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Retire to a Good Life for Less (+video)

10 low-cost cities where you can live in comfort no matter how big (or small) your savings account

Elevated view of downtown Bangor, Maine (David A. Land)

A view of downtown Bangor, Maine. — David A. Land

Bangor, Maine: Renaissance Queen

Population: 149,630
Median home price:
$110,400
Median mortgage payment:
$421
Median property tax:
$1,303
State tax on Social Security:
No
State tax on pensions:
Yes (with some exemptions)

Great eating: Pop into Geaghan's for Sunday breakfast; Maine blueberry pancakes cost $5.59.

Catch a show: The Penobscot Theatre Company presents the annual Northern Writes Festival of New Works — $10.

Favorite freebie: Every summer the American Folk Festival brings three days of free music to the Waterfront.

Community: Share your fears about Social Security. Join the discussion

Newlyweds Anne and Ed Baker, both 70, say that while living on a small income is challenging, Bangor offers a lot to make it possible. Combined, they earn about $2,900 a month from Social Security. They live in a paid-for mobile home, with park rent of just $330 a month. And while Bangor winters can be fierce, the Bakers pay $91 per month for heat on a budget plan. Besides the $105 they each pay for Medicare, they spend $49 each for additional coverage and about $200 a month on groceries.

The area's abundant recreational and entertainment opportunities are also a major draw. A lively arts scene provides culture, and the mighty Penobscot River serves as the area's natural centerpiece. "There's so much hiking, biking and paddling," says Peggy Leonard, 51. "When you add in what's nearby — including Baxter State Park and Acadia — it's a nature lover's paradise."

Greenville South Carolina The Liberty Bridge (David A. Land)

The Liberty Bridge at Falls Park on the Reedy is a pedestrian bridge in Greenville, South Carolina. — David A. Land

Greenville, S.C.: Big-City Buzz Meets Southern Ease

Population: 628,600
Median home price:
$127,600
Median mortgage payment:
$487
Median property tax:
$753
State tax on Social Security:
No
State tax on pensions:
Yes

Great eating: Munch on a petit pain for 65 cents at Legrand Bakery.

Catch a game: For $7, watch the Greenville Drive, a Boston Red Sox affiliate, at Fluor Field. On Thursdays, beer costs a buck.

Favorite freebies: Parking on Main Street, trolley rides, downtown Wi-Fi and admission to the Greenville County Museum of Art

As Caren and John Maietta sized up retirement, they knew they'd have to leave their home on New York's pricey Long Island. John, now 60, is disabled, and Caren, 61, was working as a teaching assistant in the local school system and tutoring on the side.

One visit to Greenville clinched their decision; they moved south in 2010, buying a lovely home (five bedrooms, three and a half baths) for half the price of their former place. Though they're not mortgage-free, their monthly payment is less than a quarter of what it was before. Instead of New York's sky-high property taxes, the average here is $753. (Yes, per year.) Their car insurance also fell by half. Gasoline prices are much lower. "Even utilities are cheaper here," Caren says. In New York, the couple spent about $650 a month; in Greenville, "our bills range from $80 to $190."

Those savings enabled her to stop working, and the two live comfortably on savings and disability payments. Still a few years away from collecting Social Security, they are committed to keeping their costs low while living large.

"It's even a little decadent," Caren says. "I play tennis four to five days a week at the Green Valley Country Club. It costs $150 a month for a family sports membership, which includes social events, the pool and tennis facilities."

Next page: Midwestern swagger and housing steals. »

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