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How to Choose the Perfect Place to Retire

By Sarah Szczypinski – Aug 25, 2017 at 2:32PM

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Think beyond the palm trees and ask yourself these questions.

For most Americans, retirement is a long-awaited rest, and some locations are more comfortable than others. Caring.com's 2017 "Best and Worst States to Grow Old" study ranked all 50 states based on cost of living, healthcare, and quality of life, including senior care. The best states for retirement were Utah, Iowa, South Carolina, Washington, and Nebraska, ranked respectively, and the worst included West Virginia, Indiana, New York, North Dakota, and Wyoming. 

Settling down in your golden years requires a lot of commitment, and it's imperative to weigh your options carefully. Make an informed choice by asking yourself these questions as you enter retirement.

How much have you saved? 

Whether you're dreaming of life on the beach or in a remote mountain cabin, the first (and less picturesque) step of retirement is practicality. Choosing your dream location often comes down to how well you can live off your savings. The table below compares Caring.com's best states to retire to overall cost rankings and assisted living expenses. 

State Overall Rank Cost of Living Rank Annual Assisted Living Cost
Utah 1 14 $35,000
Iowa 2 17 $42,000
South Carolina 3 6 $36,000
Washington 4 38 $54,000
Nebraska 5 20

$42,000

Source: Caring.com. 

As you can see, overall satisfaction could dwindle quickly with financial pressure in the mix. Even if you don't need the help of assisted living today, these numbers are tough to swallow if you don't have much saved, and you're not alone. A 2016 Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report revealed that the top savers between the ages of 56 and 61 had saved about $164,000 between 1989 and 2013, while the average savings was a shocking $17,000. Unfortunately, these numbers don't come close to meeting the nearly $750,000 a retired couple needs today.

mature couple drinking tea in a garden

image source: getty images.

Enjoying life is about more than scenery; it's about feeling financially secure. If you're still working and over age 50, consider funneling more money into your 401(k), traditional or Roth IRA in the form of catch-up contributions. Investing now will give you more geographic freedom in retirement. In the meantime, check out TaxFoundation.org's interactive map to see the buying power of $100 in each state, which can also help you narrow down the best location for your budget. 

What are your plans? 

What do you see when you imagine life beyond the workforce? Are you driving cross-country and seeking out adventure, or are you staying close to home with friends and family? If traveling is your goal, it's a good idea to establish a home base that has a low cost of living. For example, maintaining a one-bedroom "crash pad" apartment in Cleveland is much cheaper than renting something similar in downtown Chicago.

If you're firmly rooted in a certain area, review Caring.com's assessment of your state and do your best to combat the personal and financial drawbacks. If your neighborhood is pricey, you might consider renting out a room in your home through Airbnb to absorb a few costs. Your earnings can add up fast: According to a recent Priceeconomics report, hosts are raking in an average of $924 a month. 

Do you want to work? 

Work isn't a burden for everyone in retirement. In fact, a Reuters Ispos survey found that 30% of retirees would return to the workforce if given the opportunity. Working part-time presents a unique opportunity to keep investing and maintain financial freedom, which could mean access to that coveted beach house. As you browse retirement locations, keep this option open by checking out the local job market and salary potential.  

Do you have any health concerns?

Healthcare is an essential retirement consideration, and the costs and quality can vary dramatically depending on where you live. If you're approaching your golden years with existing health issues, it's worth it to consider where your needs can be met with expertise. For instance, you might love the excitement and warmth of New Orleans, but a WalletHub analysis ranked Louisiana as the worst state for healthcare. Take stock of these needs early to avoid relocating and losing money along the way. 

Where is your support system?

Think about the future in terms of family support. A 2016 study by the American Sociological Association found that seniors who had close connections with family were likely to live longer than those without ties. Mental health plays a vital role in your perceived quality of life, and it's wise to factor in family before choosing a place to retire.  

Few people anticipate retirement satisfaction until they're living it, and it's much easier to plan before leaving the workforce. Take advantage of the time you have and plot a happy course.

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