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The Least Expensive Cities to Retire in the U.S.

Would you consider moving to stretch your retirement dollars? Find out where you can retire cheap in the Northeast (is there such a place?) and elsewhere in the country.

least expensive cities to retire in the u.s.

You don’t have to be at or near retirement age to see the appeal of living in one of the least expensive cities to retire in the U.S. After all, many of the factors that make an area attractive to seniors – like safe and affordable housing – appeal to all age groups.

But if you’re approaching retirement, knowing where to retire cheap could help keep your nest egg safer, longer, especially when you consider senior-specific factors like whether or not your Social Security check will be exempt from state income taxes.

Does this mean the nation’s soon-to-be seniors are looking to make a move? It’s hard to predict: A 2017 Merrill Lynch study showed 67% of pre-retirees age 50+ would be willing to move to a less expensive location. A recent GOBankingRates survey reveals a surprisingly low number of Americans – only 22% – are even factoring in cost of living when deciding where to spend their post-retirement years.

Where to Retire Cheap: How to Look and What to Look For

If you’re wondering which cities can make savings last, there’s information galore about the most and least affordable places to live. Some target pre-retirees who want to live overseas or downsize to Smalltown, USA. Others focus on just one factor about an entire state – such as housing prices or taxes.

But to get a comprehensive picture of the least expensive cities to retire in the U.S., it’s best to consider a broad range of factors under the “cost of living” umbrella – housing, healthcare, groceries, transportation and utilities – as well as subjective “livability” items, like access to parks and proximity to the nearest airport.

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Where to Retire Cheap in the Northeast

If you live in one of the northeastern states, it probably comes as no surprise to you that the cost of living is cheaper…elsewhere. In fact, “If you’re looking for a cheap retirement destination, you can pretty much count out the West Coast, the Northeast, Alaska and Hawaii.” So says Kiplinger, which ranks New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut in five of the 20 “Most Expensive U.S. Cities to Live in 2019.” (Stamford is 16, Boston is 10, and Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan rank 9, 4, and most expensive, respectively.)

Keep looking, though, and you might find a northeastern city that works for you. TheStreet says Durham, N.H., could prove easy on your fixed income, thanks to “some of the best cost of living ranges (18% above the national average) in the otherwise pricey U.S. Northeast.” The seventh-lowest tax burden in the U.S. Buffalo, N.Y., also gets a nod: “Although taxes in New York are generally high, the state does not tax Social Security benefits or public pensions, and there are some other breaks for retirees.”

early retirement

Where to Retire Cheap…Elsewhere

In one of the more comprehensive looks at the least expensive cities to retire in the U.S., GOBankingRates offers a top 50 list based on the annual retirement income required to cover basic expenses, including housing and healthcare.

At number three, Buffalo is the only northeastern city to make the cut. The other top five included Fort Wayne, Ind.; Greensboro, N.C.; and two great cities in Ohio – Toledo and their number one pick, Cleveland. Cleveland snagged the top spot for the lowest cost of living, second-lowest annual amount spend on healthcare and the lowest annual amount spent on housing of all the cities listed.

North Carolina performed well, snagging four spots in total. Charlotte, Durham and Winston-Salem also made the list. (Raleigh, an anecdotal favorite favored by many N.Y.-N.J.-Conn. retirees, did not.)

Does a Move Make Sense for You?

For many Americans heading into retirement, stretching Social Security dollars and preserving wealth will be a big part of their financial planning goals – and a move to a more affordable area may well be on the table.

That said, pre-retirees should know that no single factor makes one city more affordable than another. Tax savings can be wiped out by high healthcare costs; affordable housing can be blunted by a poor transportation system.

The bottom line: lists and surveys can help get a conversation going, but ultimately, we all have to manage our individual finances in an ever-changing post-retirement landscape. Be sure to enlist experts assistance like AAA Financial Services, which can help with advice, loans and more.

Are you thinking of staying put? Or will you pack your bags for one of one of the least expensive places to retire in the U.S.? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Comments
  • John C.

    Absolutely plan to move away (Medway) from the 495 belt of Massachusetts! We are thinking southern NH., off the seacoast.

  • Eric P.

    My wife an I just moved out of the 495 belt and it was the best decision we even made. We each took about a 20% pay cut to do so but it was worth giving up every penny. Life is a lot better when you can afford a nice place to live and you don’t need to sit in 3 hours of traffic each day to get there and back.

  • Mary Susan W.

    as you age,living closeby to family is very important..yes its great to live out retirement dreams in a condo in florida on the beach (expensive)or in the mountains of colorado or the like,but owning a property,paying taxes,closeby services like a hospital or the like,grocery stores, and availability of outdoor things like hiking or camping or swimming count.. ..volunteer activities available..money and family are the biggest things for retirees…you never know when the sciatica will act up, or its time for the colonoscopy and you dont have a way to get there or someone to take you..just other things to consider other than the “rosey” hand in hand on the beach thing for retirees,as a lot of us are widowers or widows…i have known only one couple that lived their retirement dreams, and they went to the mountains of Colorado….the husband had a very large 401 k and pension however..”just saying”…

  • Thomas C.

    It is great that you discuss straight up costs such as housing, medical etc.
    But is is also important to include other factors – such as things that seniors like to do and the costs for those items, how about just being able to get out and walk in the neighborhood. For instance many of the beautiful rural areas there are no sidewalks and the roads are dangerous, or there might be wild animals that have to be taken into account. How about let’s go to dinner tonight and unless we want to drive 25 miles the choices are 3 except on Monday when everything is closed…

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