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AARP The Magazine

Retire to a Good Life for Less

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

River Front (Jen Judge)

An evening view from the Grand River Riverfront in Grand Rapids, Michigan. — Jen Judge

Grand Rapids, Mich.: Midwestern Swagger

Population: 782,100
Median home price:
Median mortgage payment:
Median property tax: $1,830
State tax on Social Security:
State tax on pensions: Yes (with some exemptions)

Great eating: Hoist a craft beer at HopCat, a popular brew pub.

Catch a game: Ticket prices to watch the Grand Rapids Griffins ice hockey team start at $14.

Favorite freebie: The international ArtPrize competition brings world-class art downtown

Judi Orians spends so much time volunteering at the Humane Society of West Michigan that she jokes she should rent a room there. She walks the dogs, helps with shelter obedience classes, hands out free kibble to low-income pet owners and brings animals to local TV stations for adoption publicity.

In a less affordable city, the 68-year-old Orians might not have the freedom to give away her time. She rents a one-bedroom apartment in a building for low-income older adults and pays $400 a month, including heat and gas. She spends $175 a month on food and $25 on electricity. That's easily doable on her $1,260 monthly income — $856 from Social Security and a $404 pension from Mercy Health Saint Mary's, where she worked as a secretary for 28 years. "The older you get, the more you realize stuff isn't important," Orians says. "I'm very comfortable here, and money is not a big issue."

What is important is a sense of community, and Grand Rapids has that in abundance, says Ingrid Scott-Weekley, 62, a City Hall managing director who recently retired. She and her husband, Dale, 69, both have a pension and are trying to live more modestly. The first step? Selling their home and moving into a smaller condo: "We just looked at one that's perfect," Ingrid says. "It's 1,800 square feet, three bedrooms, two and a half baths — all for $110,000."

University of Notre Dame campus at South Bend Indiana IN (dmac / Alamy)

An aerial view of the University of Notre Dame campus. — dmac/Alamy

South Bend, Ind.: College Legend, Housing Steal

Population: 316,900
Median home price:
Median mortgage payment:
Median annual property tax:
State tax on Social Security:
State tax on pensions:

Great eating: Cheeseburgers at CJ's Pub are so beloved they're even sold in area supermarkets.

Catch a game: Everyone knows the University of Notre Dame's football dynasty is legendary, but so is women's soccer: Admission is $3 for those 55 and over.

Best freebie: Campus tours of Notre Dame, including its famous Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Basilica of the Sacred Heart and "Touchdown Jesus"

While the 171-year-old University of Notre Dame exerts a major influence on this Midwestern town, don't dismiss it as just another college town. South Bend offers plenty for retirees, with low housing costs, minimal property taxes and abundant recreational opportunities.

Tom Corse, 68, and Nadine Corse, 69, rely primarily on Social Security and pay just $540 in monthly rent for a large one-bedroom downtown. They can visit the local park to hear musicians perform, or stroll to church. They don't even need to keep a car: They buy monthly passes ($35 each) for the local bus, which stops half a block from their door. "Everything we need we've got right here."

The couple's health care is covered through Medicare; they spend about $200 a month on groceries; and while heat is included in the rent, they do pay for electricity, which costs less than $100 per month.

The city has been working hard to clean up its down-at-the-heels image, replacing old housing with newer, more affordable units. It's creating a fledgling riverwalk along the St. Joseph River, which includes an area with America's first artificial whitewater for rafting fans.

And then, of course, there's Notre Dame, with entertainment that ranges from the popular (Loretta Lynn) to the highbrow (Shakespeare productions by the London Stage).

Next page: Great Lakes getaway and Southern charm. »

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