Let’s say you’ve made all the right financial decisions. You’ve built up a cushy nest egg, you’ve managed to pay off the mortgage, and you’re ready to kick the 9-to-5 and ease into a very comfortable retirement. Congratulations! You’re doing better than most Americans.
But now you face another crucial decision: Where to put down your retirement roots.
Depending on your passions, health, climate preferences, and family situation, a great city to retire in can take on many forms, says Michael Solari, a certified financial planner with Solari Financial Planning who has expertise in retirement.
“It’s a personal choice of what’s going to make you happy,” Solari told Business Insider.
How do you know whether a community will make you happy before you get there? Here are the four questions you should ask yourself to discover the perfect place to retire.
1. How do you want to spend your time during the day, now that you’re not tied down with work?
It may seem an obvious question, but it’s also one of the toughest to answer. “People who are retiring have a very, very hard time visualising what the heck they’re going to do in retirement,” Solari says. “[They were] spending 8 to 12 hours a day at work, and now they’re trying to fill that void.”
What are your hobbies and interests — what haven’t you been able to do that you’ve always wanted to try? Once you’ve narrowed this down, finding a place that accommodates your passions will be easier.
For some people that’s travel, in which case the precise home location might be less important than proximity to a great airport, like in Denver, Dallas, or San Francisco.
2. How active of a lifestyle do you want to lead?
“I have a lot of clients who are in their late-50s or early-60s, so they’re retiring before medicare. They’re retirement age, but they’re still very active. Look for a community that’s going to be active,” Solari advises.
Florida’s laid-back vibe works wonders for some, but if you’ve still got the itch for adrenaline, and a double-black diamond ski slope entices you more than a beach chair and a tiki drink, you may want to look toward the Pacific Northwest — where many of America’s most active cities are located.
Solari sang Colorado’s praises.
“If you go to Colorado, they have tons of hiking and biking and skiing … as well as a diverse community you can be involved in.”
3. What’s your ideal climate?
The Northeast is a great fit for many retirees, according to Solari, who’s based out of New Hampshire. High standards of living are coupled with low crime and access to major metro cities with cultural amenities. But it also means contending with brutal winters, and navigating an icy climate can be a challenge even for the young and spry.
“People automatically think Florida, but other places that are just as good and offer quite a bit are North and South Carolina,” Solari says. “You’re not in 80- and 90-degree weather all the time, and it’s better than zero degrees up here.”
The other benefit to those warm, southern locales: A dollar tends to stretch a lot further, so you can budget more trips to visit your family up North when the frozen tundra has thawed.
“If you’re down South, nine times out of 10 you’re probably going to be looking at a lower cost of living,” Solari says.
4. How often do you want to see your family?
“Being away from family is an important piece to think about,” Solari says.
Some retirees opt for far-flung homes, expecting to lure children and grandchildren over for frequent visits on the promise of abundant sun and beach access. It doesn’t always work out that way, Solari says. He knows from personal experience.
“My parents are snow birds and they fly to Florida, and they’re down in Florida for three or four months. The expectation, at least initially, was that we’d come down a lot. We have one child right now, and as he gets older we’ll definitely do the Disney World thing … but we’re not down as often as they had hoped,” Solari shared.
If you’re the type that doesn’t want to miss any seminal family moments — birthdays, graduations, holidays — you may want to take a pass on a permanent home in a far-away state.
“It’s hard and life is busy. So don’t have the expectation that [your kids] are going to come twice a year or every year, because sometimes it might just not work out.”
Get out and experiment
This isn’t a question, but it’s the overarching advice that Solari returns to. A great way to discover the answers to these four questions with certainty is to travel around and test the waters. If you want to spend the hours that you used to spend at work trying out new restaurants and experiencing new food instead, you’ll want to give a culturally vibrant place like Portland a visit first to ensure the rainy weather doesn’t phase you.
“I think that’s very important: To experience it without jumping all in and putting a down payment on a home,” Solari advises. “I tell people to go travel where you’ve always wanted to be. Feel it out and find a place after a while, once you feel comfortable.”
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