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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

 

En español | Want to retire on $30,000 a year? Or just want to know you could if you had to? We found the 10 most livable, low-cost cities in the U.S. — places where you can retire in comfort no matter how big (or small) your savings account.

Daytona Boardwalk Amusement Area and Pier (David A. Land)

The Daytona Boardwalk Amusement Area and Pier offers games and indoor and outdoor rides. — David A. Land

Daytona/Deltona/Ormond Beach: Florida's Best Kept Secrets

Population: 514,450
Median home price:
$108,900
Median mortgage payment:
$416
Median property tax: $1,161
State tax on Social Security:
No
State tax on pensions:
No

Great eating: Try Tia Cori's Tacos on North Beach in Daytona: Tacos start at $1.50; margaritas are $4.

Catch a game: Join the Silver Sluggers Club for $15 and get in free to all Tuesday games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, home of the Class A Daytona Cubs.

Favorite freebie: The Art League of Daytona Beach

Ask David Simms, 76, what makes Daytona Beach such a great retirement city, and he's a little stumped. The beach? The weather? Or the fact that he can stroll down the block and catch a game at Jackie Robinson Ballpark?

Actually, it's all of these reasons. "I love it here," Simms says. "It's easy. It's relaxed. And it's great for walking." And yes, it's extremely affordable. Simms, who relies on an income of about $1,400 a month (a combination of Social Security, a government pension and proceeds from the recent sale of his home), lives in a downtown residence for older adults run by the Good Samaritan Society. His rent is $600 and includes one big meal a day, which keeps his other grocery costs well in line. Plus, his electric bill runs about $17 a month.

Daytona isn't the only affordable gem in the area, particularly in the wake of the recession, when home prices fell 47 percent on average. Joe Perez, 66, one of the first city commissioners when the nearby town of Deltona was incorporated back in 1995, says he and his wife, Alba, 58, own a small RV and spend many weekends exploring the nearby state parks.

Because the area offers easy access to the Atlantic, the Gulf and freshwater, it's also a paradise for fishing, says Chris Nabicht, 51, a Deltona city council member and retired firefighter, whose favorite pastimes include surf casting near Turtle Mound and bass fishing in Lake Monroe.

Pocatello Idaho Sunrise (Jen Judge)

Sunrise over Pocatello, Idaho. — Jen Judge

Pocatello, Idaho: Northwest Wonderland

Population: 88,500
Median home price:
$127,500
Median mortgage payment:
$487
Median property tax:
$1,179
State tax on Social Security:
No
State tax on pensions:
Yes (with some exemptions)

Great eating: Try a latte and hear live music at the Co Ho coffeehouse.

Clean up your act: Tour the Museum of Clean for the most fun you've ever had while pondering housework.

Favorite freebie: Self-guided walking tours downtown offer an up-close look at historic buildings and architectural landmarks.

For Jane Riley, who lives on her $1,200 monthly Social Security payment, Pocatello has provided a retirement that is rich beyond measure. At 71, she fills her days with classes (Idaho State University's New Knowledge Adventures, open to anyone 50 or older, costs $35 per semester, for unlimited classes). She loves to dance, especially the hula, and belongs to a dance group that meets often. But most of all, she's smitten with the region's famously big sky.

Riley spends $305 a month on her mortgage. Almost all of her health care — because her late husband was a retired naval officer — is paid for. Utility expenses are minimal. (Thanks to its massive rivers, Idaho's hydroelectricity is among the cheapest power sources in the nation.) And because of a wide variety of supermarkets, including the bargain-packed WinCo, food is inexpensive.

But affordability isn't the only reason residents love Pocatello. When Dana Olson, 57, retires next year from her job as the Outdoor Adventure Center director at ISU, she plans to stay right here. "I can make it from my house to the base lift at Pebble Creek, the nearest ski area, in four minutes," she says. Those who are 66 or older can score an all-day lift ticket for just $26. Add to that some 1,000 miles of recreational trails for biking, horseback riding and hiking — as well as white-water rafting and kayaking. Outdoor aficionados, take note.

