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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| June 26, 2018
If you're looking for a cheap retirement destination, you can pretty much count out the West Coast, the Northeast, Alaska and Hawaii. Still, more than half of U.S. states offer at least one great affordable place for you to retire in. Cost of living is a crucial factor for retirement planning. After all, you need to make sure your daily expenses don't put too big a strain on your fixed income. Indeed, 67% of people say they'd move to a less expensive location to have a more financially comfortable retirement, according to a survey by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, a research firm focused on the aging population.
To that end, we identified which of our 50 Best Places to Retire in the U.S. offer below-average living costs. On top of affordability, all these places rank well with us, taking into account safety, median incomes and poverty rates for retirement-age residents, as well as residents' sense of well-being and the availability of recreational and health care facilities. And they're scattered all across the nation. Take a look.
The list is ordered alphabetically by state. See "How We Picked the Best Places to Retire" at the end of the list for details on our data sources and methodology.
Courtesy Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Share of population 65+: 13.7% (U.S.: 14.5%)
Cost of Living: 4.7% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,469 (U.S.: $53,799)
Community Score: 63.3 (U.S.: 61.9)
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Tax Friendly
As one of the 10 Cheapest States Where You'll Want to Retire, the Heart of Dixie boasts many great spots for affordable living. And Huntsville, in northern Alabama, is one of the best. It offers all the low-cost, low-tax advantages as the rest of the state, but adds more generous incomes among retirement-age residents. The average household income for 65+ households in Alabama is $44,934.
Home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the Redstone Arsenal and the Huntsville campus of the University of Alabama, the city offers a robust economy and a highly educated population. There are plenty of cultural attractions, from a sculpture trail to a symphony orchestra, as well as opportunities for outdoor recreation (think bass fishing).
Population: 4.5 million
Share of population 65+: 14.2%
Cost of Living: 5% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,414
Community Score: 62.5
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Mixed
Undoubtedly, many of you have considered the Grand Canyon State for its retiree-friendly climate and beautiful natural scenery. Unfortunately, the financial setting is not quite as picturesque: Average living costs in Arizona are above the national average while median incomes for seniors are 10.8% below average at $47,973. Phoenix, though, offers a pocket of affordability, plus typically higher incomes.
And being the capital city, you can find plenty of attractions to keep you busy—world-class restaurants, professional sports teams and an array of museums, theaters and other cultural attractions. Of course, outdoor enthusiasts have more than enough to enjoy, too, with many hiking and biking trails within the city limits and even more to explore in nearby Scottsdale, Glendale and Tempe.
Share of population 65+: 12.1%
Cost of Living: 10.6% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $49,168
Community Score: 66.3
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Not Tax Friendly
The metro area of Fayetteville, which includes Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville, offers low costs but plenty of attractions. The surrounding Ozark Mountains afford residents outdoor recreation and natural wonder to enjoy while the downtown area, home to the University of Arkansas, provides restaurants, shops and a lively music and arts scene, including the Walton Arts Center.
Locals seem happy with what they have at their fingertips. Fayetteville ranks 11th for community well-being on the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index with residents reporting high levels of liking where they live, feeling safe and having pride in their community.
Share of population 65+: 26.3%
Cost of Living: 6% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $50,143
Community Score: 64.8
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Most Tax Friendly
With its desirable climate and favorable tax status, Florida is filled with popular retirement destinations. Many of our favorite retirement spots in the Sunshine State can be found along the Gulf Coast including St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Punta Gorda.
Cape Coral's metro area includes Fort Myers, yet another great place to consider for your retirement. But Cape Coral (city population: 183,365) is unique in its waterway access, offering 400 miles of canals for all your boating, fishing and water sports dreams. And land lovers can enjoy the area's beaches, golfing, tennis, parks and other recreational offerings.
Share of population 65+: 12.8%
Cost of Living: 10.2% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $44,648
Community Score: 60.4
With its warm weather and low living costs, Georgia ranks third among our Best States for Retirement. The only two states to rate higher than Georgia for retirees are Hawaii and (surprisingly) South Dakota.
