Best Places to Retire: Detailed Guide for Happy Living

Forget median monthly rent or median home price. You didn’t spend your life working hard and saving so you could spend your golden years living an average lifestyle. Though housing costs are a consideration, looking at median prices won’t give you a measure of the quality of the home or the amenities available. They also won’t tell you how much spending power your retirement funds or social security benefits will have. 

Often, when we dream of the best places to retire, we envision getting away from it all to some bucolic small town where life’s a little slower, and there are more opportunities to enjoy the hobbies and things we love.

Though many have found places to retire just like this, there are some potential drawbacks to the idealized communities often recommended as the best place to retire. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the retirement honeymoon only to realize your quality of life and cost of living isn’t what you expected.

Here are 12 things to consider when deciding between the best places to live in retirement.

Healthcare

One of the drawbacks of a quiet rural retirement is the growing dependency on accessible healthcare as we age. It used to be a general rule of thumb that retirees should aim to be within 30 to 60 minutes from their hospital of choice. However, with recent changes in the hospital industry, this may not be sufficient.

There is a recent push for greater transparency of services provided and costs for medical care at hospitals, which couldn’t be more vital. Just because you’re near a hospital doesn’t automatically mean you’re covered. 

In many cases, your local hospital might not be equipped to handle something serious like emergency cardiac care. If the local hospital is unequipped, it could result in longer treatment time and an expensive helicopter ride to the fully equipped hospital across the state. With critical emergency care most common among retirees, time is of the essence. Being near a fully equipped medical facility could make all the difference. 

Weather

Almost everyone loves to sit in front of a crackling fire with a cup of cocoa while watching the snow fall. You may love the idea of cooler temperatures and the beauty of a winter wonderland, but what about sunshine? There’s hardly anything more beautiful than the sun glinting off freshly snow-covered trees in winter, but not all winter wonderlands come with ample days of sunshine. And how do you feel about shoveling snow from the driveway, decks, and roof? Can you afford to pay someone? Are you comfortable driving in winter conditions?  How difficult will it be for the family to visit if a storm rolls in during the holidays?

On the converse, you may dream of pristine tropical beaches. But are you prepared for the rain or potential tropical storms? Have you considered the bugs, humidity, and high temperatures?  Some places in the south experienced a month or more of 100-plus degrees last summer.  Temperatures like these seriously limit outdoor activities and impact utility budgets.

Though all places have their bouts with severe weather from time to time, anticipating how long you may end up without power or be trapped in your home is vital to your safety. The weather where you live will also considerably impact aspects of your cost of living, like insurance, utilities, and maintenance.

Salt water air means frequently repainting, whereas snowy winters mean investing in a snowblower or removal service. Depending on where you’re moving from, a list of added expenses like these could come with living in a particular area.  

Utilities

Did you know that you can choose your utility companies? Depending on where you want to relocate, you may be able to negotiate lower utility bills just by choosing a different company. Sadly, there aren’t usually many options, but it’s something worth considering.

You may also want to look into any possible green initiatives available to help you reduce the costs of heating, cooling, and electricity for your home.

Infrastructure & Public Services

These are the things most of us would never think to consider, but they can have an enormous impact on your quality of life. Consider the Flint, Michigan water crisis. How would you like to pick a place to retire, only to find out your water is poisonous and your property value has diminished to nearly nothing? 

Though Flint has been a big name in the news, thousands of municipalities nationwide have aging water and sewer systems that have been neglected for decades. Creating an exciting political platform around revitalizing the essential infrastructure no one sees is difficult. 

The same applies to roadways, storm drains, electrical lines, internet, and phone connectivity. 

Taxes

Something I took for granted in my younger years was that all state and city laws were relatively the same. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. What makes matters even more complicated is that it’s difficult to get an apples-to-apples comparison. Where one state may have no income tax, they may have much higher property taxes than another state, making the spendability of your dollar nearly equal in each location. However, that’s just one example among dozens.

Economic & Political Factors

Without a balanced, vibrant community, the little coffee shops, retail boutiques, and restaurants that made your chosen retirement destination appealing will likely evaporate. What kind of jobs are available in the community, and what is the political sentiment? Though not retired yet, I have experienced firsthand how quickly a small community can change for the better and worse with just one new company moving in or one new leader taking over a critical local governing role. 

