire to. 

Read our article on housing options for seniors.

Cost Of Living

This is arguably the biggest and most important consideration to weigh as you pick a place on the map to settle. Housing costs for utilities, local taxes, and home prices are all key factors that will chip away at your retirement benefits.

Earlier in your life, you could make moving to almost any place work because you had your income and perhaps the income of your spouse or partner to cover the cost of living. 

Now, in these later years, you’re down to just your savings and the social security benefits for one person or possibly two. There’s only so much money to go around between the two of you in retirement. 

If you spend all your savings on a place with a high cost of living, you’ll have to stretch your dollars and pinch your pennies so fervently in other areas of your life that, to many, it’s simply not worth it. 

Now, should you really have your heart set on a place with a high cost of living and you don’t mind scrimping and scrounging, then you can make it work.

In most cases though, you’re better off selecting a place to live with a moderate to low cost of living. You’ll have so much more money to spend in other areas of your life that you might not even feel like you’re on that retirement budget! 

Climate

There’s a reason why so many seniors retire to sunny Arizona or Florida. They are warm most of the year and for older Americans, that’s a big deal.

Of course, there are seniors who enjoy winter and that’s great! As long as you can keep up with snow blowing and the cold weather, it can be quite beautiful.

As we age, we often become more sensitive to the cold. If you have kidney disease, peripheral artery disease, and/or diabetes, these conditions can reduce your body temperature and make a chilly day feel downright unbearable.

You’ll likely want to live in a warm climate, which gives you plenty of options. If you want a moderate but not necessarily hot climate, you can select some excellent places to live as well. 

Taxes

Another huge factor when it comes to where you’ll live after you retire are the tax rates in a different state if you’re thinking about moving out of your current situation.

High taxes can make a state with a reasonable cost of living too expensive for seniors on a retirement budget to consider long term. 

According to a 2021 article from TurboTax, the top five states with the highest rates of taxes that year are:

  • California with a 13.3 percent tax rate
  • Hawaii with an 11 percent tax rate
  • New Jersey with a 10.75 percent tax rate
  • Oregon with a 9.9 percent tax rate
  • Minnesota with a 9.85 percent tax rate

Crime Rates

When you’re looking for a place to retire, it’s important to consider your safety. After all, you want to be able to relax and enjoy your golden years, not worry about becoming a victim of crime.

Fortunately, there are many ways to research the safety of a potential retirement destination.

One of the most important factors to look at is the crime data in the area you are considering. Obviously, if a city has a low crime rate, that means that residents are less likely to be victims of crime.

However, it’s also important to look at the national average for crime rates. For example, even if a city has a low crime rate, if the national average is higher, that city may still not be the safest option.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how important crime rates are in deciding where you want to retire. But remember, peace of mind is priceless.

Don’t forget to consider senior safety hazards within the home before buying or renting your new residence.

Proximity To Family

It’s hard enough having to say goodbye to your friends and local community members when you move. You don’t want to have to go without being near your family members, as well.

Some seniors move to be closer to their families. Others move knowing that they’ll create distance between themselves and their families, as much as they may not want to.

Only you can decide how close is close enough to your family, but if you and they have to plan round trips to see each other, then your visits will be limited to only several times per year. Make sure that’s something you can live with. 

Proximity To Medical Care

When selecting a place to live in retirement, you want a city or town with plenty of medical care options close by. 

You don’t only want to be near a hospital but doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, and maybe a physical therapist or dietician as well. 

You might be mobile enough as a senior now, but those days won’t last forever. At that time, you’ll appreciate how close you are to all your medical care. 

Activities 

You’re about to have a lot more free time now that you’re retiring.

That means you’ll be able to go to the beach, check out the best golf courses, explore that park, visit the zoo, see the nature preserve, check out that museum or art gallery, do some shopping, and get in plenty of sightseeing.

You want to make sure that the location you select for your new place has plenty of activities that will keep you busy and engaged for a long time to come. 

What State Has The Most Affordable Housing For Seniors?

Assuming that you are indeed prioritizing the cost of living and using that as your litmus test when determining where to live, the hunt for affordable housing is on.

Per retirement resource Due, here are some states with affordable costs of living according to 2022 data.

