Where’s the Best Place to Retire?

[Editor’s Note: An updated version of this article appears here.]

Do you ever daydream about where you’d most like to live after you retire?

When you visit beautiful places on vacation, do you ever think, “Wow… It sure would be great to retire here!”?

Do you ever think that surely there must be some place out there that’s just right for you?

It’s fun to think about where you want to retire!  After all, once you no longer have your job tying you to a particular area, there’s no reason not to move to a place that’s more to your liking if you want to.  Perhaps you want to move someplace warmer, someplace where the cost of living is lower or someplace closer to the water.

But once you start to think more seriously about where you want to live, it becomes more complicated and perplexing than fun.   There are so many factors to consider:  cost of living, weather, taxes, how close you want to be to your friends and family, whether an area has the amenities you desire…  It can get overwhelming fast!

With so many factors to consider, which ones are truly important? 

Over the past year, I’ve surveyed readers of this website to gain some insight into what factors are most important to the majority of my readers.  I think you’ll find the results interesting and useful.

Here are the results:

Important factors - all

(Note that these responses were collected before the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of nationwide marriage equality in June.)

Of course, we’re all different, so the ideal retirement spot is going to be different for each of us.  And that’s a good thing; if there was one true retirement utopia, millions of people would move there and it would cease to be utopic.

Valencia beach walk

Choosing a place to live is a lot like choosing your spouse.  You can make lists of requirements (must-haves and nice-to-haves) and analyze information all you want, but you will probably end up in the place where you feel the strongest emotional connection.

It’s been repeatedly proven that we humans make decisions based on emotion first, and then we select the facts that support our decision and reject the others.  Nowhere is this truer than choosing a place to retire.

Do priorities differ depending on whether you’re gay or straight?

One of the goals of this blog is to identify and address the retirement considerations of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community, as well as issues that concern everyone.  Actually, most retirement lifestyle considerations are the same regardless of orientation, but some notable differences did emerge from the survey data.

Here are the priorities of the self-identified LGBT respondents:

Important factors - LGBT

Here are the priorities of the self-identified straight respondents:

Important factors - Straight

Not surprisingly, same-sex marriage, LGBT or LGBT-friendly health services and LGBT community were significantly more important for LGBT respondents than for straight people.  Cultural amenities also scored higher for the LGBT community.

Factors that were noticeably more valued by straight respondents were low taxes, appreciating property values and proximity to loved ones.  Climate/weather scored somewhat higher for straight respondents as well.

The difference in the weighting for proximity to loved ones is probably lower for LGBT people, since they are less likely to have children, and may in some cases be estranged from or less close to their biological families due to disapproval of their orientation.

The fact that LGBT people place less emphasis on taxes and appreciating property values is interesting, too.  One possible explanation also stems from the fact that LGBT people are less likely to have children; therefore they may have more funds to save for retirement, making monetary issues less of a concern.

What types of places do people most want to retire to?

The survey also asked respondents to rate the types of places they would want to live.  Here are the results:

Types of places - all

I’m somewhat surprised that mountains and beaches landed so high on the list.  This may be because people often envision retiring to a place they enjoy traveling to for their vacations.

This isn’t always a good idea.  Mountains and beaches are attractive as short-term getaways because they provide a welcome change from your day-to-day life.  But if you were to move there permanently and the factors that were once alluring become commonplace, you may discover that many of the other amenities you value in your daily life might not be as readily available.

One of my college buddies took his first job in El Segundo, one of the beach communities just south of Los Angeles.  He rented an apartment just half a block from the ocean.  When I met with him on a business trip, I marveled aloud at how great it must be to live so close to the beach.  But his response was just to shrug and say, “Eh… the novelty wore off quickly.  After a little while, the ocean is just there.”

The beach or mountain destination you like may be popular with tourists, but as a full-time resident you might tire of the tourist traffic quickly.

Mountain house on lake

Small towns, islands, and remote or rural areas were the least desirable places to live for most people, for good reasons.  After you retire and you are no longer surrounded by people at work, socialization becomes even more important.  Plus, as you get older, you are going to need more medical care and that will not be as readily available if you live in an area with low population.  Other support services might not be available, either.

LGBT and straight responses lined up similarly, although LGBT people rated large cities and beaches higher and straight people rated suburbs and small towns higher.  Given that LGBT people tend to value LGBT communities and resources more highly, it’s no surprise that they will gravitate to larger cities.

How important is each of these factors to you?

While the survey data is interesting, what really matters is what’s important to you!

If you are married, do you and your spouse have similar preferences or are there some differences?