Savannah (city population: 146,444) is particularly peachy. The historic Georgia city offers beautiful sights, just right for strolling through retirement, including classic American architecture, town squares and riverfront views. Tybee Island, with its wide beaches and still-operating lighthouse, is just a 20-minute drive east of the city. You can also enjoy an array of restaurants, museums and theaters, particularly in downtown Savannah.
Share of population 65+: 12.9%
Cost of Living: 7.5% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $42,795
Community Score: n/a
Boise is a great college town for retirees. Boise State University provides plenty of intellectual stimulation to help keep an aging mind sharp. Its Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts hosts symphony concerts, dance performances and Broadway shows. You can also take classes at the school through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute; membership costs $70 for a year.
Off campus, you can walk, run or bike the more than 20 miles of paved trails of the Boise River Greenbelt. Other outdoor activities to enjoy around the area include kayaking, boating, fly-fishing, golfing and skiing, to name a few.
Share of population 65+: 13.6%
Cost of Living: 8.3% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $42,732
Community Score: 59.7
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Least Tax Friendly
The Fort Wayne metro area's affordability will not cost you in amenities. Despite being home to a nice collection of quiet neighborhoods, it also houses a thriving arts scene and hosts a number of festivals and events throughout the year, including the family-friendly Three Rivers Festival in the summers. Indeed, the three local rivers—the St. Marys, the St. Joseph and the Maumee—are a main feature of the area, providing ample opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and cruising. More outdoor attractions: Fort Wayne is home to 86 parks and more than 90 miles of hiking and biking trails.
Fort Wayne is by no means a metropolis—the population of the city proper is 265,904—but if you ever feel the need for a small-town escape head two hours south to Richmond, the cheapest small town in America. Its claim to fame (other than being budget-friendly): Some of the earliest jazz records were recorded in Richmond by such greats as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
Share of population 65+: 12.2%
Cost of Living: 10.1% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $46,947
Community Score: 65.7
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Not Tax Friendly
For retirees looking to live in a big city on a small budget, Des Moines is a good choice. Affordability is just one reason the Milken Institute ranked the state capital fifth out of 100 large U.S. metro areas for successful aging. Des Moines also boasts a strong economy and plenty of health care facilities specializing in aging-related services.
Retirees won’t lack for things to do, either. There are numerous museums and arts venues, including an outdoor sculpture park, a zoo and botanical gardens. There’s even a casino and racetrack in nearby Altoona that hosts annual camel, ostrich and zebra races (sorry, no wagering allowed).
Population: 2.1 million
Share of population 65+: 13.3%
Cost of Living: 8.5% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,183
Community Score: 62.1
The metro area straddles two states and offers a wide range of attractions for people of all ages including retirees. The music and arts scene is particularly vibrant, being home to legendary jazz musician Charlie Parker as well as the American Jazz Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the Kansas City Art Institute. For foodies, authentic barbeque is big, too. And you can entertain visiting grandkids with Legoland, the Sea Life aquarium and the Kansas City Zoo.
Also, the main campus of the University of Kansas, with all the amenities of college life, is less than 40 miles away in Lawrence. The university's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers low-cost classes and special events designed for inquisitive people 50 and older. Also, KU's Landon Center on Aging houses clinical and research facilities focused on the treatment of older adults.
Share of population 65+: 12.5%
Cost of Living: 4.0% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,301
Community Score: 62.9
As you'd expect, the Bluegrass State holds plenty of appeal for horse lovers and bourbon aficionados. But retirees can pursue other interests here as well. Lexington has more than 100 parks, six public golf courses and a 734-acre nature preserve with more than 10 miles of hiking trails. For indoor entertainment, check out the numerous galleries and theaters, including the Lexington Opera House and its schedule of ballets, Broadway musicals, comedy shows, operas (of course) and other performances. The University of Kentucky offers the Singletary Center for the Arts, too.
You can also satisfy your academic pursuits at the University of Kentucky. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers various courses, forums, interest groups, trips and events to people age 50 or older; annual membership costs $25. The Donovan Fellowship allows Kentucky residents age 65 and older to take university classes free, space permitting. For all these reasons and more, Lexington ranks among our great college towns for retirement.
