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Where Should I Retire?

Oct. 3, 2020, 10:42 a.m. EDT

We want to leave cold Midwest states for ‘warmer and drier climes’ and affordable health care on $44,000 a year — so where should we retire?

Looking for ideas on the best place for you to retire? Email HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com

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By Silvia Ascarelli, MarketWatch


courtesy Visit Medford
Vineyards in the Rogue Valley near Medford, Ore.

Dear MarketWatch,

My wife and I will be retiring in five years. We have lived in colder northern Midwest states for most of our lives and are ready to live in warmer and drier climes!

We will have an annual combined income of $44,000 from Social Security. We will also have approximately $600,000 total in my 403(b) and traditional IRAs. In addition to a warmer, drier climate, we would like good options for outdoor activities, especially hiking.

We’ll be selling our home in Michigan, which should net about $200,000. We hope to buy with, at most, a very small mortgage. So we plan to keep the total housing expense below $1,000 a month.

We lived in Arizona for a time while in the military and wonder if that is a good state to retire. Although we would like to be somewhat close to a larger metro area for cultural offerings, we prefer to live in a smaller city or suburban area.

We have been torn between retiring close to children in Omaha, Neb. and Tucson, Ariz. (my preference).

We would like to be closer to good, affordable health care, which increases the attractiveness of Omaha. A nice-to-have would be a more multicultural location, with various cultural offerings, which is what I think of in Tucson. But perhaps Lincoln, Neb.?

So I’m not willing to make climate and average temperature a make-or-break issue, I think we are more interested in a lower overall housing cost, health care, and recreation opportunities. And if we can find that in a multicultural area we would be elated.

John

Dear John,

You’re on the right track. I’m thinking a college town could give you much of what you want.

The other question is how close you want to be to your adult children, or perhaps more accurately, the grandchildren. Do you want to be available for last-minute babysitting and chauffeuring, or do you prefer to be a bit of a drive away? And what do your kids want? Will they let you help? And let you spoil the grandchildren? Or do they have firm ideas about what you can and can’t do, down to what snacks you can offer?

Finally, if you move to their part of the country, are they likely to stay there as you age? If not, perhaps you want to make this move for you and a subsequent move to be closer to them when you need their help.

To find your spot, I asked MarketWatch’s retirement tool for help. My “must haves”: a metro area of 100,000 to 250,000, a college town (defined here as home to top research universities), a five-star-rated Medicare hospital, a top-rated cancer hospital and median home prices below $250,000. My “nice to haves”: a below-average cost of living, a national forest and a national wildlife refuge (for recreational opportunities beyond the standard state and local parks), an airport and public transit. I left out any temperature requirements.

At first I narrowed it down to the regions where your children are but later opened it up to anywhere in the U.S. I ruled out any place much further north than Omaha because of weather (sorry, Sioux City, Iowa).

No metro delivered 100%, but both Lincoln (capital of Nebraska, home to the main campus of the University of Nebraska and 290,000 people) and Tucson (550,000 people) rank well for what you want. Obviously they are very different in weather.

Read: 5 things to know about health care in retirement

Also: Health care will cost this much in retirement — but probably even more

I encourage you to see what results you get using other criteria, such as weather or a different metro size. You can sort by either population or cost of living. Data can only tell you so much, of course. And be sure to visit in the least-pleasant weather so you have a true picture of what you’re getting. Not that you can’t spend some time in Tucson during the winter or Omaha during the summer.

Here are three suggestions beyond Lincoln and Tucson.


Justin Torner/courtesy Think Iowa City
Kayakers enjoy the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area in Iowa City.

Instead of Lincoln, Nebraska…. Iowa City, Iowa

The Iowa City metro area, with just over 170,000 people, including nearly 80,000 in Iowa City and more than 21,000 in the suburb of Coralville, came out on top for the criteria I entered, even when I looked at the entire U.S. It met 90% of the wish list. All that’s missing is an airport — but the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids is 30 minutes away — and a national wildlife refuge (though there is a state wildlife management area nearby).

Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa (more than 32,000 students, so bigger than the University of Nebraska) and the renowned Iowa Writers Workshop . You’ll find some big-city entertainment offerings at the university’s Hancher Auditorium , and of course there is plenty of Big Ten sports action if that’s your thing. And if you care a lot about politics, you can revel in the attention of the presidential caucuses every four years.

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