When you are young and retirement is a distant goal, nearly every thought you have about the topic involves money. From figuring out how much you need (see: 5 Apps and Calculators for Retirement Planning) to what investment strategy will get you there and how much taxes will diminish your retirement income stream, money is the unifying theme. (Check out 5 Ways to Fund Your Retirement.) If you think about where you will live, you usually think about it in terms of how much it will cost. If you consider the topic much further, it’s often with regard to the climate or recreational activities.
While there’s no doubt that money will play a big role in determining your living arrangements in retirement, that role may involve factors you never even considered. In fact, some don’t involve money at all.
The Best Place to Retire – for You
When you read those periodic polls about the best places to retire, sunny locations in vibrant communities with lively arts and cultural centers are always popular. If you don’t have the money to support a free-spending lifestyle, small-town America offers a host of quaint and picturesque locations that won’t break the budget, and moving to a smaller home is an easy and obvious way to save money. (For more, read: Downsize Your Home to Downsize Expenses.)
“State income, property and sales taxes are not universal across the country. Understanding and budgeting for any differences allows for a smooth transition into a new neighborhood,” says Mark Hebner, founder and president of Index Fund Advisors, Inc., in Irvine, Calif., and author of “Index Funds: The 12-Step Recovery Program for Active Investors.”
But looking beyond these basic and obvious issues, there are other, even more personal factors to consider. Before you decide to relocate, ask yourself the following questions.
– Do I want or need to be close to family?
Moving to a beautiful locale may sound wonderful today, but it’s useful to consider family obligations or desires that may alter that dream. Will you be acting as a caregiver to an elderly parent? Do you want to be near your children or grandchildren so that you can spend time with them? You may even discover that part of your new life is being the after-school stop for grandkids whose parents get home late. Also think about how important it is to you to be able to make important medical and financial decisions face-to-face with close family rather than over the phone. That could be a reason to choose to stay close to home or to pick a new location near children or other family members.
– Do I plan to keep working?
Some people find that they or their spouse need or want to work part time, or even full time, in what would have been retirement (see Seven Fun Part-Time Jobs for Retirees). If that could be you, choosing a place where jobs are plentiful could be a factor. Or it could be a reason to stay in your own city or region where people know you and your abilities.
“If you have the luxury of working from home during retirement, it might be the right opportunity to downsize and save more by relocating to a state with no state income tax and lower property and sales taxes,” says Carlos Dias Jr., wealth manager at Excel Tax & Wealth Group in Lake Mary, Fla.
– Does it pass the crystal-ball test?
Don't just think about next year. Look into the future and imagine how you and your spouse, if you have a partner, will handle your life as age inevitably catches up with you. When you are older and one or both of you have limited mobility, who will help you carry groceries, get to a doctor’s appointment or clean up around the house? What about transportation? How will you get from place to place if deteriorating vision or other healthcare challenges stop you from driving? Does where you want to live have good takeout food and plenty of taxis and buses?
Do you make new friends easily or will you start to feel isolated, especially if a spouse passes away and you find yourself on your own for the first time in decades? Living close to friends and family may be the better way
elp you need to maintain an independent lifestyle.
– What about healthcare?
When you are young, healthcare is all about the cost of premiums. While that still matters when you are older, the cost of co-payments can be a bigger concern. If you have a variety of conditions that require expensive medications, state-sponsored health programs can mean the difference between hundreds and thousands of dollars per month in costs. Pennsylvania’s PACE and PACE Net programs, for example, provide some of the most attractive healthcare options for low-income seniors in the country. Similarly, a hip replacement is likely to cost much more in New York than in Alabama.
Understanding where you can get the most affordable quality healthcare can be an important factor if you have serious healthcare problems or chronic issues that require ongoing treatment and hospital visits. In addition, should you need assisted living or other kinds of healthcare help, the most affordable facilities may not be located where you'd planned to move. (For more, see Alternatives to Nursing Homes.)
Cost isn't the only factor, of course. If you have a complicated health condition that requires care in a first-tier medical center, you may want to be sure to be near a facility that can handle your problem. That's especially important if you have a Medicare advantage plan that limits you mostly to doctors in your area.
More Than Money
Sometimes familiar surroundings are more important than sunny shores or bustling cities. Think about whether aging in place is a good option for you – either in your family home or in a smaller or more convenient setting. (Read: Reasons to Stay Put During Retirement.) On the other hand, you could decide to plan for two relocations: Your first move might be to that mountain or beach town where you can enjoy the lifestyle you’ve craved. When it makes sense to be closer to family, you can pack up the mountain bikes and move again.
The Bottom Line
Keep an open mind and remain flexible. If circumstances force a change in plans, don’t let that dampen your enjoyment of the freedom you worked all your life to achieve, even if it didn’t work out quite as you had envisioned.