There are many things to consider when choosing a retirement haven.
Many retirees want, or need, to be close to family. Others consider health issues and decide to make their home in a city close to acclaimed hospitals and doctors. Some require mild weather and long to put those snow-shoveling days behind them.
And then there’s money. If you have plenty of it, no problem. Retire to the beach, the mountains, a resort community, the French Riviera — the sky’s the limit. But most of us have to think seriously about which cities fall in the affordable range. And that range is different for everyone.
A recent analysis by personal finance website WalletHub compared the “retiree-friendliness” of more than 180 U.S. cities based on 48 measures, including multiple measures of affordability.
Overall, theme-park haven Orlando, Florida, came in first as the best retirement city, and big metro areas such as Minneapolis, Denver, Miami and Atlanta also made the list.
But when you shake things up and rank the cities only by affordability, you get different results. Smaller places, mostly, where the cost of living is lower lead the list. That might not be right for you, or it may sound like a golden-years dream come true.
Here’s a look at the top retirement cities for affordability, according to WalletHub.
10. Jacksonville, Florida
Sunny Jacksonville’s slogan is “It’s easier here,” and if you’ve suffered through your share of blizzards and below-zero temps, you might just agree. The city has 22 miles of beaches, a big park system, historic neighborhoods and more. And if you dream of catching the big one, this oceanside city’s waters are calling your name. Jacksonville also landed on a recent list of large cities where buyers get the most home for their money.
9. Birmingham, Alabama
Three Alabama cities made WalletHub’s top 10 list of affordable retirement cities. Birmingham is the largest of the three. Perhaps due to its size, it also scored high in the activities category, coming in at No. 38 out of 182 cities. Golf courses, music venues and museums will keep retirees busy. Hungry? Birmingham calls itself the “Dinner Table of the South” for its culinary offerings and Southern-food heritage.
8. Huntington, West Virginia
Huntington, West Virginia, may seem much smaller than many of the cities on this list, as the city’s population is only around 50,000. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be missing big-city amenities. Huntington is the hub of a metropolitan area that spans three states and boasts more than 365,000 residents. It helps that Huntington is home to a lively college campus — Marshall University has called H-Town home since 1837.
7. Casper, Wyoming
Beach bunnies, Casper isn’t your place. But for those who long for inexpensive living among natural beauty and blended with all-American cowboy culture — yee-haw, you might be home. And it’s good to know Casper is in one of the nine U.S. states that have no income tax. It’s just one reason why retirees are flocking to Wyoming.
6. Columbia, South Carolina
Scenic Columbia scores in the top half of WalletHub’s activities category, coming in at No. 63 out of 182 cities. That number is probably boosted by the fact that Columbia is home to the University of South Carolina, the flagship campus of the state university system. And if you’ve been shivering in Michigan or New York or another Northern state, get ready to donate those snow pants — Columbia is the hottest city in the state, with an average summer maximum temperature of 93.5 degrees and an average summer minimum of 71.9 degrees.
5. Memphis, Tennessee
Lively Memphis is bursting with music and history, from the raucous bars of Beale Street to the thought-provoking exhibits of the National Civil Rights Museum. Snow is sporadic here, but it happens. Like Wyoming, mentioned previously, Tennessee has no state income tax. And if the security of owning your own home in retirement appeals to you, know that Memphis came in at No. 2 on a recent list of the best cities in which to buy rather than rent.
4. Knoxville, Tennessee
Back to Tennessee again for charming Knoxville on the banks of the Tennessee River. The state’s first capital, Knoxville may be smaller than Memphis, but it stays lively and active thanks in part to the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee. And you can choose between city living with all its amenities or branch out and buy or rent in the scenic area leading to the Great Smoky Mountains.
3. Mobile, Alabama
If fishing and outdoor recreation star in your retirement dreams, Mobile might be for you. This scenic Southern city, Alabama’s only deep-water port, sits on the Mobile River. There’s history aplenty too — Mobile is some 300 years old and boasts Battleship Memorial Park, home to the retired battleship USS Alabama and the submarine-turned-museum USS Drum. Mobile landed at No. 3 for affordability on WalletHub’s list, but when activities, health care and quality of life are figured in, its overall retirement score is higher than the next two cities on this list.
2. Montgomery, Alabama
Alabama’s capital city of Montgomery landed at No. 2 on WalletHub’s list of affordable places to retire, the highest ranking of the three Alabama cities that made the list. Only Montgomery, however, made WalletHub’s top five cities for lowest annual cost of in-home services. That’s more good news for your wallet if you retire here.
1. Fort Smith, Arkansas
No city is more affordable for retirees, according to WalletHub, than Fort Smith, Arkansas. Yet it may be the least familiar city name listed here. Think Old West town snuggled into America’s New South. Fort Smith, which lies on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border and along the Arkansas River, was once a Western frontier military post and is now home to the Fort Smith National Historic Site. Its affordability, and mild winters, make it a favorite with modern Americans, too.
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