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As of the first quarter of 2011, the average retiree benefit from Social Security was under $1,200 per month. For retirees with a modest nest egg saved for retirement, drawing on the 4% withdrawal rule to supplement Social Security still does not bring their annual income over $18,000 per year. Unfortunately, finding a place to retire on less than $1,500 a month is not easy, unless a retiree is willing to move. There are numerous cities throughout the United States, and definitely places abroad, where a small budget can still provide a comfortable lifestyle.
Every year, numerous publications and organizations, such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and US News and World Report, publish a variety of lists covering the best or the cheapest places to retire for the current or coming year. In 2011, for example, AARP published a list of 10 Affordable Cities for Retirement, including cities in Georgia, Wyoming, New York, Maine and Texas. Likewise, US News and World Report published 10 Places to Retire on Social Security Alone, listing cities in Alabama, Washington state, and Michigan, to name a few.
While basing the decision to move on published lists is not advisable, such lists can provide information on which to begin searching. If contemplating a move abroad, some additional considerations beyond cost of living are in order, including whether you plan to rent or buy, access to medical care and political stability. For moves within the borders of the United States, considerations such as property taxes, sales tax, unemployment rates and median salaries provide useful information to gauge the true cost of living in a particular area. Even if a retired person has no intention of returning to the work force, factors such as median salary and unemployment rates are still important, as these provide an indication of the economic health for a particular area.
It is possible to live on just $1,500 a month without sacrificing quality of life. Retirees simply have to do a little research to find the right location. To help start the search, consider the following examples, both within the United States and options for living abroad. For additional information about retiring on a budget and finding an inexpensive place to call home, there are sites like International Living that provide the nitty-gritty details retirees need about various options.
Home Retirement: Cities within the United States
As with many southern towns, Auburn offers charm and quiet living. The median salary in this area is less than $22,000 with low unemployment rates. As a college town, there is much to do and see, including college football, theaters and museums. Crime rates are higher than average city-wide, although there are several safe, quiet areas that are not subject to as much crime as urban areas. Median home prices fall under $170,000 and property taxes average less than $1,200 per year. Rental properties average between $400-700 per month.
For retirees who enjoy life in the Old West, Cheyenne offers a frontier-style retirement. Median home prices average under $142,000. Sales tax is 6 percent. Seniors enjoy free admission to many of the state parks, museums and cultural attractions. There is no income tax on Social Security and the median salary for the area is under $59,000. AARP voted Cheyenne one of the top 10 affordable places to retire in 2011.
Life in a mountain town is the ideal retirement for some. Situated near the Blue Ridge Mountains, Blacksburg residents have modest incomes, with the median being around $30,000. Crime rates are low, as is unemployment and the cost of living. Purchasing a house is expensive, with property taxes running around $1,700 per year, and median house prices over $200,000. However, rental properties are inexpensive, generally averaging less than $800 per month. Compared to other U.S. cities, Blacksburg residents spend an average of 8 percent less on necessities such as groceries and fuel.
Retirement Abroad: International Cities for Cheap Retirement Living
Corozal Town, Belize
Belize is one of the only countries in Central America where English is the first language. Corozal is situated in the northern district of Belize, with a growing population of retirees from Europe and North America. Monthly rental homes average $200-400 per month, with new home construction typically running less than $100,000, even when built on a beach-front lot. Medical care, groceries and property taxes are considerably less than most U.S. cities, with some experts estimating the costs at less than half for most necessities.
Like Belize, English is freely spoken in most of Ecuador. Buying a house typically runs less than $100,000. Routine expenses, such as gasoline and property taxes are far cheaper than North America. As of 2011, the average price for a gallon of gas was $1.48, a bottle of beer was less than $1, and annual property taxes averaged less than $100. Experts suggest that medical care is also less expensive, but high-tech treatment of serious medical conditions may be more difficult to access.
Like its neighbor, Vilcabamba, Cuenca offers an inexpensive lifestyle with the adventurous charm of history. According to Kathleen Peddicord, author of Live and Invest Overseas, the average monthly cost for homeowners is around $700 for home, utilities and groceries. For a mere $900 a month, residents can pay all of their expenses and have domestic help with cleaning and other chores. Renting is an even cheaper prospect, with monthly rent averaging between $100-600, depending on the neighborhood and amenities available.