Many baby boomers who haven't saved enough to retire well are contemplating delaying retirement. But if working into your 70s isn't possible (or appealing), moving to a place with a much lower cost of living can help stretch your retirement savings and finance a better quality of life.
A retirement income of $40,000 per year certainly won't go very far in Honolulu or Miami, but there are plenty of other places where it can fund a comfortable retirement lifestyle. If you're willing to relocate to a place with a low cost of living and affordable housing, this modest retirement income could give you access to interesting activities and top-notch medical care.
Producing a retirement income of $40,000 is a realistic goal for many retired couples, even those without a traditional pension. The average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker was about $1,230 at the beginning of 2012. For a married couple each receiving the average amount, that's a retirement income of just under $30,000 per year. Add to that a modest nest egg of $250,000, and that could bring your retirement income to around $40,000 per year, depending on how the money is invested, your drawndown strategy, and the inflation rate.
To find places where retirees can live well on less than $40,000 per year, U.S. News analyzed recently released 2011 Census Bureau data. We screened for places with the lowest housing costs for people age 60 and older, including mortgage payments for people who had one, other housing costs for people who have paid off their mortgage, and the typical rent for renters, as well as the proportion of their budget retirees spend on housing costs. Then, among the places where people age 60 and older spend the least on housing, we picked cities with the best amenities seniors will need, including major medical facilities, services for seniors, colleges, and cultural and outdoor activities.
Here are 10 great places to retire on less than $40,000 per year in 2013:
Best Places to Retire for Under $40,000
The low cost of living in Albuquerque is well-known to students at the University of New Mexico and people drawn to the community by the Kirtland Air Force Base and national laboratories. Retirees also benefit from Albuquerque's many amenities and low housing prices. The median housing cost for people age 60 and older was $1,150 monthly for those with a mortgage, $358 for homeowners without a mortgage, and $657 for renters. There are also plenty of low-cost ways to get around town, even if you can't or no longer want to drive. People age 62 and older can ride the bus for just 35 cents, and there are also more than 400 miles of bike paths and trails.
The host city of the Masters Tournament is best known for its golf courses. This city on the Savannah River is also home to the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta State University, and a wide variety of art galleries and museums. Housing costs for residents age 60 and older are a median of just $626 for renters, $1,064 for homeowners with a mortgage, and $353 for seniors who have paid off their homes. Augusta public transit costs 60 cents per ride for people 65 and older.
South Carolina's state capital city offers the amenities of big-city life, but with a low cost of living and plenty of arts and outdoor activities. Monthly housing costs range from a median of $1,107 per month for homeowners age 60 and older who have a mortgage to $712 monthly for renters. Retirees who have paid off their mortgages pay a median of just $350 monthly for other housing costs. Bus fares for people age 65 and older are 75 cents. And South Carolina residents age 60 and older who are not working full time can qualify for free tuition to the University of South Carolina.
Your retirement budget will stretch much further in Mississippi's state capital than in many other places. Homeowners age 60 and older paid a median of $1,053 per month in housing costs, which dropped to $329 if they had paid off their mortgage. Renters age 60 and older paid a median of $624 per month in 2011. The city is known for its music, especially gospel and blues, and also has a zoo, ballet, planetarium, and opera. "Here, you can get season tickets to the theater and the Broadway shows, and you can get them for a whole lot cheaper than other places," says Ivy Alley, a retired museum curator who lives in downtown Jackson and volunteers at the Mississippi Museum of Art. "There are lecture series and museums that are very low-cost things to do."
The typical resident age 60 or older with a mortgage in Knoxville pays a median of $1,060 per month. For those without a mortgage, the median housing cost declines to just $347 monthly. And retiree renters pay a median of $625 per month. This city has a rich arts and music community as well as plenty of outdoor attractions, including 65 miles of greenway trails, more than 80 parks-among them the Ijams Nature Center-and is about an hour's drive from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee and the headquarters of Regal Entertainment Group, where senior citizens qualify for a small discount on movie tickets and AARP members can get deals on soft drink and popcorn combos.
Named for a rock formation on the Arkansas River, this state capital is home to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "I've had some heart trouble in the past, and I like being close to where there are good hospitals and healthcare," says Royce Thomas, a priest who retired in Little Rock in 2010. "And you don't have to go far to find other attractions. There's more than enough for me to do." Most homeowners age 60 and older pay reasonable housing costs, including a median of $1,059 if they have a mortgage and $360 monthly once the mortgage is paid off. Retirees who rent pay a median of $656 monthly. Senior citizens above a certain age can get discount admission to the Little Rock Zoo, Arkansas Museum of Discovery, and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
The host city of the Kentucky Derby is also known for its green space, which includes more than 120 parks covering over 14,000 acres. The 6,218-acre Jefferson Memorial Forest is located just 15 miles from downtown. The city is in the process of building the Louisville Loop, a partially completed bike and walking trail system that is estimated to eventually span more than 100 miles, encircle the city, and link existing parks and neighborhoods. Retirees pay housing costs of $1,068 monthly if they have a mortgage and just $373 if they have paid off their mortgage. Renters age 60 and older paid a median of $573 per month in 2011. "Louisville has a very extensive menu of arts and cultural attractions that have reasonable prices," says Theresa Mattei, a retired nonprofit manager in Louisville. "Ticket prices to attend museums, the ballet, and orchestra are generally somewhere between $15 and $100 per person, so it's not an outrageous market compared to several hundred dollars per ticket in Boston or San Francisco."
Pittsburgh has a symphony, ballet, zoo, and a variety of museums. And between the Pirates, Steelers, Penguins, and Panthers, sports spectators have plenty of options. The UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is ranked nationally in 14 adult specialties, including 10th in the nation in geriatrics. And senior citizens age 65 or older with proper ID ride free on the bus, T, or Mon Incline, thanks to a program funded by Pennsylvania Lottery proceeds. Paul Wiegman, a retired vice president for a land trust who is now a photographer, uses his free bus rides to meet with photography clients and volunteer at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. "It's a lot easier to take the bus than it is to drive in the city," says Wiegman. These world-class amenities are coupled with surprisingly affordable housing prices. People age 60 and older paid a median of $590 per month in rent and $1,079 monthly toward their mortgages in 2011. Those without mortgages get by paying just $435 per month in housing costs.
Best known for the Gateway Arch, St. Louis also has a zoo, science center, a variety of art and other museums, and 111 parks covering 3,250 acres. Professional sports fans can choose between the Cardinals (baseball), Rams (football), and Blues (hockey). The teaching hospital, Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University, is ranked 14th in the nation in geriatrics and is also ranked nationally in 15 other specialties. Housing costs for retirees are reasonable, including a median of $1,186 monthly for retirees with a mortgage, $442 among seniors with a paid-off house, and $657 monthly in rent.
First colonized by the Spanish in the early 1700s, San Antonio now has an extensive 11,000-acre park system containing over 68 miles of trails and more than 50 golf courses. Yet housing remains affordable, costing homeowners age 60 and older a median of $1,155 monthly, or $398 if they have paid off their mortgage. Monthly rent for retirees is a median of $660. "In other places in the country, I would have gotten the same retirement money but my dollars go further here," says Lawrence Zepeda, a former Army sergeant major and safety manager who retired in 2007. An added bonus: There is no state income tax in Texas.