Next page: The great outdoors and big city buzz. »

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. »

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:
$114,200
Median mortgage payment:
$436
Median property tax: $1,830
State tax on Social Security:
No
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:
$82,500
Median mortgage payment:
$315
Median annual property tax:
$846
State tax on Social Security:
No
State tax on pensions:
Yes

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. »

Erie Pennsylvania promenande dobbins landing (Russel KORD/Corbis)

A view from the Promenade Dobbins Landing Waterfront in Erie, Pennsylvania. — Russel KORD/Corbis

Erie, Pa.: Great Lakes Getaway

Population: 278,500
Median home price:
$106,600
Median mortgage payment:
$407
Median property tax:
$1,899
State tax on Social Security:
No
State tax on pensions:
No

Great eating: Don't pass on the pierogi at Dabrowski's Family Restaurant & Deli, where there are seven varieties of the quarter-pounders.

Catch a game: The Erie Otters, a major junior ice hockey team, is one of just three U.S. teams on the Ontario Hockey League circuit for players 16 to 20. Advance tickets for those 65 and older are $12 to $14.

Best freebie: The 75-foot observation deck at Presque Isle State Park

While Erie may conjure up images of industry and manufacturing, most visitors are gob-smacked by its real treasure: Presque Isle State Park, a seven-mile peninsula of stunning beaches on Lake Erie. It's a substantial city, with plenty of neighborhoods and entertainment options. And it all comes with small-town price tags: Lakeview homes routinely sell for less than $200,000.

Located about 100 miles from Buffalo, N.Y., and Cleveland, the city is also rich in history. (It's where Commodore Perry trounced the British Royal Navy in the War of 1812.) Sports fans love its Class AA Minor League Baseball team, the SeaWolves, NBA Development League basketball team, the Bayhawks, and minor league hockey, the Otters, and fishermen are crazy about the lake's near-legendary steelhead trout. But there are arts, too, including its own public TV station, WQLN, and the Erie Philharmonic, celebrating its centennial this year.

"Erie is a big little town," says Patty Hall, who lives here with her husband Mike, also 62, both retired teachers. "If you're bored, you're just not trying. Watching the sun set over the lake, the gardens down at the Erie Zoo (those over 62 pay $5), swimming or boating, the foliage in the fall. It's got big-city options, but at a small-town pace."

Louisville Kentucky Ohio River Downtown (Getty Images/Flickr Open)

The Ohio River shows the reflection of buildings in downtown Louisville. — Justin Gilliland Photography/Flickr Open/Getty Images

Louisville, Ky.: A Southern Original

Population: 1,250,000
Median home price:
$128,200
Median mortgage payment:
$489
Median annual property tax:
$1,116
State tax on Social Security:
No
State tax on pensions:
Partial

Great eating: Swing by Muth's Candies to savor the bourbon balls and famous Modjeskas, a marshmallow-caramel treat named after an 1880s Polish actress.

Catch a game: It's no surprise that the hometown of the Louisville Slugger (which has a terrific museum here) has great baseball: the Louisville Bats, a Triple Class AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The team offers a $1 discount on all tickets for those 65 and over.

Best freebie: Yoga classes offered in Cherokee, Shelby and Rubel parks

Louisville earns high scores for arts and culture. It calls itself the "City of Parks" (and has 18 designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed landscape architect who designed New York's Central Park), and it's also home to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs racetrack, and the Urban Bourbon Trail. But Louisville is also one of the most affordable big cities in the nation.

Peggy Owens, 62, a newly minted retiree, pays $650 a month for her one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Old Louisville. Her utility expenses range from $60 to $120 per month, depending on the season. Because she is disabled, she is covered by Medicare. She spends an average of $300 a month on food. She no longer keeps a car, and can walk to the Kling Center, which offers a variety of services to senior citizens, where she volunteers five days a week as a receptionist.

"I had lived here before I had children, and always wanted to move back, because it's so beautiful," Owens says. "It's just such a pleasure to stroll through the streets at dusk, looking at the old Victorians. And our parks are beautiful — whether it's when the pears are blossoming or the dogwoods are blooming, or even if it's snowing."

It is also a town with plenty of heart, adds Betty Meneese, 76, who retired 15 years ago from Kentucky Fried Chicken's corporate employee cafeteria. "I got bored six months after retiring, and started finding ways to work with other people." Since then, she's been logging an average of four hours a day, serving lunches and working with other volunteers at a local senior center.

