When it comes to the best places to retire, many lists of appealing towns and cities focus on factors such as low taxes and average home costs. That's fine, and even makes sense, but there's a lot more to consider when you're trying to find the best place for you to retire. (Indeed, the best place for you might be where you live now.)
Here are some factors to mull as you think about where you should live in retirement.
Where your helpers are
First off, remember that as you age, you will likely need more assistance with minor -- and, later, major -- things. Once you stop driving at night, for example, you might want a ride to a gathering. If you're housebound for a while due to bad weather or a health setback, you might want some groceries delivered. At some point, you might want a trusted family member or friend to help you deal with your mail and bills. Thus, it's very helpful in retirement to live near loved ones you can count on for assistance. These might be your kids, your neighbors, or just great friends.
Where you can socialize
Being near loved ones can also deliver pleasure through socializing. We derive a lot of happiness from our relationships with others. So give some thought to where you can make new friends or see old ones, and where you won't feel isolated. Favor retirement locations where you can enjoy pastimes and activities with others.
Where you can get around
Mobility can be a big issue as you age. At some point, you might have to cut back on your driving, and you might give up one or more cars to save money. As you assess retirement locations, think about how you would get around in each. Finding a location where you can walk to a supermarket and other stores, or where you can access public transportation for such purposes, can be ideal for many folks.
Where you'll be healthiest
Think about your health, too. Not surprisingly, a recent survey of retirees and pre-retirees found that the ingredient deemed most important to healthy golden years was, by far, health. It makes sense, as your ability to enjoy life can plunge if you're beset with pain, or worse. So think about how you'll stay healthy. If you like to hike, aim for a place where you can do so. If you like to swim, be sure there's a pool nearby. A great way to be healthy in retirement is to enter this period of your life relatively healthy. Don't put off eating well and exercising and getting regular checkups.
Think about healthcare availability, too. There are doctors and hospitals everywhere, but some regions and healthcare systems are better than others. Look up rankings of health providers and consider how well you'll be taken care of in your old age wherever you live. The Commonwealth Fund offers an interactive map rating health systems in all 50 states. Best overall for healthcare in 2014 were Minnesota, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Worst were Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Where you can afford to live
Think, too, about how you will support yourself wherever you live. All else being equal, a lower cost of living, lower housing costs, lower tax rates, lower utility bills, and so on are all preferable to high ones. For many people, though, living in an expensive region is their best option. If that's your situation, you might prepare by working a few more years in order to build a bigger nest egg, or perhaps downsizing into a smaller, less expensive home.
Where you'll be busy
Many people find themselves dissatisfied in retirement because they're a bit bored. Once the structure of workweeks and workdays is gone, they have too much time on their hands. Give some thought to activities you enjoy and how you might best spend your time. Would you like to travel a lot? If so, give a little extra weight to retirement places that are centrally located or convenient to airports or other transportation options. Do you love gardening? Consider the climates of various options, as some will let you garden year-round, while others might be more seasonal. If you'd like to make some extra money and stay busy by working a little in retirement, think about what you'd like to do and which locations might offer the best opportunities. Golfers might want a golf-friendly climate and inexpensive courses. Those craving the arts and intellectual pursuits might focus on urban areas or university towns.
No one likes thinking about worst-case scenarios, but give them a little thought as you mull the best places to retire. If your spouse dies earlier than expected, what will you do? If one or both of you are beset by serious health problems and can no longer get around much, what will you do? It can help to think these unpleasant outcomes through, as it might make one of your top contenders more appealing than the others.
The best places to retire are different for each of us. Think through the best options for yourself and you might even find that staying put is your best bet.