Cost of Living: 9.5% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,059
Community Score: 62.4
If you're craving Cajun and Creole culture, Lafayette is the place to retire. Known as the "Cajun Capital City," the area is rich in history, distinctive foods and two-stepping tunes. Nature lovers can appreciate the area, too, located on the Mississippi Flyway and the Atchafalaya Loop of America's Wetland Birding Trail. Bird watchers have gotten a glimpse of 240 species, so far.
Unfortunately, the area's wealth does not reflect in many older residents' finances. Though the average income for people age 65 and older is just a bit below the national average of $53,799, the poverty rate for the age group is a high 14.1%, compared with 12.9% for the state and 9.3% for the U.S. On the bright side, the metro area has an abundance of health care facilities, with about 27 establishments per 1,000 seniors, compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S.
Cost of Living: 11.3% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $50,801
Community Score: 57.8
Low costs and friendly tax policies can make for a sweet retirement in the Magnolia State, and the capital is particularly alluring. Jackson is a surprisingly eclectic city that holds appeal to Civil War buffs, blues music aficionados and even ballet fans. Dancers from around the world flock to Mississippi to compete for medals, scholarships and spots in ballet companies. Similar competitions are held only in Russia, Bulgaria and Finland.
The Milken Institute ranks Jackson eighth among the best large cities for successful aging. On top of its affordability, Jackson offers an abundance of nurses, nurse practitioners and orthopedic surgeons, as well as caregiving option and geriatric facilities. Note, however, that the area's residents are prone to unhealthy habits that you don’t want to pick up in retirement, including low levels of activity and high levels of fast-food dining.
Population: 2.8 million
Share of population 65+: 14.8%
Cost of Living: 9.3% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $49,888
Community Score: 60.0
The Gateway to the West can be a nice retirement destination, especially if you're looking to rein in costs. Housing is particularly affordable with the city's median home value at a mere $120,900, compared with $141,200 for the state and $184,700 for the nation as a whole.
But low costs don't limit opportunities for living it up. Foodies can enjoy an eclectic collection of dining options, many influenced by the various ethnic groups that call the city home. (Italian-influenced toasted ravioli is a local favorite.) What to wash it all down with? Beer, naturally. Home to Anheuser-Busch, as well as a growing crop of craft breweries and brew pubs, St. Louis takes suds seriously. And to balance out all that good food and spirits, explore the area's hundreds of parks and miles of trails and waterways. St. Louis also has an abundance of health care facilities, more than 40 establishments per 1,000 seniors in the metro area, double the U.S. average.
Share of population 65+: 12.4%
Cost of Living: 6.6% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $50,417
Community Score: 64.2
Lincoln may not be home to financial guru Warren Buffett like Omaha, which is about an hour north, but it has plenty of other notable points to recommend it. The capital city offers an abundance of attractions, including more than 100 parks, fine restaurants, an active nightlife, and a number of museums and theaters. Highlights include the Sunken Gardens (for budding horticulturalists) and the Museum of American Speed (for car enthusiasts).
Being a college town, home to both the University of Nebraska's Lincoln campus and Union College, the population may skew young. But Lincoln is also prepared to assist its aging residents with about 26 health-care and social service facilities per 1,000 seniors, compared with 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S.
Share of population 65+: 13.2%
Cost of Living: 0.8% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $60,221
Community Score: 64.1
Duke University and the University of North Carolina may be bitter rivals, but their hometowns of Durham and Chapel Hill, respectively, team up to form a powerhouse metro area, and a great place to retire. Indeed, the Milken Institute ranks Durham-Chapel Hill as the third best large city for successful aging—crediting the area's economic strength, as two-thirds of North Carolina's Research Triangle (the other third being Raleigh), and quality health care. The universities play a big role in those two advantages and also boost up the local cultural and recreational scenes, like in many college towns.
Though not a deal-breaker for every retiree, it’s worth noting that violent crimes are slightly more prevalent in Durham than they are for the nation as a whole. The rate of violent crime is 4.1 per 1,000 residents, according to the FBI, compared with 3.9 per 1,000 residents for the U.S. A good real-estate agent can point retirees to safer neighborhoods with retirement-friendly amenities.
Share of population 65+: 14.4%
Cost of Living: 1.2% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $41,598
After ranking all 50 states based on financial factors critical to retirees, North Dakota placed a surprising fourth best in the U.S. for retirement. So if you do make the unorthodox choice to spend your golden years in the Peace Garden State, give serious consideration to Bismarck—especially if you're seeking an encore career. The capital city’s strong economy means plenty of employment opportunities for older adults, particularly in the services sector.
