Best and worst cities to retire

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | June 19, 2015

When it comes to retiring Baby Boomers, one size does not always fit all. A list of the best and worst cities to retire may not take into account your personal relocation concerns:

  • Amenities and walkability. For those who are in good health, physically and fiscally, the list of best cities to retire may include those with a higher cost of living but plenty of places nearby you can walk to, conveniences, amenities, and whatever cultural mix you crave.
  • Good weather. You might just want someplace warm. In fact, most "best cities to retire" lists do include cities in the Sunbelt. For budget-conscious Boomers, many of these cities are also relatively affordable.
  • Health and well-being. A city that offers plenty of healthcare providers or boasts of a low crime rate figures highly on many retirees' wish lists of essential relocation factors, as do public transit and programs for older adults, like free or low-cost college classes.

Of course, proximity to loved ones can trump any or all of these criteria. You can't figure grandkids into a best and worst cities to retire scenario for everyone. But even more important for a larger portion of new retirees, relocating to another city can mean finding a place that's affordable and that offers opportunities to augment a significantly smaller household budget.

Using data from the Federal Reserve Board's Survey on Consumer Finances (SCF),The National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) reported in September 2014 that the median retirement account balance for households age 55-64 rose from $12,000 in 2010 to only $14,500 in 2013. In the words of NIRS Manager of Research, Nari Rhee, Ph.D, who authored the report, that's "a trivial amount compared to retirees' lifetime income needs."

Best and worst cities to retire for affordability

If this is the case, retiring baby boomers may be chiefly dependent on Social Security benefits and at least a part-time income if they leave their full time jobs. Factors that affect affordability, such as lower median home prices and employment rates, may figure more significantly than the criteria on which so many "best places to retire" lists base their results, which in addition to cost of living and state and local taxes include the following:

  • crime (violent or property)
  • healthcare availability and cost
  • walkability
  • weather (temperature and precipitation)
  • well-being for older adults including cultural, recreational and educational opportunities

Taking all of these factors into account, in alphabetical order, here are 10 of some of the best-ranked and 10 of some of the worst-ranked cities for affordability. These results were culled from 2014/2015 published lists of best and worst places to retire:

10 of the most affordable cities to retire

While these may not be the very cheapest places in the U.S., nor the customary retirement meccas, they combine various aspects of affordability with other advantages for those entering full or partial retirement.

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: Median home price, $172,200. Not only does the low cost of living and low taxes make this an affordable retirement destination, but the city provides many low-cost services for seniors including college courses for $5 per credit.
  • Austin-Round Rock, Texas: Median home price, $249,100. Increasing cost of living and property taxes in recent years, coupled with slow wage growth may make Austin less affordable in coming years than it has been previously, but its strong economy and eclectic cultural scene keep it on most lists of best places to retire.
  • Blacksburg, Virginia: Median home price, $235,000. Small college town with booming economy, but 2% higher than national average cost of living. Low crime, good weather, average taxes, healthcare availability, walkability.
  • Bowling Green, Kentucky: Median home price, $138,000. Another small college town; cost of living 11% below average. Growing economy, low crime, good weather and reasonable taxes make this a gem for retirement.
  • Cape Coral-Ft. Myers, Florida: Median home price, $208,000. Boaters paradise with 400 miles of Gulf Coast canals. Good economy and a cost of living 4% below the national average; average taxes and healthcare availability.
  • Des Moines, Iowa: Median home price, $164,300. Best of the Midwest. Good job growth, low cost of living, average tax climate. Affordable healthcare, close proximity of grocery stores to housing; many museums and art venues.
  • Lexington, Kentucky: Median home price, $143,000. Cost of living 5% below average. Good walkability, healthcare availability, and low crime rate. Strong economy based on horse industry and colleges.
  • Nashville, Tennessee: Median home price, $186,400. Low cost of living, very low taxes, home of country music.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Median home price, $148,000. Cost of living, 16% below national average. Good walkability, bikeability, healthcare availability. College town with strong economy, sports teams. High crime and cold winter weather are its biggest disadvantages.
  • Port Charlotte, Florida: Median home price, $147,000. Cost of living, 8% below average. Taxes and healthcare provider availability are average, but the crime rate is low and the weather warm year round on Florida's west coast.

10 of the most expensive cities to retire

If you have the means, many of these big cities cannot be beat for amenities like culture, healthy lifestyle, great weather and access to healthcare, but they also have the highest costs of living in the nation:

  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Los Angeles, California
  • New York, New York
  • Oakland, California
  • San Diego, California
  • San Francisco, California
  • San Jose, California
  • Stamford, Connecticut
  • Washington, DC

Photo credit to Kevin Irby

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.