Choosing a Retirement Location

I recently came across an article that talked about the best places to retire. It piqued my interest as Mrs. SavvyJames and I have been discussing this very topic recently.

Before I share our plans for choosing a retirement location, I thought I would take a moment to look at the results of the top 10 states according to Bankrate.com. I was not surprised to see that two states long associated with attracting retirees – Arizona (my home state) and Florida – failed to crack the top 10.

While warmer weather often draws people to locations such as Arizona and Florida (and California and Nevada) there are a number of other factors to consider. Likely chief among them for the financially savvy are factors such as taxes and cost of living.

The Bankrate methodology for ranking the best states involved collecting the latest available statistics on cost of living, violent and property crime, health care quality, state and local taxes, wellness and weather (humidity, percent available sunshine and temperature). The states were then given standardized scores, with more points going to a lower cost of living, lower crime rate, lower tax burden, stronger health care, better wellness grades and better weather. The scores were combined to create a composite score.

Using that methodology, the Bankrate top 10 are as follows:

  • South DakotaBest Places to Retire
  • Colorado
  • Utah
  • North Dakota
  • Wyoming
  • Nebraska
  • Montana
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Virginia

The first two things that jump out at me when I look at the list are that none of the states are traditionally thought of as retirement havens and outside of the bottom two – Iowa and Virginia – these are all Western states…or at least west of Iowa. Interesting to me as I have always preferred this part of the country, particularly after living in a number of different places – in the United States and internationally – during my 21 years in the Army.

I much prefer more wide open spaces and the warmer (and drier) weather offered by Western states generally in the 30°N – 40°N latitude range, which leads back to the conversations being held in my house.

While we may move to an active adult community we are familiar with, about an hour away from our current home, it is just as likely that we will stay in our current home. In either case, we plan to stay in Arizona. Taxes are not onerous, the crime rate is reasonably low, veteran’s facilities are nearby, and the weather is great. There is every reason to stay put and use Arizona as our home base. Home base you might ask?

Home Base

While retirement has taken on a lot of different meanings lately, for us it means the traditional definition…completely leaving the workforce! After leaving the workforce we plan to stay actively engaged in our community and physically active by working out, hiking, biking and playing golf; and we plan to travel quite a bit.

Along with traditional trips to national and international destinations, we plan to enter into short-term leases – 6 to 12 weeks – for apartments or homes in cities that interest us, immersing ourselves in the culture/lifestyle of the location, enjoying new restaurants, museums, local theater, sporting events, etc. offered in the area.

An example of our plan. One year we might take traditional (fly in, rent a car and stay for a week) vacations to Rome and Seattle; as well as lease a home for six weeks in San Diego, enjoying all that the city – and the region – has to offer. At the end of each type of vacation, whether it be three days or three months, we will return to our home base in Arizona.

And you, SavvyReader, what are your criteria for choosing a place to retire?

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.

19 Comments

  1. Check out Darrow’s stories on choosing a place to retire, and rent vs. buy in Moving West.

    And check out the veterans’ special at Compass Living.

    • Thanks for the shares, Rob. I enjoyed Darrow’s tale of choosing a new home and relocation.

  2. Hi James

    I’m a little late to the party but here goes. Do you plan to have a home base while you are off traveling? Will you rent it out or leave it vacant?

    Debs

    • Yep. It is likely that we will be staying in our current home in retirement, using it as our home base. We definitely will not be renting it out for a couple of reasons. First, I’m not a fan of having other people living in my house, even for a short period of time and second, our travel will likely be pretty sporadic. While there will obviously be some level of planning and knowledge about longer vacations, the short ones could occur at the drop of a hat. I like the idea of being able to leave and come back to my home without being restricted to agreements we might have in place.

  3. I find it interesting that the choice of location differs a great deal when comparing world travellers to non-travellers. The more we travel, the more likely it is that we find our current home just fine.

    We like our city (Winnipeg), unlike most of the local residents who have never left the province. It offers a low cost of living compared to most other Canadian cities, it’s safe, beautiful, has a vibrant arts and culture community, and covers a large footprint for a rather small population (you can get pretty much anywhere in the city in a 20-minute drive).

