Can You Afford Your Ideal Retirement Lifestyle?

Senior African American couple on golf course
Getty ImagesWhether retirees want to spend their golden years on the green or relaxing on a sandy beach, preparing for the costs now can mean less surprises later.

By Emily Brandon

Like many people, you may have grand plans for retirement. You could travel for an extended period of time, play golf every day or relax by the ocean, with no end to your permanent vacation. The problem lies in paying for it. None of these retirement dreams come cheap, unless you're willing to expend some effort to find deals. Here's how much it costs to retire in style, along with some ideas to make your ideal lifestyle more affordable:

Golf course. Retirees have the luxury of being able to fit in all the golf they want, assuming they can afford it. Membership at a private golf club often includes a joining fee and required minimum monthly expenditures. Chris Santella, author of "Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You Die: Golf Experts Share the World's Greatest Destinations," says these costs can range from the low five figures to the middle six figures, depending on the club. Playing golf at resorts or municipal courses generally costs less, ranging from $150 to $300 a round on the higher-end courses to between $100 and $150 per round on municipal courses, Santella says. For example, a tee time for two players on a Wednesday in November in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the Troon North Golf Club will cost between $89 in the afternoon heat to $213 for more desirable morning spots. "Alabama has put together a wonderful array of quality golf courses called the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail," Santella says. "The cost of living in Alabama is much less than being in Scottsdale, but the quality of courses is fantastic and they are very reasonably priced." At Magnolia Grove in Mobile, Alabama, tee times were listed online for as little as $28 per player on a November weekday. Another way to play golf at much lower prices is to volunteer or work part time for a golf club. "Volunteering for a course as a starter or a ranger is a job people will often do free of charge other than the ability to play golf for free," Santella says. "The chance to be out and socialize with people who have the same interest as you and to get those free golf rounds is something that is desirable for a lot of folks."

%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-723%World traveler. Working people never have enough vacation time to travel as much as they want to, which is a situation new retirees are often eager to remedy. But it's easy to spend your nest egg too quickly on international trips and high-end hotels. "Generally retirees should look for countries that are undervalued in terms of the exchange rate of the dollar," says Matt Kepnes, founder of and author of "How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter." "Everyone goes to Europe and goes to Paris. Instead, go to Croatia or Romania. Thinking contrarian in your travel is one of the best ways to stretch dollars." Indeed, five-star hotels in early May are currently just over $100 a night in Zagreb, Croatia, compared with over $400 nightly in Paris. Once you are no longer beholden to work and school schedules, you are also free to travel at off-peak times when tourist sites are less crowded and hotels and airfares are cheaper. "The more you are flexible with your travel plans, the more you will be able to find deals," Kepnes says. "If you go off-season, the crowds are fewer and you will have lower prices." Some retirees find creative ways to save, including doing a home swap with someone in another city or using a recreational vehicle to traverse the country. And, of course, senior and AARP discounts on hotels, cars and attractions abound for those who are willing to admit their age.

College town. Retirement can be a second chance to head back to school and learn something new. College towns tend to offer lots of amenities at affordable prices. Small cities with colleges often have good public transportation that is low cost and sometimes free. If the college has a teaching hospital, there's also likely to be top-notch health care. Some colleges even have retirement communities on or near campus. "You're going to have, in many cases, small-town living, a reasonable cost of living and plenty of things to do, sometimes as much as a big city," says Bert Sperling, founder of "Major universities have world leaders come to speak to students and also to the community, the sporting events are some of the best, there's the possibility of taking classes and the vibrancy of living in a place where you are surround by young people." Many colleges allow local residents who are above a certain age to take classes for free or a very low cost.

Retirement community. As much as we like to think we will spend our retirement years traveling or relaxing, there may also come a time when we develop health problems and need help from others. In case that happens, it's essential to have a plan for the very high costs of long-term care. A private room in a nursing home costs a median of $240 a day in 2014, up 4.35 percent from 2013, and assisted living facilities cost a median of $3,500 a month, according to a Genworth Financial survey of 14,800 care providers. However, the cost of facility-based care has grown at a much faster rate than prices for home care. Home health aides cost a median of $20 per hour, and adult day health care costs $65 a day. "Take a look at home care versus an assisted living community and the costs related to each if you move or stay put," says Joy Loverde, author of "The Complete Eldercare Planner." "If you stay home, you are going to need to retrofit your house so it is senior friendly, and home remodeling costs will depend on what you have done." The cost of care varies significantly by region, so it's important to check local rates when making your retirement budget. In some cases, Medicare will pay for up to 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility. Those without significant savings can often get help from Medicaid, but families with assets to protect might want to consider a long-term care insurance policy to help defray some of the costs.

Beach bum. Retirement is the perfect time to relax by the sea, but a seaside property purchase could capsize ​your retirement budget. The cost of oceanfront property largely depends on where you choose to live and whether you want to be right on the water or are willing to live a few blocks away. "In order to determine a budget, you must first outline what is important. House size? Location? View? Proximity to beach? For some, a water view with beachfront access is the priority, and there is some flexibility on the location of the home and its size," says Karen McIntyre, managing director and senior financial adviser for Wescott Trust Services. "For example, Crystal Beach, Maryland, sits at the intersection of the Chesapeake Bay and the Elk River. A two-bedroom, one-bath home with great views and a private beach a short walk down the street can be purchased for less than $100,000. Of course, a beachfront home in a prime location may cost over a million." And if your retirement dreams aren't tied to the ocean, a lakeside or riverside retirement home can also provide water views at a fraction of the cost.

Emily Brandon is the senior editor for Retirement at U.S. News. You can contact her on Twitter @aiming2retire, circle her on Google Plus or email her at