5 cool places in America you can live well on less than $40,000 a year
By Catey Hill
Housing and health-care costs are on the rise and seniors didn’t get a Social Security cost-of-living increase this year, which means that many retirees struggle to afford their lifestyle. But in some cities, it’s easier to live the life you want than in others, according to AARP The Magazine, which has produced a list of cities where retirees can live well for under $40,000.
Listen to our new podcast: Money, Markets & More (or subscribe on iTunes): The latest episodes: “Airlines unveil ‘no-crying’ zones” and “Olive Garden pasta passes sell on eBay.”
The magazine worked with city research site Sperling’s Best Places to compile this list, looking at factors like cost of living, tax rate, unemployment rate, housing cost, crime rate, access to good doctors and hospitals, access to outdoor recreation, and access to educational and cultural institutions.
On $40,000 a year, “you can live very comfortably in these places,” says Mary C. Hickey, the vice president and editor-in-chief of the AARP Media Content Team. Here are five of AARP’s most intriguing choices.
Cañon City, Colorado
The great outdoors is the big draw in Cañon City, which borders the Arkansas River and has myriad options for hiking, fishing and rock climbing, Hickey says. Plus, the city boasts more than 250 days of sunshine per year — all the better for enjoying the great outdoors — and lacks the suburban sprawl and traffic of other Colorado destinations, she says. The cost of living here is nearly 10% below average homes are relatively affordable. However, some retirees may be put off by the city’s remoteness. (It’s roughly an hour from Colorado Springs and more than two hours from Denver.)
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Though it also has sugar-sand beaches and azure waters, Fort Walton Beach often gets overlooked in favor of its better-known Gulf Coast neighbors, Pensacola and Panama City. But this town has plenty to offer residents including fishing and world-class beaches; museums like the Emerald Coast Science Center, with a robotics exhibit and a hurricane simulator; and “a laid-back island spirit,” writes AARP. The cost of living here is 6% below average for the nation, according to Sperling’s Best Places; the median home costs around $150,000, according to Zillow (Z); and the state of Florida has no personal income tax. The biggest downside: Summers are brutally hot and humid.
Nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, this “bustling” waterfront town boasts former fishing shanties that have now become restaurants and shops, though “the Great Lake’s long vistas, busy marinas and legendary waves — people actually surf here — are the main attraction,” AARP writes. Real estate is cheap (the median home is just over $100,000, according to Zillow) in this town of fewer than 10,000 residents, and the cost of living is well below average, according to Sperling’s. However, the biggest nearby city (Milwaukee) is a full 55 miles away and temperatures in the winter are regularly below freezing.
Median homes here cost around $150,000 and there’s no income tax throughout the state, but Abilene is more than just cheap living. This “old West charmer” is “authentically Texan, with lots of boots, hats and barbecue joints,” AARP writes. “But it’s also “a fabulous town for foodies…while outstanding steak, barbecue and Mexican food are a given, there are also three Thai restaurants and an excellent wine bar called the Mill.” To some, Abilene may feel like it’s in the middle of nowhere (Dallas is more than two hours away), but, as Sperling’s points out, “The town has a good set of arts and cultural amenities for a town its size, and has been recognized for its use of the arts to preserve and revitalize the historic district.”
Bristol, which spans both Virginia and Tennessee, is “culturally fantastic,” says AARP’s Hickey — with plenty of venues to see country music, myriad churches and volunteer opportunities and one of Nascar’s most popular venues, the Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s also known for its plethora of outdoor recreation (there are dozens of miles of hiking trails), she adds. Other perks are the climate, which is moderate, and the cost of living, which is 18% below average; however crime here is slightly higher than average, according to Sperling’s.