Best places to retire: with so many lists, here's how to decide

best places to retire - how do they make the lists?
best places to retire - how do they make the lists?

Checking out "best places to retire" lists is like taking a cross country road trip to obscure American towns: Lubbock, Tex. Manhattan, Kansas. State College, Penn. Why would anyone want to live out their golden years in a seemingly random town? And in the first place, why are there so many lists?

"First off, everybody knows that lists and ratings are popular. People just love that stuff," says Mike Alfred, the CEO of BrightScope, a 401k rankings and research company. "There are so many people in this country who won't be able to retire where they spent their working career. A lot of people have to consider if they can ever retire if they continue to live in Manhattan or San Diego."

These best-of retirement lists -- as random an assortment of towns and cities as they may appear -- actually focus on places that provide job opportunity for senior citizens, usually in the government, education, and health care sectors. And then, of course, there's the weather, cost of living, and social activities. (AARP has a complete list of what it looks for in determining top retirement destinations).

Alfred's favorite best-of-retirement lists are the ones that focus on places abroad, where the dollar can go farther, like this one from WalletPop. He says Americans should consider saving money and ensuring quality-of-life by looking in countries off the beaten path, like Nicaragua, for instance.

Saving money is a major factor in determining top retirement town rankings. With 43% of Americans reporting they have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, according to a recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, they need the lists to locate the most affordable options. As WalletPop found out in this man-on-the-street video, some people have no idea how much they should even be saving for retirement. "At a high level, a lot of people just won't have a lot of money to retire," says Alfred.