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This Strategy Could Save You Money in Retirement

By Catherine Brock - Updated Feb 13, 2020 at 8:27AM

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If your retirement savings balance is lower than you'd like, cutting your cost of living should be high on your priority list. Here's how you can do it.

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield said, "When I was a kid, my parents moved a lot, but I always found them." Getting away from the kids may not be your end game in retirement, but how about slashing your living expenses? If your retirement savings balance is lower than you'd like, cutting your cost of living should be high on your priority list -- and relocating out of state may help you do it.

A 2019 report from SmartAsset confirms that tens of thousands of seniors are packing up and moving to a new state. The report does not confirm the reason for these relocations, but it's noteworthy that three of the top 10 most popular states have no state income tax. The over-60 population in Florida, for example, increased by nearly 58,000 in 12 months. The senior populations in Texas and Nevada rose by 7,417 and 6,344, respectively. Other states rounding out the top 10 list for seniors include Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, and Delaware.

An older couple looking at papers together on the couch

Image source: Getty Images.

A relocation to a cheaper state could help you stretch those savings and reduce your financial anxiety. Use the five factors below to evaluate potential ZIP codes and determine if relocating would work for you and your family.

1. Housing costs

According to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, a region's living costs are heavily influenced by rents and home prices. In cities with lower costs of living, housing accounts for 40% of overall household expenses, but that percentage goes up to 50% in more expensive cities such as New York and San Francisco.

To get a quick gauge for cost of living in a community, compare rents and home prices to those in your current locale. This exercise is particularly relevant if you have sizable equity in your home. Take the added step of crunching numbers to see if selling your current home could fund a new home and leave you with cash to spare.

2. Taxes: Income, real estate property, and personal property

Your state tax burden goes well beyond income taxes. States vary widely in their real estate and personal property tax rates, too. California, for example, is known for having a high income tax rate -- but that is partially offset by low taxes on real estate and cars. Missouri, on the other hand, has a lower income tax rate, moderate real estate taxes, and very high taxes on cars and other personal property.

The takeaway? Look beyond income taxes when evaluating prospective home states. If you plan on owning a speed boat, sports car, and a luxurious home in retirement, those real estate and personal property taxes could be more significant than your income tax.

3. Healthcare costs

Fidelity reports that the average 65-year-old couple today will spend about $11,000 on healthcare in their first year of retirement. Fidelity's healthcare calculator also pegs the total cost of healthcare in retirement at over $400,000, assuming a retirement age of 68 and life expectancy of 93.

Unless you have an extra $400,000 stashed in a Health Savings Account or retirement account, healthcare expenses may put a serious damper on your retirement lifestyle. To factor in healthcare costs, start with this review of the best and worst U.S. states for senior healthcare.

4. Proximity to family and friends

Does your perfect week include playtime with the grandkids and brunch with your social group? Consider how much you'll miss regular interactions with friends and family if you were to move.

You can address this in two ways. One, estimate the travel costs for regular visits home and compare that to the money you'd save by moving. Or, limit your search for cheaper locales to those within an hour or two by car of where you currently live.

5. Activities and opportunities

Several studies around the world have documented the link between involvement in meaningful activities and quality of life for seniors.

Before you make the relocation leap out of state, research opportunities in the new locale for volunteering, joining social groups, playing sports like golf or pickleball, or even working part-time. You'll have an extra 40 hours a week to fill -- and there's far more to life after work than reading, solving puzzles, and watching television.

Evaluate the whole quality of life

A relocation can reduce living expenses, but the cheapest city or state isn't necessarily the best place for you to live. Leaving your family to live somewhere cheaper may ultimately be counterproductive, since being bored and unfulfilled can increase your spending -- by way of travel expenses, splurge purchases, or even higher healthcare costs. Make a well-rounded decision by evaluating prospective ZIP codes on social and family opportunities as well as costs of living.

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