Can You Afford to Live Where You Want When You Retire?

Will you be ready to retire soon? It all comes down to one key issue: Either you’ve got the savings to cover your retirement years, or you don’t, right?

True – but only to a point. After all, if you’ve got a cool ten million bucks, and you’re debt free, the rest, as they say, is gravy. But if you’re living solely on Social Security, you won’t be able to afford to eat out at Burger King with a forty-percent-off coupon, let alone live comfortably and with dignity in retirement.

Well, it’s not all that simple. Sure, the wealthy can ride with poise and grace into the sunset when they retire. They can afford to eat at Burger King (without coupons), or at Le Meurice in Paris, each and every day.

But for the vast portion of the U.S. population fifty-five and over, who are neither rich nor poor (yet), retirement is much more uncertain. These folks can never know whether they have enough, because inflation or some unpredictable and extraordinary expense is always just around the corner. Or, as the comedian Henny Youngman once succinctly put it, “I have all the money I’ll ever need if I die before four o’clock.”

For this group, planning is everything. And that means planning for every aspect of their lives: how to allocate their retirement income, how to manage their health, what investments (if any) to make, what to eat, how often to eat out, whether to live in your own home or rent and, crucially, where you’ll be able to do all that.

In this last category you finally have some help.  The crew at WalletHub.com, a credit-monitoring service, has devised a unique guide primarily for middle-income retirees showing the best and worst places to retire. It assigns a rank to each of the fifty states for affordability, quality of life and health care.  It also assigns an overall rank and total score for each state.

Number one overall is not surprising: Florida, a land of no state income tax, a great many exciting activities for sports fans and culture vultures, and year-round warm weather. Perhaps unexpectedly, Wyoming ranks an impressive number two, even though its quality of life score at twenty-eight is mediocre. (A sterling affordability rank of number one will never fail to earn a state a place several steps higher on the Stairway to Heaven.) To be fair, one person’s criteria for quality of life may be vastly different than another’s, so the Equality State is certainly worth consideration.

Interestingly, while for the most part the guide’s algorithms seem to mirror our intuitive sense of a state’s likely rank, it does offer an occasional surprise. Of course a high state income tax and the very existence of Manhattan push New York State down to number forty-eight for affordability!  But who would have thought, for instance, that South Dakota would rank number one for health care? (What do cardiologists in the Mount Rushmore State know that those in Philly and Florida don’t?)

Finally, what I like about this particular guide is that, unlike most others you find online, it doesn’t simply rely on cold metrics. It offers a panel of experts – a CPA, professor of social work, professor of finance, and others who weigh in individually on the nagging question of where to live during retirement.

For my money, Joseph Shavinsky, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at Ithaca College offers the most profound comment on what will ultimately become a quandary for so many retirees:

“…most people are interested in questions that go beyond or pre-empt ‘where’ to retire. They want to have meaningful lives that connect them to community, family, and a sense of purpose…not just a climate or ‘tax haven.’ That is why so many retirees choose to age ‘in place” – in communities they know and are connected to….”

On that note, for those of you about to make that move, I wish you a prosperous and healthy retirement wherever you choose to live.

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