Best Cities to Retire in With Just Your Social Security Income

10 Retirement Cities That Are Attractive and Affordable

Couple researching for best places to retire on social security

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On the long list of lifestyle questions that retirement presents, perhaps none is more important than, “Where do I want to live?” Considerations for this question include proximity to family and friends, access to quality health care and the type of climate one seeks.

There is one factor that sits atop most retirees’ decision-making criteria: affordability.

Retirees’ financial situations vary greatly but the good news is there are attractive communities across the U.S. that are affordable even if you don’t have substantial retirement savings. Whether your preference is rural or urban, year-round warmth, or a taste of all four seasons, several cities are so affordable it may be possible to live there on just your Social Security benefits.

In 2015, the Social Security Administration reported that 97% of U.S. citizens aged 60-89 either received Social Security or were expected to receive it. The average monthly Social Security payment to retired workers at the end of 2020 was $1,544.15, according to the Social Security Administration.

How Is Cost Of Living Calculated? 

Affordability is based on many factors but a predominant measuring stick is cost-of-living.

The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) publishes its Cost of Living Index quarterly. It measures regional differences in the cost of consumer goods and services, excluding taxes and non-consumer expenditures, for professional and managerial households in the top income quintile. The composite index is based on six component categories: 

  • Housing
  • Utilities
  • Grocery items
  • Transportation
  • Health care
  • Miscellaneous goods and services.

The index is one of several ways to identify affordable cities to live in. Not all of the cities listed here are on C2ER’s most-affordable list, but they all are affordable and attractive to retirees. The housing price data used in each section is based on data from the U. S. Census Bureau’s 2019 figures.

Harlingen, Texas

Harlingen, which sits on the southernmost tip of Texas in the central region of the Rio Grande Valley. A Harlingen lifestyle isn’t as stimulating as, say, New York City, but then the median price of an owner-occupied home is more than $500,000 less. Harlingen’s cost of living is nearly 27% below the national average for urban areas, too.

As with many warm-weather cities, if you can make it through the hot and humid summers in Harlingen, you’ll be treated to mild winters. The median price for an owner-occupied home in Harlingen is $87,500 and the median monthly rent is $737.

The popular beaches of South Padre Island are about 60 minutes away from Harlingen.

San Antonio, Texas

If Texas is a desirable retirement spot for you but you want to live in a larger metropolitan area than Harlingen, then San Antonio may be a good fit. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $146,400, a whopping 57% less than the median value of an owner-occupied home in Austin ($337,400), which is another Texas city that has become a popular destination for retirees and young professionals alike. The median rent in San Antonio is $992 per month.

Jacksonville, Florida

Located in the northeastern corner of Florida, Jacksonville is the state’s most populous city (about 911,000), yet it is surprisingly affordable for an oceanside major metropolitan area. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $173,200, while the median monthly rent is $1,065. Florida joins Texas and six other states on the list of those with no state income tax (the others are Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and Wyoming.) The city offers beaches, warm winters, and a growing cultural scene.

Cape Coral, Florida

Cape Coral is populous enough (approximately 194,500) for those who want to retire in a city but without the sprawling city feel of Tampa or Miami. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $229,400 (compared to $317,700 in Miami) and the median monthly rent is $1,244.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls regularly makes top-10 lists of the best places to live in the U.S. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $189,800, while the median monthly rent is $827. And don’t forget, South Dakota is on the list of states without an income tax.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

If a temperate climate all year round is not a must-have, then Pittsburgh offers big-city living at an affordable cost. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $125,000 and the median monthly rent is $958. Pennsylvania is tax-friendly for retirees, too. It has the lowest individual income tax rate among states that charge a flat-tax rate in the country, and the nonprofit Tax Foundation ranks Pennsylvania fifteenth in the nation in terms of an affordable state and local tax base. It is one of 12 states in the U.S. that doesn’t tax your retirement income (if you don’t retire early.) 

Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville is a classic college town in one of the eight states that does not levy a state income tax. Its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains is ideal for outdoors lovers, while music lovers can drive three-hours to Nashville. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $136,300, while the median monthly rent is $845.

La Crosse, Wisconsin

Yes, the Upper Midwest winters can be brutal but the other seasons are beautiful. La Crosse sits on the Mississippi River on the border with Minnesota. Access to excellent health care is an hour away at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $142,500 and the median monthly rent is $793.

Easley, South Carolina

Easley offers access to the Blue Ridge Mountains for outdoors enthusiasts, as well as easy day trips to Charleston on the state’s southern coast and Charlotte, North Carolina, to the northeast. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $159,800, while the median monthly rent is $762.

Pittsburg, Kansas

Located about two hours south of Kansas City, Pittsburg makes C2ER’s top-10 list of least-expensive cities. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $88,500 and the median monthly rent is $712. The cost of living beyond housing is nearly 20% below the national average, according to C2ER.

Finding the City That Fits You

As stated earlier, there are several reasons to choose where to live in retirement, affordability being just one. If where you live is no longer tied to a job, then children and grandchildren, established friendships, or community involvement may be ties that bind you to a certain location.

Quality health care, plentiful options for active lifestyles, and an agreeable climate also factor into many retirees’ decisions about where to settle. If relocation is an option for a new chapter of your life, it’s comforting to know there are an abundance of cities in the U.S. that offer a quality lifestyle that’s also affordable.