October 21, 2013

Top 10 Offbeat, Cheap Cities for Retirement

Retirees can find the perfect place to start a new phase of life in any area of the nation

Not everyone wants to retire and move to Florida. Sure, the warm weather, low taxes and laid-back lifestyle are attractive, but some yearn for something different; a new adventure as they embark on the next stage of life. They might not even mind watching the seasons change.

That got ThinkAdvisor to put together this list. We looked for places with a low cost of living and relatively affordable housing that still offer, or are close to, many of the cultural amenities often found in bigger cities. Beautiful scenery, places to hike and indulge in other outdoor activities are also close at hand to the cities on our list.

We also considered the idea that many people might want to stay closer to their hometown when they retire, the better to keep in touch with grandkids, other family and friends.

(Check out Top 10 Best Foreign Countries for Retirement: 2013 on ThinkAdvisor.)

For the cost of living index we used data from areavibes.com. For median home prices, we used data from the National Association of Realtors, except where noted.

Check out our list of Top 10 Offbeat, Cheap Cities for Retirement ranked by cost of living:

Skyline of Wenatchee, Washington. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

10. Wenatchee, Wash.

Cost of Living Index: 97

Median Home Price: $216,900  (down 11% year over year, data from zillow.com.)

State Sales Tax: 6.5%

Life among the apple blossoms and near the Columbia River offers many opportunities for those who love the outdoors. Known as the Apple Capital of the World, the city of about 31,000 has a metro population of 110,000. And when you need a city fix, Seattle is less than three hours away. In 2011, AARP Magazine named it the best place to retire.

Alabama State Capital Building.

9. Montgomery, Ala.

Cost of Living Index: 97

Median Home Price: $138,500 (up 4.5%)

State Sales Tax: 4%

Montgomery’s mild winters might be just the place for you. There’s plenty to do in the capital city, which boasts an art museum with a broad collection that includes Southern and European works. There’s also an annual Shakespeare festival, a minor league baseball team and the Civil Rights Memorial, among other attractions.

Herschler and Capitol Building , Cheyenne , Wyoming.

8. Cheyenne, Wyo.

Cost of Living Index: 96

Median Home Price: $166,954 (up 17.3%)

State Sales Tax: 4%

Warm summers make “Trail Town USA” a great spot if you enjoy the outdoors. The city, with a metro population of about 91,000, is home to the Greater Cheyenne Greenway, a system of paths and trails that link the city’s parks and neighborhoods. Although winters are cold, as you might expect, they are relatively dry. The last week in July is time for the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days, which includes parades, a carnival and traditional roping events. The retirement planning website, TopRetirements.com, listed it among the top 100 most popular places to retire.

Falls Park, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

7. Sioux Falls, S.D.

Cost of Living Index: 96

Median Home Price: $158,300 (up 5%)

State Sales Tax: 4%

The fastest growing city in the state saw its population jump 22% to 158,000 between 2000 and 2010. Falls Park, with its spectacular falls on the Big Sioux River, is one of 70 parks in the city. A revived arts scene that includes an annual sculpture event, a band competition and other attractions offer diversions.

Falls Park, Greenville, South Carolina.

6. Greenville, S.C.

Cost of Living Index: 93

Median Home Price: $159,600 (up 4.9%)

State Sales Tax: 6%

Greenville sits nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. Mild winters and plenty of outdoor activities abound. Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head are an easy drive to the east; to the north is Asheville, a hipster retreat in North Carolina; and to the west is Atlanta and all of its big city amenities. AARP included on its 2013 list of five affordable places to retire.

Downtown South Bend, Indiana.

5. South Bend, Ind.

Cost of Living Index: 93

Median Home Price: $103,400 (up 21.8%)

State Sales Tax: 7%

South Bend’s is most known as the home of Notre Dame. On football Saturdays in the fall, the city of a little more than 100,00 comes alive. But don’t think that the Fighting Irish are the only game in town. There’s an arts museum, a performing arts center and the world’s largest chamber music competition, sponsored by the Fischoff National Chamber Music Association. Lake Michigan is just 20 miles away and the City of Big Shoulders, Chicago, is about an hour and a half away.

City of Columbia, Missouri. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

4. Columbia, Mo.

Cost of Living Index: 91

Median Home Price: $155,600  (down 2.5%)

State Sales Tax: 4.225%

Home to the first public university west of the Mississippi, Columbia is a college town through and through. There’s SEC football and basketball played on the University of Missouri campus, a fine theater program at Stephens College and plenty of places to indulge a range of outdoor activities. And if you need to hit a big city, Kansas City and St. Louis are each just a two-hour drive across Interstate 70.

Tulsa, Oklahoma skyline.

3. Tulsa, Okla.

Cost of Living Index: 90

Median Home Price: $146,900 (up 7.6%)

State Sales Tax: 4.5%

Tulsa is bigger than the other cities on our list with a population of nearly 400,000. Still, we chose it for being off the beaten path for retirees and for its low cost of living. It boasts a fine art museum considered one of the 50 best in the U.S., a Museum of Jewish Art, the state Jazz Hall of Fame and holds the archives of Woody Guthrie in a center named for the folk singer. A strong public arts program and more than 6,000 acres of parks add to the beauty of the city.

Knoxville, Tennessee skyline and Sunsphere.

2. Knoxville, Tenn.

Cost of Living Index: 89

Median Home Price: $152,600 (up 5.7%)

State Sales Tax: 7%

Another college town, Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee. The city has 178,000 people and is a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A symphony, a rich bluegrass tradition and opera company are part of the city’s cultural scene. And Blender named it one of the nation’s “20 Most Rock ’n’ Roll Towns” in 2003. Arts festivals and the largest Labor Day fireworks display in the country are on Knoxville’s regular menu of offerings.

Omaha, Nebraska skyline.

1. Omaha, Neb.

Cost of Living Index: 88

Median Home Price: $151,300 (up 5.8%)

State Sales Tax: 5.5%

If it’s good enough for Warren Buffett, who are we to argue. A low cost of living is just one of things attractive about the place the “Oracle of Omaha” calls home (and he still lives in the home he paid $31,500 for in 1958). Beautiful scenery along the bluffs of the Missouri River make Omaha stand out. The largest community theater in the country, a symphony and an opera are just some of the cultural amenities of the city. A Black Music Hall of Fame, a zoo and a historic district downtown add to the charm.

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