    We plan on calling Winnipeg or the surrounding area our home base and will likely focus on slow travel for 3-6 months out of the year.

    • “The more we travel, the more likely it is that we find our current home just fine.” Absolutely agree. Ours is a small community that admittedly lacks some of the things (e.g. the arts and cultural events of larger cities that the wife and I would enjoy); however, it is a military community – like many we have spent our adult lives in and which we are comfortable – with great weather and a pace that suits us. And based on our experiences in a number of other locations/communities, we believe it will serve nicely as our home base. The more we discuss our home base and travel plans, the more excited we get about the possibilities.

      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation. Winnipeg sounds like the type of city we will add to our list.

      • We aren’t called “Friendly Manitoba” for nothing. We’d be happy to show you around our fine city if you ever make the trek.

  4. I think the tax rate is definitely a major factor. With a fixed income it’s even more important to reduce fees and taxes definitely qualify as such. St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands (my birthplace) would be my retirement destination because there’s no sales tax to worry about. Also, since my family owns property there I’d have no mortgage or rent as a concern. Additionally my grandfather was a fisherman by trade so he and my father taught me to fish. If push came to shove I could easily earn a living selling what I caught at the market-especially considering seafood is a staple in the islands. .. it’s easy money 🙂

    • I can see where the tax rate would a factor, or even a primary factor, for some. It is not something that should be casually dismissed. However, for me and the Mrs. SavvyJames, we are working to get to a point where such factors are largely irrelevant.

      • That’s always a noble goal James. I have to admit St. Croix is very appealing largely because it’s home.

        • You know, there is nothing wrong with a retirement plan that includes a home in St. Croix and another elsewhere. 🙂

  5. Why limit yourself to living in the US? There are many countries that have a lot to offer and are much more affordable than the US.

    • We aren’t completely ruling out any location at this point. Thirteen years is a ways off and things could change. In fact, at one time we were considering Costa Rica. For now though, AZ works nicely for us. Ultimately though, that is the beauty of our plan. Really, regardless of the location we use as a home base, we plan to travel quite a bit as experience has taught us that most places have something interesting to offer.

      With respect to affordability, while I would avoid places that are grossly expensive (e.g. New York City), the cost of living is not a primary factor for us. Quite honestly, part of the reason we are working toward a nest-egg that is larger than we will actually need is because we want to minimize that as a factor as much as possible. Whatever we do in retirement, we don’t want cost to be the reason we don’t do something.

    • Remember Andy, there is always an open invitation for you to write up a post that discusses the pros (and cons) of living outside the U.S. I would love to get your perspective. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Great retirement life James, that plan definitely suits you and the Mrs.

    I was born and raised in Roanoke, VA. I’ve always believed that it would be a great place to retire. The state’s motto should change from VA is for Lovers to VA, a great place to live and retire 😉

    All I saw was VA, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the other states but I’m surprised as well that Florida did not make the list.

    • Although I have spent quite a bit of time in VA – primarily just outside the DC area – through work the last few years, I have yet to visit Roanoke. I plan on living a long time in retirement and we will always be on the look out for new places to visit. I’ll have to add it to the list.

      Among the many things I learned while in the Army and traveling all over the United States, as well as the world, is that a lot of places have something to offer. While I may not choose to live in a particular place, there is likely something that is worth seeing or doing there; hence our plan to take traditional vacations to some locations as well as spend considerable time in others, soaking up the character, personality, and culture that is unique to each location.

  7. That sounds like a fantastic retirement. I would have never thought of leasing in different areas like that. You have given me some ideas.

    I was blown away with the best places to retire. Who would have thought Iowa would have made the top ten? Or that people would want to live in the snow? I guess there are many more people that like the four seasons than I expected. I’m sure those states offer much more, but I don’t know if I can get past the snow.

    Great post, SavvyJames!

    • In many ways the list was a surprise to me also, and like you, snow is not in my retirement plans! Thanks for stopping by and kicking off the conversation.

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