Next page: Sunny weather with local perks and a desert gem. »

Birth place of Dwight D Eisenhower  (Alamy)

Denison, Texas, is the birthplace of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. — DeeBee/Alamy

Sherman/Denison, Texas: Tempting Texoma

Population: 120,600
Median home price:
$79,400
Median mortgage payment:
$303
Median property tax:
$1,158
State tax on Social Security:
No
State tax on pensions:
No

Great eating: Barbecue fans swear by the traditional pulled-pork sandwich at the Cackle & Oink BBQ.

Catch a game: When the two local high school teams, Sherman and Denison, play one another in football, it's known as the "Battle of the Axe" — and it is the longest-running high school rivalry in Texas.

Best freebie: Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge boasts an impressive 338 species of birds, 36 species of mammals, 60 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 61 species of fish.

Some 70 miles north of the bustling Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, both Sherman and Denison are typical small-town Texas. Yet this sunny metro region offers much more, including well-established neighborhoods, some of the lowest housing costs in the nation, and the considerable recreational appeal of nearby Lake Texoma.

With facilities for Stanley Black & Decker, Cigna, Caterpillar and Raytheon nearby, the area is prosperous, which translates into many local perks. There's a symphony, plenty of annual festivals, and public transportation.

All that suits Janet Freeman, 62, and Dick Freeman, 65, just fine. The two retired after selling their gymnastics school three years ago, and are sold on the area's affordable retirement advantages. "Our house is paid off, and that's true for many of our friends here," says Dick. "But the main charm is that we can do all the things we think are fun, including fishing — we can have the boat in Lake Texoma in 20 minutes, or in nearby Pickens Lake in five."

Historical downtown pueblo colorado (Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images)

Check out the historic downtown section of Pueblo, Colorado. — Stephen Saks/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Pueblo, Colo.: A Desert Gem

Population: 158,000
Median home price:
$102,600
Median mortgage payment:
$392
Median property tax:
$765
State tax on Social Security:
Yes
State tax on pensions:
Yes (with some exceptions)

Great eating: Known for the distinctive Mira Sol green chile peppers that grow here, the city is famous for its "sloppers" — a cheeseburger slathered in green chili. The Sunset Inn is the reigning champ.

Catch a game: The ThunderWolves, Colorado State University-Pueblo's Division II football team, has a fierce following. Tickets for seniors are $13 -($20 for reserved seats and $6 for admission to Thunder Hill grassy slope).

Best freebie: Take in all three miles of the Pueblo Levee Mural Project‚ which holds a Guinness Book of World Records distinction as being the world's largest continuous painting.

This smaller desert community is winning attention as a bargain among Colorado's sprawling cities. While skiers can be on world-class slopes in less than two hours, Pueblo's climate is blissfully temperate. And the city offers unexpected delights, including HARP (Historic Arkansas River Project), archaeological treasures, an impressive library and expanding health care options. And people here are among the healthiest in the U.S., with a longer life expectancy, fewer deaths from heart disease and cancer, and a lower stress index.

HARP Riverwalk is one of Patricia Samson's favorite things about her native Pueblo. "You can walk for several miles along the river, and it's beautiful — there are boats and ducks and restaurants and food vendors, with waterfalls and kids splashing," she says. "It's really special."

Samson, 69, lives in the center of Pueblo, just a block from the river. In addition to the $695 she gets in Social Security, she receives $27 a month in SSI and a $37-a-month pension from the state. To make ends meet, she volunteers as a foster grandparent in a local school, helping fourth- and fifth-graders with their math. In return for that work, besides the company of plenty of energetic 9- to 11-year-olds, she gets a stipend of $2.65 an hour, plus $2 a day for lunch and 43 cents a mile for driving expenses, which works out to about $200 a month during the school year.

She lives in an apartment building for those over 50, and her rent (based on income) is $206 per month for a one-bedroom, including all utilities except for phone. "It's safe. It's warm. And it's a very comfortable, friendly place — I can leave my windows open, and there's a common area where we all have coffee."

CORRECTION: Because of an editing error, there was some incorrect information regarding taxing Social Security benefits and pensions in Indiana, Colorado, Texas and South Carolina. This information has been  corrected. The article also incorrectly referred to the University of Notre Dame as Notre Dame University and said that the university was 151 years old. The University of Notre Dame was established in 1842 and is 171 years old. A picture that ran with this story had an incorrect caption stating the College Football Hall of Fame is located in South Bend, Ind. The College Football Hall of Fame's South Bend location closed at the end of 2012 and is reopening in Atlanta, Ga.

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