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How to choose the best place to retire

CBS MoneyWatch recently listed the based on criteria such as the weather, cost of living, and recreational activities. But here's another way to figure that out -- find the place that best meets your needs, however you define them.

To get the ball rolling, start by considering all the things you'd like to do during your retirement years. For instance, how important is it to live close to your family and friends? If that's high on your priority list, then you've already narrowed your choices significantly. My wife and I currently live far from our first grandchild, who will be turning one in just a few weeks. As we plan our retirement, we know we want to be where our children and grandchildren are -- that's our most important consideration.

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Another issue is whether you or your spouse will need a job to supplement your retirement savings. If so, make sure the town, city, or other area of the country you're considering has appropriate employment opportunities. Of course, if you plan to keep your current job, you likely won't be moving too far from your current location. Also, are your interests, including hobbies, volunteer positions, or sports, tied to a specific place? That, too, could ease your decision-making.

One common consideration for many people considering where to retire is whether they're looking after aging parents. That can make choosing a destination rather clear-cut. Here are other critical questions to take into account:

- Have you calculated your retirement housing budget, including expenses like property taxes, homeowner's insurance, and general cost of living? These costs can vary substantially by region.

- Have you thought about where you'll feel comfortable and fit in? That's obviously subjective, but you should consider issues such as the local cultural, political, or religious environment.

- What type of public transportation is available, and how easily will you be able to get to your daily activities (especially if you're no longer able to drive)? For instance, are most of your activities nearby? Can you walk or bike to see family and friends, or to shop? Are the mass-transit options convenient, or will you have people who can help you out?

- Do you want to live near your current doctor, dentist, or other health care providers, or are you willing to find new medical care?

- Staying active in your later years will help you remain healthy and independent. Can you lead an active lifestyle in the places where you're thinking of retiring? Is it easy to get out and exercise?

You'll likely find that one or two of these factors are paramount, so consider them carefully.

For instance, you might decide to stay in the same location to remain close to friends and family, but downsize your home to cut back on living expenses. City dwellers might move move farther out in their metropolitan area to lower their housing costs, while maintaining a connection to their formal lifestyle. If you can't sell your current house, consider renting it out until the real estate market improves.

Another important thing to keep in mind -- the best place to live after you retire might be your current home. My mother still lives in the house where I was raised. She has lived there almost 60 years and wouldn't think of leaving. The home holds many memories, and her extended family enjoys visiting grandma's house.

Articles assessing the best places to retire can jump-start your planning by inspiring you to start thinking about this vital decision. Our recent offers a wealth of useful information for comparing your current living situation with other options.

But the best advice I can offer is this: In planning where to spend your retirement years, ignore any cultural, marketing, or other social pressure about where to live. You'll find the best place to call home by thinking about what works for you.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto contributor stevecoleimages

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