The Retirement Visualization Guide (free download) offers you the opportunity to rate many of the same categories.  It’s a useful exercise to help you gain clarity on your preferences and priorities, and those of your spouse.

What else is important to you?

What elements of your everyday life would you miss if they weren’t present in your new location?

For example, what stores would you miss?  I read a comment on another blog in which a reader stated that his wife didn’t want to move anywhere that there isn’t a Wegman’s grocery store.  (Wegman’s is a chain in the northeast and mid-Atlantic areas of the U.S. that enjoys high customer satisfaction and loyalty.)  I don’t think I’d want to live where there’s not a Costco nearby.

If you enjoy dining out, is there a decent selection of restaurants to meet your tastes?  Or will you be limited to McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Applebee’s?

Reel Big Fish horns

If you’re a music fan, are your favorite musicians are likely to perform near you when they’re on tour?

If you’re a sports fan, how important is it to you to see live games?

Good hiking trails, golf courses, proximity to water, proximity to mountains… these are just a few things that might be important parts of a retirement lifestyle that you will enjoy.

What’s most important to you?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

© 2015 Dave Hughes.  All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
Sunset and palm trees: Ratul Malti.  Some rights reserved.
Beach walk: Peter.  Some rights reserved.
Mountain house on lake: Junald Dawud.  Some rights reserved.
Horn section: Chad Cooper.  Some rights reserved.

5 Responses

  1. William says:

    I wanted to share this information for others that are looking for affordability in a nice locations with plenty of “heart” in the community. These are 3 cities that I lived at least 6 months due to my job. I “hated” to leave but work called. I made sure my information was updated from friends who still live there.

    Columbia, South Carolina South Carolina’s capital city has 60 city parks and green spaces, and seniors can also get discount tickets to a variety of local attractions, including the Riverbanks Zoo and Columbia Museum of Art. South Carolina residents age 60 and older who are no longer working are also eligible for free tuition at the University of South Carolina. Housing remains affordable, costing retirees $1,074 monthly with a mortgage, $367 with a paid-off house or $801 in monthly rent. And Social Security income is not taxed at the state level.

    Jacksonville, Florida Jacksonville offers balmy winters similar to other parts of Florida, but at much more affordable prices than Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Retirees age 65 and older pay a median rent of $861 per month. Older homeowners pay a median of $1,247 per month if they have a mortgage, which drops significantly to $405 once they pay off the house. The St. Johns River bisects the city and offers plenty of fishing and boating opportunities. Jacksonville is also a short drive from the Atlantic Ocean and boasts 22 miles of white-sand beaches. An added bonus: There’s no state income tax in Florida.

    Pittsburgh Pittsburgh is a world-class city that isn’t priced like one. Pittsburgh has several professional sports teams, noteworthy museums and several major colleges, including the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is ranked 13 th in the country in geriatrics. But housing prices remain affordable. Senior citizen homeowners pay a median of $1,023 monthly with a mortgage and $434 when they have paid off their house. Retiree renters pay a median of $614 per month. Social Security income isn’t taxed at the state level in Pennsylvania. Plus, residents age 65 or older ride free on the bus, T or Monongahela Incline, thanks to a program funded by Pennsylvania Lottery proceeds.

    I also wanted to mention that city and state Taxes we pay insure we have plenty of firemen, police officers, ambulances, and social needs. Many retires look for low or no tax States giving up some of these amenities. Some of the Southern States also pay minimal towards any assistance programs.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi William,

      Thanks for sharing this insightful first-hand information!

      I agree with you on taxes. I’m not as much concerned about how much tax I’m paying as I am with what I’m getting for it (well, unless the tax rate is exorbitant). I think we should all be willing to pay taxes to support our schools – even if we have no children or our children are grown up. Other people paid taxes so I could go to school. And besides, I don’t want to live in a society with a bunch of stupid people. 🙂

      Thanks again – I really appreciate your contribution.

  2. William says:

    I like seeing these statistics. I find them very useful. I don’t want to spend retirement “on vacation”. Or pay out to live like that! Affordability is a need and a Warmer climate is a desire. I want to work less and live more, developing my creative side. Socialization is important but I prefer small towns with holiday activities. Active but peaceful. I love going to high school games and summer baseball. I would make a great volunteer coach. I always look at towns with a hospital and walk-ability. My wife maps our preferred stores, library and parks. We have to consider “where” now to know what we can afford.

  3. Deb Hernan says:

    How wonderful it is to read that someone else puts Costco at the top of their must haves in retirement. LOL As we map out neighborhoods we are considering for retirement, I always put a marker at the nearest Costco and BJ’s warehouses. Thank you Dave for another great post. So glad I found your site.

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