It’s possible for retired couples to blend affordable living with low crime rates, if they know where to look. This is true even if “affordable living” means “Social Security only.”
A monthly budget of about $3,580 (the average benefit for a couple these days, according to the Social Security Administration), does limit your options in terms of retirement cities — but there are still plenty of options within your reach. And, you don’t have to sacrifice feeling relatively safe and secure.
A just-released GOBankingRates study offers multiple options, including our top 10 cities listed below. To determine which cities do best at combining low costs and low crime, GBR has processed data from the U.S. Census American Consumer Survey, the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer for Offenses Known to Law Enforcement, cost-of-living indexes from Sperling’s Best Places, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, and the Zillow Observed Rental Index, along with data from the Social Security Administration. Statistics were weighted and cities were ranked, with higher scores reflecting the best mixture of inexpensive and safe.
Ohio leads the way with four cities on our list, including the No. 1 entry. Minnesota is next with two cities. Read on for the details, including total average monthly expenditures, crime rates, final rankings, and a bit about each city.
10. Athens, Ohio
- Monthly total expenditures + average rent: $2,530.51
- Violent crime rate per 100,000: 109.59
- Property crime rate per 100,000: 2,086.21
- Total score: 3.11612
Home to Ohio University, Athens has a population of about 24,000 according to 2020 Census figures. Its reasonable monthly expenditures and the fourth-lowest violent crime rate on our list may appeal to retirees getting by on Social Security alone.
9. Winona, Minnesota
- Monthly total expenditures + average rent: $2,391.55
- Violent crime rate per 100,000: 279.82
- Property crime rate per 100,000: 2,325.49
- Total score: 3.11900
You’ll find Winona in southeast Minnesota, along the Mississippi River. Actress Winona Ryder did a chunk of her growing up here. These days, about 26,000 people call the city of Winona home. A month’s worth of groceries will cost a couple a reasonable $386 a month here, on average.
8. Fairfield, Iowa
- Monthly total expenditures + average rent: $2,632.51
- Violent crime rate per 100,000: 141.40
- Property crime rate per 100,000: 1,206.64
- Total score: 3.12094
With a population of just under 10,000, Fairfield is one of the smallest cities on our list. It’s located in the southeast part of the state, about two hours southwest of Davenport. “American Gothic” was painted here, and Fairfield has in more recent years been noted for a large number of startup companies. Retirees may enjoy its reasonable average monthly expenditures, about $2,600.
7. Tahlequah, Oklahoma
- Monthly total expenditures + average rent: $2,598.48
- Violent crime rate per 100,000: 204.37
- Property crime rate per 100,000: 1,144.46
- Total score: 3.12536
The capital of the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, Tahlequah is located about 70 miles east of Tulsa in eastern Oklahoma. It’s roughly 16,000 residents pay about $2,600 in living expenses each month on average.
6. Fergus Falls, Minnesota
- Monthly total expenditures + average rent: $2,391.60
- Violent crime rate per 100,000: 174.03
- Property crime rate per 100,000: 2,675.66
- Total score: 3.12798
If you’re retiring in Fergus Falls, bring your woolies. The average low in January is below zero. This city in Western Minnesota does boast 14 lakes and numerous outdoor opportunities. Retirees on tight budgets will enjoy its average monthly expenses of about $2,392 a month, basically tied with Winona, Minnesota, for lowest on our list.
5. Elyria, Ohio
- Monthly total expenditures + average rent: $2,535.81
- Violent crime rate per 100,000: 249.03
- Property crime rate per 100,000: 1,362.23
- Total score: 3.12900
The second-largest city in our top 10 by population, this Cleveland suburb has about 53,000 residents. A retired couple will pay about $380 a month for groceries, $531 a month for healthcare, $344 a month for utilities and just under $300 a month for transportation.
4. Rexburg, Idaho
- Monthly total expenditures + average rent: 2,778.49
- Violent crime rate per 100,000: 39.86
- Property crime rate per 100,000: 421.86
- Total score: 3.14179
Few cities rival Rexburg when it comes to low crime rates. Located about 30 minutes northeast of Idaho Falls, this heavily Mormon city has a violent crime rate of only 39.86 per 100,000. Both that and the property crime rate (about 422 per 100,000) are by far the lowest in our top 10 cities. However, Rexburg is the most expensive city on our list when it comes to monthly total expenditures and average rent, but that figure ($2,778.49 a month) is still accessible for many retired couples.
3. Parma, Ohio
- Monthly total expenditures + average rent: $2,636.74
- Violent crime rate per 100,000: 159.64
- Property crime rate per 100,000: 733.84
- Total score: 3.16143
Another Cleveland suburb, Parma is one of Ohio’s largest cities with more than 80,000 residents. Parma trails only Rexburg for the lowest property crime rate in our top 10, and retirees pay about $2,600 a month to live here.
2. Stevens Point, Wisconsin
- Monthly total expenditures + average rent: $2,508.85
- Violent crime rate per 100,000: 100.48
- Property crime rate per 100,000: 1,182.61
- Total score: 3.23579
Stevens Point touts itself as the “Gateway to the Pineries” and notes its membership in AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. Located in central Wisconsin, it has about 26,000 residents. Stevens Point has the second-lowest violent crime rate and the third-lowest average monthly rent in our list.
1. Ashland, Ohio
- Monthly total expenditures + average rent: $2,459.39
- Violent crime rate per 100,000: 105.43
- Property crime rate per 100,000: 1,079.37
- Total score: 3.28244
This city of about 20,000 boasts “Unbeatable quality of life at your fingertips.” You’ll find Ashland in north-central Ohio, between Cleveland and the capital city of Columbus. It offers one of the lowest average monthly living costs in our study, along with low crime rates.
Methodology: To find the safest cities to live on only Social Security benefits, GOBankingRates used the total population of cities as sourced from the US Census American Consumer Survey along with the property crime and violent crime reports sourced from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Data Explorer for Offenses Known to Law Enforcement, to calculate the property crime rate per 100,000 and the violent crime rate per 100,000. This gives a better representation of crime in the area and allows different city sizes to be more accurately compared. Cost-of-living indexes sourced from Sperling’s Best Places for each city included groceries, healthcare, utilities, transportation and miscellaneous. The cost-of-living indexes were multiplied by the national average cost for each expenditure, as sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, to find the average expenditure costs for each city. For each city on the list, the average rental price was sourced from the Zillow Observed Rental Index. The average Social Security benefits were sourced from the Social Security Administration’s Monthly Statistical Snapshot, OASDI and SSI. All cities where the total monthly expenditure costs plus the average rent cost were above two times the average monthly Social Security benefits were removed. All cities missing any of the previous data points were also removed. The property crime rate was scored and weighted at 1.25, the violent crime rate was scored and weighted at 1.25, and the total monthly cost was scored and weighted at 1.00. All scores were added together and sorted to show the safest cities to live on Social Security benefits. All data was collected and is up to date as of October 9th, 2023.
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