Debunking The "Best" Retirement Destinations

By Stephanie Powers | March 04, 2010 AAA

Some retirees are asking if they're really living the American Dream. You know - where you retire to a warm climate and spend your senior years in leisure. Though that dream is well known, the old list of popular retirement locations may not live up to fantasy expectations. Here are a few reasons old favorite retirement destinations just don't live up to their image.

In Pictures: Retire A Retirement In 10 Steps

Scenic Bottleneck
Some retirement locations are so incredibly beautiful you may forgive the huge influx of snowbirds crowding you during high season. Sports, arts and entertainment abound, but you have to be patient to get there. One of the biggest threats to a happy retirement is traffic. The INRIX National Traffic Scorecard ranked popular retirement metropolitan areas Ft Lauderdale, Atlanta, and Phoenix among the top 20 worst cities for traffic congestion on its 2009 Annual Report of 100 Most Congested Metropolitan Areas.

Too Much Sun
The heat in the Sun Belt may be dry, but it's still hot. People age 65 and over are more susceptible to heat-related injuries. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association reports more annual heat-related deaths than any other type of weather condition including floods, hurricanes, and winter storms. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sites chronic medical conditions, prescription drugs, and a reduced ability to adjust to temperature change as reasons the elderly are more likely to experience negative consequences of sun exposure. While it is true high temperatures with low relative humidity allows the human body to cool itself with sweat easier, it also causes the body to become dehydrated. Of course some locations offer many activities for the nocturnal.

Increasing Cost of Living
Now we've come to the point where we have to speak that word. It's the bane of any hard-earned retirement nest egg whose impact is enough to make retirees weep and throw their hands up in despair. Today they can afford extended vacations and lavish lifestyles. Tomorrow it's left-overs and rationed utility usage because of – inflation. There, I've said it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates an experimental consumer price index for the elderly, the CPI-E. The index assigns a higher percentage of income toward medical care, shelter, and heating oil than the overall population. While it is difficult to compare the CPI-E of different geographic locations, the components that make up the index impact choices for retirement locations. (Learn more about retirement budgeting in Simple Ways To Save In Retirement.)

Housing Costs
Rising healthcare costs are prevalent nationwide and moderate climates require little heating oil. But, the cost of retirement dream homes varies greatly by region. Retirees rely heavily on accumulated home equity as an income source. When the cost of living rises faster than their home values, seniors look for ways to cash out and downsize. Towns where home values have not kept pace with inflation make them less affordable to those on a fixed income. On the other hand, areas where homes are increasing in value too quickly make them unaffordable as property taxes and upkeep increases while the ability to sell decreases. Areas where the housing bubble ravaged retirees' home values include: Florida, Nevada and Georgia.
(Another thing to remember is to retire in a place that fits your plans for post-work living. Learn more in Choosing The Right Retirement Destination.)

Bottom Line
Today's retirees look for locations where they can lead a healthy active lifestyle for an affordable price. Cities change with age just like people. The realities of living in once preferred towns may make seniors think twice.

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