If you're hoping for a more leisurely retirement, there are a number of biking and hiking trails and parks around the city, as well as on the banks of the Missouri River. You can also enjoy cruising, boating, kayaking and canoeing the river during warmer months. Bundle up if you venture out in winter. From December through February, average temperatures in Bismarck are in the teens.
Population: 2.0 million
Share of population 65+: 12.0%
Cost of Living: 10.3% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $46,905
Community Score: 61.2
The biggest city in the Buckeye State comes with some of the smallest costs. In fact, it's one of the most affordable big cities in the U.S. The median home value in Columbus, the state capital, is just $131,800, compared with the national median of $184,700.
Affordability doesn't equate to lack of activities. Home to Ohio State University, locals can enjoy the co-ed culture, including big sporting events, concerts and cultural diversions. It also offers Program 60, which invites Ohio residents age 60 and older to take university courses free. Off campus, the downtown area has a lively scene with an eclectic mix of shops, galleries and restaurants. The Short North and German Village neighborhoods, in particular, are worth exploring.
Population: 1.3 million
Share of population 65+: 12.7%
Cost of Living: 15.1% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $50,224
Community Score: 60.3
The biggest city in the Sooner State charges residents little in living costs. Housing-related expenses are particularly affordable, at 27.4% below average. The median home value is $142,700, well below the nation's median of $184,700. A private room in a nursing home costs a median $72,270 a year, compared with a median annual $97,455 for the U.S., according to Genworth.
Cowboys may feel particularly at home in Oklahoma City—it has one of the largest livestock markets in the world, after all—but given the area's downtown revitalization effort, everyone can find something to enjoy. The Bricktown Entertainment District has a variety of restaurants and nightlife options. And in neighboring Norman, the University of Oklahoma plays host to bigtime sporting and cultural events.
Population: 2.4 million
Share of population 65+: 18.4%
Cost of Living: 0.4% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $48,709
The Steel City is a good deal for retirees. Overall living costs are on par with the national average, and the median home value is just $100,800, compared with $167,700 for the state and $184,700 for the nation. Plus, the Keystone State offers some nice tax breaks for retirees—Social Security benefits and most other retirement income are not subject to state taxes.
Despite being light on costs, Pittsburgh is still heavy on attractions. You can enjoy the Andy Warhol Museum, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, a plethora of jazz joints and all the offerings of local universities, which include Duquesne, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. And if watching all the collegiate and professional sports isn't enough activity for you, you have plenty of opportunities nearby to golf, hunt, fish, bike, hike and boat.
Cost of Living: 7.0% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $45,780
If you've never considered moving to South Dakota, perhaps you should. We recently ranked it the best state for retirement. And Sioux Falls is a particularly great spot to settle. It is filled with advantages, including a booming economy, low unemployment and hospitals specializing in geriatric services. For all these reasons, plus the city's recreational activities (including regularly scheduled pinochle and pickleball), the Milken Institute dubbed Sioux Falls the 5th best small metro area for successful aging.
And all that comes pretty cheap for retirees. Along with low overall living costs in Sioux Falls, the median home value is $161,500, compared with $184,700 for the U.S. (The median for the state at $146,700.) Plus, the state's tax picture is one of the best for retirees.
Population: 1.8 million
Cost of Living: 7.9% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $56,379
Community Score: 64.6
The Volunteer State, which we rank as the fifth-best in the nation for retirement, is a good choice for retiree nest eggs of all sizes. On top of its friendly-tax status, most parts of Tennessee have below-average living costs across the board for retired residents. And Music City couples low costs with above-average incomes, giving you a good shot at a harmonious budget.
Nashville’s vibrant music scene is, of course, a big draw, with more than 180 venues, including the historic Grand Ole Opry, and free live performances every day of the year. But you can also enjoy the abundance of dining options and outdoor recreation.
Population: 1.9 million
Share of population 65+: 9.5%
Cost of Living: 7.7% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $62,940
There's nothing weird about wanting to retire in Austin. The metro area offers low living costs even while its older residents tend to bring in well-above-average incomes. And the population has the opportunity to be just as healthy as their budgets. A great place to retire for good health, Austin is home to Zilker Park, a 350-acre green space with a 10-mile hiking and biking trail that encircles Lady Bird Lake.
