The Best Places to Retire: Your Ultimate List

Last Updated Mar 29, 2011 11:21 PM EDT

If you're approaching retirement, you've no doubt become more aware of all the various articles and books out there promoting their lists of the best places to retire. Choosing where you'll live in your retirement years is one of the most important decisions you'll make -- according to statistics from the Department Of Labor, housing is the largest item in Americans' household spending.

To help you with this critical decision, I'll narrow the list down to just one place: The best place for you to live during your retirement years is the place that best meets your needs, as you define them.

My problem with most "best places to retire" lists is that they're often based on criteria that may not be important to you. For example, the criteria for these lists typically includes taxes, weather, crime statistics, or local government services, since these are objective items that can be quantified for a list. But the place that's best for you to live may be influenced more by the particular house or living situation you choose instead of a specific city or state.

Before picking a place to retire, I suggest you start by thinking about what you want to do during your retirement years. Just to get you started, here are a few things to consider:

  • Will you need to work to make ends meet? If that's the case, you'll want to make sure you can be employed where you live. If you want to keep working at your current job, you won't be moving very far.
  • Do you want to be close to your children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends? If that's important to you, you've narrowed down your choices substantially.
  • Do you have special interests that require you to be in a specific place, such as volunteer activities, hobbies, or sports? If so, choosing where to live may be a no-brainer.
  • Do you need to take care of aging parents? In this case, your housing decision may already have been made for you.
Here are a few other important factors to consider:
  • What's your budget for housing, considering all factors such as property taxes and the cost of living? These costs can vary substantially by region and are usually included in most lists.
  • Where do you fit in and feel comfortable? This can include the local cultural, political, or religious environment. The answers to this question will be different for everybody.
  • Can you easily get to your most important day-to-day activities? Is public transportation convenient? Are most of your activities within a 10-minute drive? Can you walk or bike to see family and friends or to shop?
  • Does your location support your health? Is it easy to get out and exercise?
  • Do you need to be close to specific medical providers?
I've previously written that boomers will need to be very creative to make ends meet in their retirement years, and since housing is so important, that's one specific focus for creativity. Will you want to band together with a few friends and family and form a "commune?" Would the "Golden Girls" solution work for you? Would you be interested in an intentional community to focuses on retirees?

It's often the case that one or two of the above factors are most important, and everything else really doesn't matter. It's also important to note that many of the above factors will be specific to your situation and exactly where you'll live within a city or state. The criteria that are used by general lists often won't apply to you.

Now don't get me too wrong: The "best places to retire" lists can help you by getting you thinking about this important decision and providing some useful information. So here's a partial list of lists that might help you start your research:

As with most of my recommendations regarding retirement, I encourage you not to buy into cultural expectations or what's being pitched to you. You'll do best to think for yourself and make conscious decisions about your future. That's how you'll best find the place you'll be able to call home.

P.S. Our first grandchild was born on Saturday, far from where we currently live. You can bet that we're factoring this into our "where to live" decision!

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.