Where Should I Retire?: I’m 66, get $26,300 a year in Social Security and want a small city by the ocean. Where should I retire?

This post was originally published on this site

Dear MarketWatch,

I am 66, single, and hoping to retire soon. I currently live in Connecticut where taxes are quite high, and am looking for a less expensive place that is also warmer.

I have cash assets of about $900,000 and another maybe $200,000 in equity in my house (but I might want to keep the house for rental income). I’d like my main source of retirement income to be my Social Security of about $26,300 a year.

I want to travel, so I don’t want to spend a lot on housing, and I would like a small city, no more than 30 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. I’d also like a city that’s two hours or less by car from an international airport. It would be great if the city has a college or university and/or a mixed population including retirees. Any great ideas?

Thank you,
—————————————————————————————————————————Dear MAM,

You’re part of a big trend: People getting the heck out of the Northeast for cheaper living and warmer weather — many of them to the South. And while the South has its downsides like sweltering summers, you’ll certainly be able to find a cheaper cost of living, nice weather for many months of the year and plenty of good food and culture.

Wondering where to spend your golden years? Email Catey Hill at chill@marketwatch.com with your wish list, and she’ll recommend spots for you. Letters may be edited for clarity and length. Look for MarketWatch reader suggestions in the comments.

That said, it may be a bit of a struggle to live just on your Social Security — at least if you want a compelling city right by the Atlantic coast. But if you’re also getting some rental income from your home, you should be able to do it, while also using some of your savings for travel. With that in mind, here are some affordable spots near the coast that should meet most of your criteria.

Palm Coast, Florida


A couple walking down the beach in Florida near Palm Coast.

Nestled between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach, this under-the-radar retirement spot — which sits on 70+ miles of canals and the Intracoastal Waterway — proves that “Florida still can be an inexpensive place to live,” Annette Fuller, the editor of Where to Retire magazine, tells MarketWatch.

The cost of living is roughly average for the U.S. Median homes cost around $215,000 (with property taxes that are lower than average for the U.S.) and median rents for a one-bedroom are under $1,000, according to Sperling’s Best Places. (Fuller adds that there is “lots of active-adult housing” in the region.) Another big perk of Florida: You’ll avoid income tax.

Residents often come to the area for the Atlantic Ocean beaches, but in Palm Coast they find lots of outdoor activities too, including “tennis, golf, pickleball and even croquet,” Fuller says. Palm Coast has more than 125 miles of walking and biking paths, as well as fishing and boating. And bird-watching is also popular here, especially at St. Joe Walkway and Linear Park.

Other things to check off your list: There are plenty of fellow retirees here, and you can get to the Daytona International Airport in a little over a half-hour.

Now for the downsides: Summers are hot and humid, there’s a risk of hurricanes, and some residents complain about the rapid growth and sprawl of the area. Plus, if you want to cut costs further, there are cheaper places to retire in the Sunshine State (especially if you’re willing to go further inland).

By the numbers:
Population: 82,350
January low/July high: 45F/90F
Source: Sperling’s Best Places

——————————————————————————————————————Summerville, South Carolina


The St. Michael’s Church from Broad St. in Charleston, S.C., which is near Summerville.

This small city roughly 25 miles from Charleston recently landed on Forbes’ list of the best places to retire, with the publication highlighting its mild winters, above average air quality, low serious crime rate, and “sufficient physicians per capita.”

What’s more, it’s affordable: The cost of living is “at national average,” Forbes notes, median homes can be had for about $215,000 with property taxes lower than the U.S. average, rents for a one-bedroom are under $1,000 a month, and Social Security income is not taxed in the state.

Summerville is a green city lined with gorgeous azaleas and towering pines that’s also bursting with history (part of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places). And it’s got plenty of that Southern flavor to go around: Summerville claims to be the birthplace of sweet tea, and Southern Living recently wrote of it: “The best two places in the world to enjoy sweet tea this summer are: 1. Your front porch; and 2. Summerville, South Carolina.” Plus, you’re also close to Charleston, which is renowned for its excellent food and robust culture, and has an international airport and is a college town.

The biggest downside for you might be that you’re a little over your desired half-hour from the popular Atlantic Ocean beaches (for example: Folly Beach is about a 45 minute drive from Summerville). But hopefully the proximity to Charleston and the relative affordability of Summerville make up for that.

By the numbers:
Population: 49,000
January low/July high: 35F/90F
Source: Sperling’s Best Places

———————————————————————————————————————Brunswick, Georgia area


A home in Brunswick, Georgia.

While St. Simon’s, Jekyll Island and Sea Island (all of which make up the so-called Golden Isles) garner most of the attention in the area, Brunswick — the mainland gateway to the Golden Isles — gives you access to those amazing beaches at a fraction of the cost. The cost of living is significantly below average for the U.S., median homes can be had for less than $140,000 and Social Security income is exempt from income taxes in the state.

Downtown Brunswick is known for its historic Victorian-era architecture (it was named a Main Street City by the National Trust for Historic Preservation) and has more than a dozen historic squares. Plus, you’ll find a smattering of local shops, art galleries, restaurants — as well as performances at the historic Ritz Theatre — and more in this town of roughly 16,000 people.

Outdoor activities like bird-watching are big here, as Brunswick is surrounded by saltwater marshes. And the Golden Isles are world-renowned for golfing and miles of beaches. Plus, the Golden Isles have a unique vibe — a “blend of formality and down-home ease,” Travel & Leisure writes. And Where to Retire magazine, which put Brunswick/Golden Isles in its picks of where to retire, writes of the area: “Unlike typical touristy East Coach beach towns, Georgia’s Brunswick and the Golden Isles are more sedate, with a focus on preservation.”

Brunswick is also a college town — the College of Coastal Georgia is here — that’s roughly an hour from Jacksonville, Fla., which has an international airport; and there’s a hospital in town (the Southeast Georgia Health System).

One downside is that crime here is higher than average (though there are safer neighborhoods and towns in the area to live in, as you can see from this map).

By the numbers:
Population: 16,000
January low/July high: 42F/91F
Source: Sperling’s Best Place