Investor Alert

Where Should I Retire?

June 19, 2021, 7:38 p.m. EDT

We want moderate weather and live within an hour of the mountains and less than three hours to the beach — where should we retire?

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By Silvia Ascarelli

Dear MarketWatch,

My wife and I are 57 and looking to retire in five years. Here is what we are looking for in a locale:

  • Mountains within an hour and beach within a three-hour drive. Access to water close by would be ideal (lakes, river, ocean)

  • Moderate climate, with winters near freezing (or warmer) but nice summers

  • Moderate cost of living, especially housing. We would like to buy a home for $700,000 or less

  • Access to theater, music, great restaurants, similar to a college town

  • Moderate-to-low state taxes

  • Walkable neighborhoods

  • Strong healthcare system

We will likely have a retirement income approaching $220,000 a year (after a home purchase) but my wife and I are very frugal and would rather pass most of our wealth eventually on to our children than spend it all.

We love the Carolinas but would consider elsewhere as well. 



Near the mountains and the beach sounds lovely. And while you say you’re looking for moderate housing costs, that $700,000 budget is well above the average home price in the U.S.

Many retirees and soon-to-be-retirees are looking for low state taxes. Remember that your income sources will look different in retirement, so your tax situation may be quite different too. It begins with Social Security checks; 37 states don’t tax them at all, including California. Also consider that one way or another, you will pay for services. You also may find yourself paying for things that are wrapped into your property taxes or state income taxes where you now live.

Laws can change in the next five years and your targeted retirement date, but you can get a sense of your state income tax bill with this retirement tax calculator from SmartAsset. You may be surprised by the results.

All this isn’t to say you should ignore taxes, but you may want to focus first on the lifestyle you want and finding the right community — and you can still have plenty of your annual income left over. You could also consider ways to begin passing on your wealth to your children now, if you choose.

Read: There is more to picking a place to retire than low taxes — avoid these 5 expensive mistakes

As for where to move? Maine and the rest of New England are out given your desire for a moderate climate. That mountain-beach combination rules out a number of states with no state income taxes. Mountains near Reno, Nev., for example, are too far from the Pacific Ocean. Eastern Tennessee is too far from the Atlantic Ocean. In Texas, another no-tax state, Austin could work if you consider the Hill Country “mountains” and you’re OK with Texas summers.

If you’re willing to swap the mountains-beach combination for mountains and lakes on your doorstep, the Bentonville, Ark., area ( suggested here ) is a more humid possibility.

But even within the Carolinas, you’d have to accept mountains further than an hour away for the Raleigh-Durham area to work.

Whatever you decide, please spend some time testing out the community, getting a feel for daily life and the weather during the least-pleasant season.

Read: Having a dress rehearsal before moving in retirement can be a real eye-opener

One option I’ve suggested previously is Charlottesville., Va. ; you’d be close to the Blue Ridge Mountains and a three-hour drive from Virginia Beach. Here are three other possibilities, starting with the Carolinas:

Clemson, South Carolina

This college town of 17,000 residents fronts Lake Hartwell , a reservoir on the South Carolina-Georgia border that at 56,000 acres is one of the largest recreational lakes in the Southeast. It has a WalkScore of 60. ( WalkScore , owned by Redfin, calculates just how walkable a neighborhood or community is.) It also comes with Clemson University, so some serious college football and about 26,000 students.

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