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 46 measures, including multiple measures of affordability.
Overall, Charleston, South Carolina, 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 where the cost of living is lower dominate 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.
15. 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 to enjoy. And if you dream of catching the big one, the fish in this oceanside city’s waters are calling your name.
14. Dover, Delaware
Dover is Delaware’s capital and the state’s second-largest city — but don’t think that means crowded streets and urban sprawl. Less than 40,000 people live here. Love to shop? Here’s a bonus: Delaware does not impose a state or local sales tax.
13. Chattanooga, Tennessee
The city famed for the 1941 hit song “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” is an affordable retirement choice. Chattanooga’s nickname is The Scenic City, and you can see why if you take a trip to the top of scenic Lookout Mountain, reached by the Incline Railway. Not only that, but as of 2021, Tennessee no longer taxes any type of income.
12. Augusta, Georgia
Augusta lies across the Savannah River from South Carolina and is the third-largest city in the Peach State. Singer James Brown, known as the Godfather of Soul, grew up in the city, and the Augusta Museum of History displays costumes, photos and other memorabilia from Brown’s life.
11. Columbia, South Carolina
Another South Carolina city, Charleston, came in at the overall No. 1 spot for retiree friendliness. But when you sort the list by affordability, as we did here, it’s Columbia, not Charleston, that makes the list from the Palmetto State. And the city has another benefit: State residents age 60 and older enjoy free access to classes at the University of South Carolina, located in Columbia.
10. 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.
9. Cheyenne, Wyoming
Cheyenne is Wyoming’s capital and largest city, but don’t worry about crowds – no city in Wyoming is bursting at the seams. Cheyenne’s population is only around 65,000. And there’s a real cowboy flair here. Look for the artist-painted, 8-foot-tall cowboy boot sculptures decorating the city – there are 25 of them.
8. Birmingham, Alabama
Four Alabama cities made WalletHub’s top 15 list of affordable retirement cities. Birmingham scored high in the activities category, and its 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.
7. Fort Smith, Arkansas
Fort Smith, Arkansas, 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.
Known as both the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock and Roll, 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. And here’s a good fact to know: Tennessee has no state income tax.
5. Casper, Wyoming
Beach bunnies, the city of Casper isn’t your place. But for those who long for inexpensive living among natural beauty like nearby Casper Mountain, 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 states with no income tax. It’s just one reason why retirees are flocking to Wyoming.
4. Knoxville, Tennessee
Back to Tennessee again for charming Knoxville on the banks of the Tennessee River. The state’s first capital, Knoxville 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.
2. Huntsville, Alabama
Huntsville, Alabama’s most populous city, looks to the skies. It’s home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center as well as the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal. Its housing market is a hidden gem – a 2022 report put it on a list of the most undervalued housing markets in America.
1. Montgomery, Alabama
Alabama’s capital city of Montgomery took the top spot on WalletHub’s list of affordable places to retire, the highest ranking of the four Alabama cities that made the list. More good news for your budget here: Alabama is among the 10 cheapest states for household bills.