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 good health care, and the climate you want. One of the top-ranked factors is a region's cost of living.

The good news is 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 affordable 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. 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 health care.
  • Retirees who are living on just their Social Security benefits should look for pleasant places where the cost of living is below the national average.
  • Nice places to retire with a low cost of living include Harlingen, Texas; Pittsburgh; Knoxville, Tennessee; La Crosse, Wisconsin; and Easley, South Carolina.

How Much Social Security Can You Expect?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) reported in 2017 that nearly nine out of 10 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, such as 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. One measure is the 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 spending) 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 find affordable cities in which to live. Not all of the cities listed here are on C2ER’s list. The housing prices used in each section are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 figures.

Harlingen

Harlingen sits at the southernmost tip of Texas. It is in the central region of the Rio Grande Valley. A Harlingen lifestyle won't be as stimulating as being in 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 U.S. 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

San Antonio might be a good fit if Texas is a place you would retire, but you want a larger metropolitan area than Harlingen. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $146,400. That is a whopping 57% less than the median value of an owner-occupied home in Austin ($337,400), another Texas city that is popular with both retirees and young professionals. The median rent in San Antonio is $992 per month.

Jacksonville

Located in the northeastern corner of Florida, Jacksonville is the state’s most populous city (about 911,000). Yet it's quite affordable for a major oceanside metropolitan area. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $173,200. 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 (roughly 194,500) for those who want to retire in a city that doesn't sprawl like Tampa or Miami. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $229,400 (compared to $317,700 in Miami). The median monthly rent is $1,244.

Sioux Falls

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. The median monthly rent is $827. South Dakota is also on that list of states without an income tax.

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh offers big city living at an affordable cost if you don't want a year-round warm climate. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $125,000. 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. The nonprofit Tax Foundation ranks it 15th in the nation for an affordable state and local tax base. It's one of 12 states in the U.S. that don'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 do not levy a state income tax. Close to the Great Smoky Mountains, it's ideal for outdoor lovers. For music lovers, Nashville is just a three-hour drive away. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $136,300. 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-renowned health care is an hour away at the Mayo Clinic. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $142,500. The median monthly rent is $793.

Easley, South Carolina

Easley offers access to the Blue Ridge Mountains for outdoors fans. Charleston to the south and Charlotte to the northeast are easy day trips. The median value of an owner-occupied home is $159,800. The median monthly rent is $762.

Pittsburg, Kansas

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. The median monthly rent is $712. The cost of living after housing is nearly 20% below the national average.

How To Find the City That Fits You

Cost is only one reason to choose where to live in retirement. You may want to stay close to your children and grandchildren. Strong friendships or community ties might also keep you in a certain location, even if where you live is no longer tied to a job.

Quality health care, good options for active lifestyles, and a pleasant climate are other factors to consider when you decide where to retire. If relocation is an option for this new chapter of your life, take comfort knowing that many U.S. cities offer a quality lifestyle that you can afford.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I calculate my Social Security benefits?

Your Social Security benefits are based on your highest-earning 35 years of work and the age at which you choose to begin accepting benefits. It's not very simple to determine the formula for calculating your monthly payment, though. The easiest way to calculate your potential benefits is to use one of the Social Security Administration's benefits calculators. You can input your basic information or create an account and get benefit estimates for each year from age 62 to 70 so you can decide when to retire.

How can I maximize my Social Security benefits?

There are a few ways to maximize your Social Security benefits:

  • Increase how much you earn while you work.
  • Don't stop working. Your benefits are based on your 35 highest-earning years, so any years with zero income will bring down your average.
  • Delay tapping your Social Security benefits until age 70.
  • Look into the best options for any survivor or spousal benefits for which you're eligible.
  • Spread out your retirement income to limit your tax liability and take home more of your benefits.

How do I estimate my monthly expenses in retirement?

It can be challenging to estimate your monthly budget in retirement, as many of your expenses will change. For instance, you might no longer have a mortgage payment, but you may take on new health care expenses that your employer previously covered. Your tax situation could change based on your new income totals, too. You may also plan to travel more often. It's a good idea to spend some time considering every expense that could change in retirement (including cost-of-living expenses if you plan to move) and plan ahead.

Article Sources

  1. Social Security Administration. "Social Security Basic Facts."

  2. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: New York, New York; Harlingen, Texas."

  3. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: Harlingen, Texas."

  4. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: Austin, Texas; San Antonio, Texas."

  5. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts:Jacksonville, Florida."

  6. Tax Foundation. "State Individual Income Tax Rates and Brackets for 2021."

  7. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: Miami, Florida; Cape Coral, Florida."

  8. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: Sioux Falls, South Dakota."

  9. Tax Foundation. "Taxes in Pennsylvania."

  10. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania."

  11. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: Knoxville, Tennessee."

  12. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: La Crosse, Wisconsin."

  13. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: Easley, South Carolina."

  14. U.S. Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: Pittsburg, Kansas."

  15. The Council for Community and Economic Research. "Quarter 4, 2020 Cost of Living Index Released."