The area also has an abundance of health care facilities, with more than 29 establishments per 1,000 seniors in the metro area compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S. That includes St. David's South Austin Medical Center with specialties including women's health, heart and vascular care, and oncology. In fact, the Milken Institute credits the Austin metro area's sterling health care system and health-minded population as one reason it ranks sixth among the best large cities for successful aging.
Share of population 65+: 7.2%
Cost of Living: 1.9% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $59,020
Community Score: 64.7
The Beehive State, 10th in our 2018 rankings of the best states for retirement, is a sweet spot for active retirees. And Provo, with mountain peaks within the city limits and Utah Lake on its doorstep, is particularly buzz-worthy. Brigham Young University offers intellectual stimulation to complement the physical activity.
Another feather in its cap: The Milken Institute rates Provo as the best large city for successful aging, noting the area's vibrant economy and safety, as well as the population's healthy lifestyles and high levels of volunteering among older adults. It also has an abundance of health care facilities, more than 33 establishments per 1,000 seniors in the metro area compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S.
Share of population 65+: 17.4%
Average Income for Households 65+: $38,973
Community Score: 67.1
Take a hike. Really. Retiring in the City of Seven Hills, nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains and overlooking the James River, outdoorsy types can hike, jog and bike the more than 18 miles of urban trails on the city's 300-acre greenway. And if that's not enough activity for you, Smith Mountain Lake, Wintergreen ski resort and the Appalachian Trail are all within an hour's drive. It's no wonder residents award it some of the top marks in the country for community well-being, reporting high feelings of safety and community pride.
Low living costs are attractive, in general, but in particular as you age. A private room in a Lynchburg nursing home typically costs $83,950 a year, according to Genworth, compared with a whopping $97,455 a year for the U.S.
Share of population 65+: 11.7%
Cost of Living: 3.0% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $57,179
Community Score: 65.1
This metro area includes Richland and Pasco, all together dubbed the Tri-Cities of Washington State and all qualifying as great retirement destinations. The low cost of living is particularly attractive thanks to above-average incomes among retirement-age residents.
Whether you're partial to exploring the great outdoors or focusing on wine country, you have plenty of options—you don't even have to choose one over the other. You can enjoy boating and fishing on the Columbia, Yakima and Snake Rivers, and hiking or biking on the 23-mile Sacagawea Trail. There are also more than 200 wineries within a 50-mile radius, offering beautiful views and many wines to sample.
Cost of Living: 4.5% below the national average*
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,428
West Virginia University offers a number of benefits to retirees in Morgantown. Residents 65 and up can take WVU courses at a discount. Or if you're 50 or older, you can join the local chapter of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Membership gets you access to interest groups, trips, social gatherings and program classes, including local and international history, music, computers and yoga. To be a full member for a year costs $100.
The university also helps boost local health care services with its many medical facilities, including the Eye Institute, Heart Institute and Ruby Memorial Hospital. The Milken Institute actually credits the area's large pool of doctors, orthopedic surgeons and excellent nurses for contributing to Morgantown's high ranking (18th) among small metro areas. Health care is also relatively affordable, at 8.3% below the national average.
Share of population 65+: 14.1%
Cost of Living: 0.4% below the national average*
Average Income for Households 65+: $46,399
Loner types should love the Cowboy State. It has a population of fewer than 580,000—that's just six people per square mile. (By comparison, the country's smallest state in size, Rhode Island, hosts more than a million people, with more than 1,000 people per square mile.) Even the capital city is relatively small, with just 63,000 or so residents.
The lack of crowds doesn't leave you a lack of activities. You have plenty of outdoor diversions, such as miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding; fishing and boating; and birding and other wildlife viewing. Train aficionados can enjoy the area's railroad history and displays of locomotives, including the world's largest steam engine (also retired). Another big local attraction: Every summer since 1897, Cheyenne hosts the world's largest outdoor rodeo and Western celebration, Frontier Days, now a 10-day event.
To pinpoint one great retirement destination in each state, we weighed a number of factors:
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