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, “Where do I want to live?” is key. Things to think about include being near family and friends, access to quality healthcare, and the climate you want. One of the top-ranked factors is a region's cost of living.

The good news is that there are pleasant places to live across the United States that you can afford even if you don’t have a lot of money saved to retire. Whether you prefer rural, urban, year-round warmth, or a taste of all four seasons, a few cities are so cheap to live in that you might even be able to get by on just your Social Security benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • Nearly all U.S. citizens will receive Social Security in their retirement, and the average benefit is $1,544.15 per month.
  • The cost of living in a given place is based on factors such as housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, and healthcare.
  • Retirees who are living on just their Social Security benefits should look for pleasant places to live, where the cost of living is below the national average.
  • Nice places to retire with a low cost of living include Harlingen, TX; Pittsburgh, PA; Knoxville, TN; La Crosse, WI, and Easley, SC.

How Much Social Security Can You Expect?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) reported in 2017 that nearly nine out of ten U.S. citizens aged 65 and older received Social Security benefits or were expected to receive them.

How much you receive in Social Security payments will depend on a number of factors. They include your lifetime earnings and when you begin taking payments. The average Social Security payment to retired workers at the end of 2020 was $1,544.15 per month.

How Is Cost of Living Calculated? 

Affordability is based on many factors, but one measuring stick is cost-of-living.

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

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

The index is one way to identify affordable cities in which to live. Not all of the cities listed here are on C2ER’s list. The housing price data used in each section is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 figures.

Harlingen, Texas

Harlingen sits at the southernmost tip of Texas in the central region of the Rio Grande Valley. A Harlingen lifestyle isn’t necessarily as stimulating as life in, say, New York City, but 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

San Antonio might be a good fit if Texas is a desirable retirement spot for you, but you want to live in a larger metropolitan area than Harlingen. 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), 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's surprisingly affordable for a major oceanside 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 South Dakota is on that list of states without an income tax.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh offers big-city living at an affordable cost if a temperate climate all year round is not a must-have. 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 with a flat tax, and the nonprofit Tax Foundation ranks it fifteenth in the nation in terms of an affordable state and local tax base. It's one of 12 states in the U.S. that don't tax your retirement income, provided you don’t retire early. 

Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville is a classic college town in one of the eight states that do not levy a state income tax. Its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains is ideal for outdoor 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, winters can be brutal in the Upper Midwest, but the other seasons are beautiful. La Crosse sits on the Mississippi River on the border with Minnesota. Access to world-class 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 there is $88,500, and the median monthly rent is $712. The cost of living beyond housing is nearly 20% below the national average.

Finding the City That Fits You

Affordability is just one of several reasons to choose where to live in retirement. Children and grandchildren, established friendships, or community involvement might be ties that bind you to a certain location, even if where you live is no longer tied to a job.

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 can be comforting to know that there are an abundance of cities in the U.S. that offer a quality lifestyle that’s also affordable.