It’s sometimes hard to imagine life in retirement, but picture living on Social Security alone. Assume all you earn is $2,500 a month, the maximum check a worker currently receives at full retirement age from Social Security. Where can you comfortably pay taxes, afford housing and still have some left over to actually enjoy retirement? Sounds impossible but with the help of AARP The Magazine, which recently presented its annual list of best places to live on a budget, we narrowed down five American destinations where it is possible to live on a simple Social Security paycheck.
Editor Gabby Redford assumed an average 25% tax rate and a monthly housing budget of about $400 but also sought attractive areas well-suited for seniors. Redford says affordability was key to AARP’s search but wasn’t the only factor. “We looked at arts and culture, hiking and biking trails, education opportunities, great healthcare facilities - all the things that make a city a really great place to live,” she says.
Eau Claire, Wis.
First up: Eau Claire, Wisconsin, nestled in the heart of the Midwest. If you prefer a family-friendly area that offers access to a university, lots of nature and an urban experience next door this is a sweet spot.
“Eau Claire has so much going for it,” says Redford. “Phoenix Park for instance has free summer concerts during the summer, and if you’re 60 and older, you can audit courses for free at the University of Wisconsin. If you’re the outdoorsy type, there are plenty of rivers and lakes where you can enjoy boating, fishing and all the water sports. And the Twin Cities are just 90 minutes away if you’re craving that big city experience.”
Head on south and you’ll find AARP’s next pick: Omaha, Nebraska’s biggest city. It’s fit for one of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffet, as well as retirees budgeting on roughly $80 a day.
“Omaha is this great blend of Midwestern cozy and high-tech spark. Over the years, it’s just been showered with gifts from generous benefactors. Warren Buffet, for instance, and Mutual of Omaha recently financed Midtown Crossing, which is this great development with retail shops, restaurants and condos all in the downtown area. And if you’re looking for some fun and entertainment, Mr. Toad’s in the old market area has plenty of free jazz on a Sunday night. Lots of great places to eat, where the seniors menus are $8 and under.”
Or if you prefer southern living with more sunny days per year, AARP has two destinations that can accommodate the smallest of budgets. First is Gainesville, Florida, described as where “funky hippy meets world traveler.” Home to the University of Florida, retirees here benefit from free courses and campus athletic facilities, as well as the charm of this southern neighborhood surrounded by Victorian homes, wrought-iron fences and cobble stone roads. There’s lots of rich culture and dining too between the Florida Museum of Natural History and Cuban eateries offering unique Latin fair.
San Antonio, TX
Also in the south but veering west: San Antonio, Texas, which has grown considerably over recent years. Per capita, it’s got five times as many libraries and museums as Austin and seven times as many as Houston. The city also boasts a new bike share program for under $10 a day.
Finally up north, this steel city offers 88 different neighborhoods and a median home price of roughly $100,000. Destination: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s home to more than 10 colleges and universities, major sports teams and an array of ethnic eateries.
“Pittsburgh is a very affordable place to live,” says Redford. “It’s also a vibrant city. It has world-class sports, music entertainment. PNC Park was recently named the number one baseball field in the country by ESPN. There’s also Frick Park where you can enjoy free bowling on the lawn and it has one of the world’s best orchestras.”
As always, we want to hear from you. What are some other affordable destinations for a retiree? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #FinFit.