Keep in mind that the cost of living will vary in different areas within these states. Living in big cities will provide more opportunities for some of the factors on your list (like better or more medical facilities, for example), but they will be more expensive. Your retirement income will likely go further in small towns.

Mississippi

The cost of a house in Mississippi is $140,818 on average, according to Due, and Medicare Advantage costs $48.87 a month. 

Mississippi is known for sights such as the Davis Bayous Area Gulf Islands National Seashore, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, the Mississippi Museum of Art, Harrah’s Gulf Coast, and Tishomingo State Park.  

Alabama

In Alabama, you’ll pay about $170,184 to buy a new home. A Medicare Advantage plan is $64.27 a month, says Due.

Alabama offers residents the Gulf State Park, Birmingham Museum of Art, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Vulcan Park and Museum, Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, Birmingham Zoo, and the DeSoto State Park. 

Oklahoma

According to Due, a home in Oklahoma costs $150,754 on average, and the Medicare Advantage bill will be about $47.49 a month. 

You can busy yourself at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, the Oklahoma City Zoo, the Oklahoma City Museum, the Myriad Botanical Gardens, the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, the Chickasaw National Recreational Area, and the Philbrook Museum of Art.

Arkansas

In Arkansas, Due notes that the median cost of a home is $149,120. Per month, you’d pay about $44.34 for Medicare Advantage. 

There’s plenty to see in Arkansas, including the Hot Springs National Park, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Mount Magazine State Park, Crate of Diamonds State Park, and Petit Jean State Park. 

Georgia

Is Georgia on your mind? A home here costs about $245,778, which is still plenty affordable. Due states that the monthly Medicare Advantage fee is $48.91. 

Explore the Georgia Aquarium, Zoo Atlanta, High Museum of Art, World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, Piedmont Park, or Centennial Olympic Park here. 

West Virginia

In West Virginia, homes are very cheap, costing about $117,768 on average. Medicare Advantage is a little costlier, Due notes, as a plan is priced at $59.74 a month.  

You’ll find plenty to keep you busy throughout West Virginia, from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to the Snowshoe Mountain Resort, The Greenbrier, Blackwater Falls State Park, New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, and the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. 

What State Is Best For Seniors?

Any of the states above would be a contender for the best for seniors if you ask us! They’re affordable, scenic, and generally southern, so the weather should be plenty warm throughout the year. 

Ultimately, the best state for seniors is one in which you can afford to live with a climate that is comfortable for you and where you’re in proximity to what you need. 

Before you make the move, though, Kiplinger recommends test driving a new locale. “When you think you’ve identified “the one,” try vacationing there a few times throughout the year, or even better, rent a home and live in the community for six to 12 months. If you plan to live there year-round, stay in the community during the off-season when the weather may be too hot or cold and out-of-state visitors have gone home. Living there temporarily will give you a better handle on the price of food, gas and utilities, including the cost of heating a pool through the winter, not to mention the cost of your fun.”

States to Avoid When Retiring

Before you cement your retirement plans, you should check out this section. Per World Population Review, these 10 states have the highest retirement costs in the United States.

  • Hawaii – $99,170 to retire
  • California – $71,809 to retire
  • New York – $69,847 to retire
  • Massachusetts – $69,279 to retire
  • Oregon – $68,712 to retire
  • Maryland – $67,214 to retire
  • Alaska – $66,956 to retire
  • Connecticut – $66,543 to retire
  • New Jersey – $64,736 to retire
  • Rhode Island – $62,413 to retire

You’ll remember some of these states from earlier, as they have some of the highest taxes in the country, as well.

Final Thoughts

If you’re retiring in the near future and trying to decide where to retire to, it’s important to consider your bottom line. How much money do you have saved up, and how much will you need to cover your costs of living?

But it’s not all about the money. You also need to think about the kind of lifestyle you want in retirement. Do you want to be near family and friends, or are you looking for a completely new adventure?

And don’t forget to consider the weather! You may love the idea of spending your golden years in a sunny climate, but if you can’t afford it, it’s not going to be worth it in the long run.

Retirement is an important decision, so take your time and weigh all your options before you make a choice.

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