Part 2: Five Cities Where Social Security Goes a Long Way
Lack a pension or big savings? You can still retire comfortably
When it comes to retirement planning math, the results too often are discouraging.
Thirty-five percent of Americans, for instance, say they have no retirement savings, according to the website FinanceBuzz. And a 2019 Federal Reserve survey finds 13% of non-retirees over 60 have $0 saved.
All of which raises the big question that haunts our days: Where can you retire if your monthly income will basically be Social Security?
The good news is that such places exist in America. And they’re not fleabag towns stuffed into an all-but-abandoned corner of the country, where you will die of boredom. Often, they’re vibrant towns and cities with plenty of activities and high livability scores.
In Part 1 of this two-part series, we compiled and crunched an abundance of data to determine where it is in America that someone might live relatively comfortably on a single Social Security check, and, maybe, a modicum of retirement savings. That turned up a list of 16 cities. Today, we offer a brief look at five of those. These are not the top five but, rather, a selection aimed at demonstrating what affordable retirement destinations look like across the U.S.
Overall score: 29.5 (out of a possible 39)
Total monthly living costs: $1,618
Healthcare costs: 88% (of the national average)
Brownsville lies along Texas’ far southern Gulf of Mexico coastline, and is basically the American twin to Matamoros, Mexico, across the Rio Grande. Summers here are hot (and humid). Winters are mild at worst, rarely dipping below 50 degrees.
The city regularly pops up on “Best Places to Live” lists, in part because of its minimal traffic, local arts scene, abundance of outdoor activities (beaches, fishing, state parks), and high overall livability.
Brownsville is one of the few U.S. cities where you can live a bi-country lifestyle: Pop across the border to shop even more frugally than in Brownsville, or partake of another culture. As for medical care, U.S. News & World Report has recognized Valley Regional Medical Center and Valley Baptist Medical Center as among the best for heart and pulmonary issues.
Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania
Overall score: 27
Total monthly living costs: $1,569
Healthcare costs: 86%
Pennsylvania is not known as a retirement haven. But for anyone looking to live an active urban life in a vibrant city, then the Pittsburgh suburb of Turtle Creek might fit the bill – assuming you can tolerate cold, snowy winters.
The revitalizing Rust Belt city is stuffed with brand-name companies – HJ Heinz, General Nutrition Centers, PNC Bank. So, there’s wealth to support cultural activities, professional sports teams and abundant nightlife. Outdoor activities, too: hiking, camping, boating, fishing.
As for medical care, U.S. News ranks the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center 13th in the nation for geriatric care, 7th for cancer, and 33rd for cardiology.
Grand Ledge, Michigan
Overall score: 24
Total monthly living costs: $1,583
Healthcare costs: 83%
With a population of less than 8,000, Grand Ledge is the epitome of Small Town America. Yet it’s just 10 miles to Lansing, the state’s capital, and on to East Lansing, home to Michigan State University, as well as Michigan’s state capital. Thus you have access to bigger-city amenities and a college-town ambiance.
The town sits atop the picturesque sandstone ledges that line the Grand River. Leafy parklands and nearby wilderness areas are lined with photogenic hiking trails. You’ll find families rockclimbing the ledges; kayaking and canoeing on the river; or fishing for carp, pike and bass.
Crime is well below the national average and median income is well above. The bad news: Winters are typically cloudy and quite cold, often in the teens. If it’s a consolation, winter months tend to be dry. And you have summer to look forward to: Temperatures typically go no higher than the low-80s.
Overall score: 24
Total monthly living costs: $1,762
Healthcare costs: 81%
Bentonville is the home of Walmart’s corporate offices, which put the town on the map. The city of roughly 50,000 sits amid the beautiful Ozark Mountains and, unexpectedly, is a cultural hub. That’s thanks to Alice Walton, a Walmart heir, who has spent loads of money bringing world-class art to Bentonville, including the widely lauded Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Despite retailing’s big behemoth being located here, downtown Bentonville is lined with mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, as well as boutique hotels and art galleries. Within 30 minutes is Hobbs State Park, Arkansas’ largest, a fly-fisherman’s nirvana packed with rivers and lakes. Bentonville has direct air access to an unusually large number of cities coast-to-coast via American, Delta, United and others.
Weather is middling, since winters can be snowy, and it’s in a part of the country that sees heavy spring rains and tornadoes. But crime is well below the national average. As for health, the local Mercy hospitals and clinics are part of the St. Louis-based Mercy healthcare system, ranked among the top five hospital systems nationally. One fact to be aware of: Bentonville is a largely conservative bulwark, politically. If your views lean liberal side, you might feel out of place.
Twentynine Palms, California
Overall score: 24
Total monthly living costs: $1,720
Healthcare costs: 87%
Scorching and freezing. Military and hippies. Twentynine Palms, about two hours east of Los Angeles, is a town of extremes. But its low cost of living, low crime, and generally pleasant weather (except for the dead of summer) mean this could be a good place to spend retirement feeling financially secure.
The town of 25,000 is plopped in the middle of Southern California’s mountainous high desert, near Joshua Tree National Park. Because of its altitude – nearly 2,000 feet above sea level – nights are pleasant to freezing almost the entire year. Days are largely pleasant as well, save for the summer months, when triple-digit highs are the norm.
Twentynine Palms is mainly known for its military presence – the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the country’s largest Marine Corps base. Culturally, there’s not a lot to do. But there are several golf courses, and Palm Springs and Palm Desert are about an hour away, and they offer plenty more cultural activities. And, of course, Las Vegas is three hours to the northeast, if Los Angeles isn’t your scene.