Access to Professional Advice 

If you’re looking at retirement opportunities, you’ve likely worked with a few professionals over the years, perhaps managing your taxes, retirement fund, estate planning, etc. If you’re moving across the state, country, or possibly outside the country, have you established new firms to help you with these things, or will you retain your existing firms? Do they have the means to support you from afar, and how comfortable are you communicating with them exclusively via phone or video conferencing? Living internationally always sounds exciting, but at the end of the day, being an expat takes a lot of extra planning and consideration.

In addition to professional services, what does the market look like for help in other industries? If work needs to be done on your home or condo, is it easy to get materials and assistance making repairs? Or what if you’re having technical trouble with your internet or devices? Having contacts for assistance when needed is certainly a benchmark of an ideal retirement location.

Quality of Life Amenities

While some community amenities promote physical activity and mental stimulation, others provide an opportunity to connect, share experiences, and build a stronger sense of belonging within the community. These opportunities contribute to overall happiness and satisfaction and play a pivotal role in helping seniors maintain independence, health, and vitality. Some popular amenities to look for in the most livable cities to retire include:

  • Walking paths
  • Recreational areas like lakes or parks
  • Public libraries
  • Community Senior Centers
  • Fitness classes & clubs
  • Golf courses
  • Community gardens

Entertainment & Leisure

Do you enjoy the arts and culture? If so, the best place to retire won’t be complete without an active concert and theatre scene. When looking at potential options, what are the venue options like? Do they bring in the kind of performances you enjoy most? Perhaps you’re a cinema buff. Are there any unique movie theaters showing independent films and big blockbusters?

Or you may enjoy nurturing your intellectual curiosity. Some of the best places to live are college towns. Cities with universities or museums might prove valuable amenities. Many host lectures and talks on various subjects by notable speakers open to the public. 

Finally, don’t forget to consider the amenities your family members may enjoy when they visit—things like comfortable lodging, shopping, outdoor activities, and more. 

Food & Groceries

Though supply chain optimization has made quality food and grocery products widely available, there is still potential for surprises. Where some states don’t charge any tax on food, others do. If you’re unprepared, this can add up to a considerable difference in unavoidable costs. Another more pertinent convenience is how far you will live from your preferred grocery store.

Transportation

Having various public transportation options contributes to a healthier and more leisurely way of moving about the city. In some instances, it is also a great way to prolong independence and reduce vehicle ownership costs. 

Beyond typical public transportation like buses, trains, or subways, look at specific rules in the community or cities you’re exploring. More and more municipalities are making provisions to allow golf carts as road-worthy transportation. This could be the ideal low-cost, independent transportation model you’re looking for. 

In addition to how you’ll move about your new retirement city, how easy will it be for friends and family to visit you or for you to travel and see them? If you enjoy flying to faraway places, ensure there is at least one regional airport with frequent connections to a major hub. Travel can be stressful as it is; no one wants the added challenge of a difficult commute fighting heavy traffic to or from the airport. 

Crime Rate & Safety

Far and few between are the communities who always leave their keys in the ignition and doors unlocked. Finding secure and peaceful communities is not impossible, but staying vigilant is always beneficial. 

Fortunately, getting information before committing to your relocation is easier than ever. You may come across some of this information when looking into the political & economic standings of the community.

If not, look at the local police station website and search for crime mapping tools and neighborhood-specific crime statistics. This will also help you determine which sides of town are safest and might make great places to live. 

A Closing Story about the Best Places to Retire

I had a friend who retired and bought 20 acres in the country, thinking life in a rural community would be peaceful and relaxing.  And it was. Until mowing, weed eating, leaf removal, yellow jackets, invasive kudzu, neighbors shooting guns, and a never-ending list of to-dos took its toll.  

He still loved the country setting, but going on a trip in the summer or just reading a book on the back porch left him anxious, knowing the amount of work that was piling up.  He worried about how his wife would manage a big property if he became injured, ill, or died.  After two years, he sold the farm and moved to a more manageable home closer to family and amenities.

Retirement should be as stress-free as possible.  My friend’s story is just an example of 20/20 hindsight.  But, if you love the work and have the support systems in place, then a large property in a rural setting is lovely. My friend chalked it up as a wonderful learning experience and had no regrets.  He went on a 3-week trip to Thailand with his wife to celebrate no longer being tied to the land. That sounds a lot more like quality retirement to me.

You can plan for some things, but others just come with experience. Take your time and put as much effort into doing your due diligence as possible to ensure you’ve chosen the very best place to retire for your ideal lifestyle.

Best Places to Retire
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Marly is a lifestyle writer and creator of simplylivinghappy.com, a site dedicated to helping readers improve their health, wealth, mindset, and overall happiness. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her listening to audiobooks while gardening, visiting with family, or traveling.