The average monthly Social Security benefit in May 2022 was $1,668, according to AARP, or $3,336 for the average couple. That’s not exactly a fortune, but it’s enough to build a life with — depending on where you live.
“The good news about America is that it is a very vast, wide-open country with many affordable places to live a relatively high quality of life, especially in retirement,” said Baron Christopher Hanson of Coldwell Banker Realty.
Hanson recommends searching in the South “because the cost of heating, home repairs, and indoor entertainment in northern climates can become expensive year over year.”
As you’ll learn, however, there are hidden gems all over the country — the trick is to know what you’re looking for.
“No matter where you live, it’s always more expensive near sexy downtown city centers or waterfront communities of any kind,” Hanson said. “The second strategy is to avoid premium-priced living, expensive views and extreme climates where the lifestyle is not exactly fiscally sustainable.”
Are you a retiree looking to stretch your Social Security check? Consider the following destinations.
Rochester, New York — and the Upstate Region, in General
Mike Kern, a home builder and founder of Sell House For Cash San Diego, works on the opposite side of the country from Upstate New York — but two of his clients found a low-cost oasis there.
“Exhibiting lush green foliage, open parks, and long paths for walks, Rochester is a retiree’s safe haven,” he said. “The area’s low housing costs make it possible to live comfortably on a modest retirement income. The homeownership expenses are around $1,200-$1,400 a month and rent is around $900-$1,000 a month. Additionally, the Strong Memorial Hospital affiliated with the University of Rochester offers efficient healthcare services to the elderly community.”
It’s not just Rochester. The entire region has a lot to offer.
“Upstate N.Y. is a surprisingly popular retirement destination,” said Dennis Shirshikov, a strategist at Awning.com who went Upstate from high-priced New York City. “Not only is it full of beautiful rolling hills, mountains, lakes, and rivers, but it’s also very inexpensive. Access to local farm fresh vegetables and meats make prices very affordable.”
Rochester is not the only Rust Belt city that beckons retirees on a budget.
“You can easily secure affordable housing in Toledo, Ohio,” said Leslie Tayne, financial attorney and founder of Tayne Law Group. “Modest, liveable homes sell for under $50,000, and small apartments rent for under $600 per month. In addition, groceries in Ohio are cheaper than the national average, and the state’s regular grade gasoline price beats more than half the country.”
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Toledo is near the Canadian border. A nearly straight shot down to just above the country’s Southern border will land you in the exact center of Alabama, where you can stretch your Social Security check for many of the same reasons.
“You can purchase a liveable home in Birmingham, Ala., for under $50,000 or rent an apartment for less than $700 per month,” Tayne said. “Plus, in Alabama, regular grade gas is among the cheapest in the country, and groceries cost less than the national average. Alabama also has one of the lowest overall healthcare costs in the nation.”
Cities in Delaware
Some parts of the mid-Atlantic are as pricey as the Northeast, but one tiny state on the Mason-Dixon line provides East Coast amenities with Southern prices.
“Delaware is a small Eastern state that often gets overlooked,” said Hardy Selo, business expert with PropertyGuru. “But between low taxes and crime rates as well as good schools, it has a high quality of life.”
Delaware does not impose a state or local sales tax, which adds to the affordability of daily life.
Florida is the quintessential retirement destination for many, but the Sunshine State will cost you. The good news is that no one state has a monopoly on sunshine.
“Skip Florida, head to Arizona instead,” said Isaiah Henry, CEO of the property management company Seabreeze. Henry recommends Scottsdale specifically.
“There are many tax benefits, including no state Social security income tax and no state tax on groceries,” he said. “If you don’t mind traveling a little bit into Phoenix, you can also avoid a city tax on groceries. The weather is beautiful, there are plenty of restaurants, malls, and museums to keep you busy, and if you’re outdoorsy, there’s an abundance of hiking and golfing opportunities. As a bonus, Scottsdale has some of the best hospital systems in the country, so you’re in good hands as you age.”
Hanson and many other experts recommend sparsely populated rural enclaves when trying to stretch a Social Security check — but major cities aren’t entirely off-limits for retirees on a budget.
“Houston is a surprisingly affordable place to live, especially among larger cities,” said Marcus Hutsen, business development manager for Patriot Coolers. “Houston is ranked as the fifth most affordable U.S. city for buying a house, and housing expenses are 18% lower than the national average. Some complain that the cost of transportation is high, but if you are retired and don’t need to commute, you can live very inexpensively in the suburbs of Houston without any need to spend money on daily travel into the city. When you do find time to come to the city, it’s a relatively affordable place with tons of options for dining and entertainment, and is ranked as the greenest of the big cities in the South.”
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