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Posted on May 10, 2019

How to Decide the Best Place to Live When You Retire

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By Ron Carson, CEO & Founder of Carson Wealth

One of the questions I get asked often is “Where should I live in retirement?”

Sometimes the person is asking about a list of cities, sometimes they’re asking about what type of residence – home, apartment, condo, retirement community, etc. – and sometimes it’s even other countries.

But before I can advise someone on where to live, it’s important to know how to decide the best place to live in retirement (or if you’re even ready to retire!).

I get my fair share of air miles each year. I’m in cities all over the country, learning more about local cultures and interacting with people in their own environment – and I’ve gleaned a lot about what factors go into a retirement locale.

Joseph Coughlin, the director of the MIT Agelab, created a great starting point to determine the best place to live when you retire. He has three basic questions you should ask yourself to predict your quality of life:

  • Who will change my light bulbs?
  • How will I get an ice cream cone?
  • Who will I have lunch with?

In essence, those three questions hit the three big areas: home maintenance, proximity to activities, and proximity to friends and family.

I often say that Omaha is the center of the universe (with a smirk of course) – and for good reason. With low cost of living, low unemployment, and high availability of health care, Omaha makes for a great place to spend your golden years. But does it answer those three questions from Coughlin? For me, it does. For you? Maybe not.

The key is to look at all the factors that go into this big decision and prioritize what is right for you.

Access to Family and Friends

The first thing I always stress when selecting where to live in retirement is socialization. For me, that means being near my family and within proximity of things I like to do. For others, it means staying close to their friends or moving somewhere they can easily make new friends.

While people often live near their loved ones, the decision doesn’t always come down to physical location. For example, let’s say you have three children who all live in different parts of the country. You may be debating on living at The Villages in Florida or moving into a condo in Des Moines, Iowa. Neither are home to your children, but one is drastically cheaper and frees up money in your travel budget to visit your children and grandchildren more often.

The same can be said for access to you. Maybe you want to move somewhere with more space, where your grandkids can play and you have plenty of room to host large family gatherings. That might not be an option in large urban areas – either due to space or housing costs.

You may also take socialization another step further – by buying a summer home, vacation home or cabin, where you and your loved ones can enjoy free time. This isn’t always location specific, but it can be destination specific. Who wouldn’t want to spend time in a cabin on the lake every summer, or take family trips to ocean each winter?

Access to Your Interests

Everyone has hobbies. Everyone knows what they like to do for fun, but it’s not the same for everyone. It all depends on your preferences.

Related content: What Type of Retiree Are You? Take this quiz to find out!

For me, it’s spending time in the outdoors – hiking, biking, climbing, hunting and just being surrounded by the elements. It goes without saying that where you choose to live should provide access to fun. And not just any type of fun – your type of fun.

This doesn’t have to be extreme. Maybe you enjoy catching a baseball game every now and then, so you want to live within driving distance from your favorite ball club. Maybe you like to hang out at the pool all summer, or the golf course, tennis court, movie theater, symphony, museums, etc. Whatever it may be, consider how close you want to be to it in retirement.

Access to Safety

While everyone likes talking about fun, no city comes without some downside – especially for retirees. Florida is spectacular, but it has its share of risk. Will you be able to move out of your new residence if a hurricane hits? And it’s not just hurricanes – weather-related safety concerns include cold and ice, flooding, and even excessive heat.

You’ll also want to consider crime rate, public transportation options and even the type of residence your purchasing. After all, you may be healthy and able to drive your own car or handle stairs well now, but what about 20 years after you retire?

Access to Health and Wellness

Living well in retirement starts with living well in retirement. Take your health seriously so you can enjoy life after your 9-to-5. If you workout daily, you should make sure you have access to a gym or health club. This could be your typical gym, or it could be part of a retirement community. Maybe it means buying your own exercise equipment (kettlebells and Peloton are my personal favorites for at-home workouts).

You should also think about the kind of health care you’ll receive. If you need certain specialists, do you need them nearby? If you’re a military veteran, is there a VA hospital in the city you’re looking at? What level of care can you expect? What are the ratings? Will you have to switch primary physicians? Are they covered by your insurance?

What about your spiritual health? Are there places where you can center yourself within an active, faith-based community?

Asking yourself the right questions is the first step in finding the best place to live in retirement to fit your needs.

Access to Work

I often talk about living a utilitarian life. I don’t plan on retiring and sitting around – I want to extract joy and meaning from everything I do, work included. If you’re like me, the thought of lounging around in retirement just doesn’t cut it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean working full time. If you’ve built a solid retirement plan, you should be able to choose how much you want to work.

You may want to put in a couple days a week at the local library, or you might want to start a business full time. There is obviously a large gap between those options. Many retirees invest in local businesses or do consulting work on the side.

It doesn’t matter what type of work you want to do, just make sure the place you call home allows you to thrive at it.

Access to Affordability

It doesn’t matter if you have $10 million in retirement income or $10,000 – if you live beyond your means, you can run out of money. It’s extremely important to think about what you can afford in retirement.

Retirement communities offer a lot of advantages. They can also cost a lot of money. Houses in Omaha, Nebraska, are much cheaper per square foot than houses in San Francisco. Having to travel across the country to see your friends and family can create a large budget liability. So how do you know what you can afford? Having a financial advisor is helpful. So is doing research on the cities you’re thinking about.

Home and travel costs are just part of the equation. There are lots of calculators out there that provide a full cost of living comparison (here’s one of my favorites), but the number one thing you’re trying to accomplish is to avoid running out of money in retirement. THAT is the art of living where you belong, where you will thrive, and where you will live well.

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