Where Should I Retire?: We want to retire to a place with lots of cultural activities, a beach and a major airport. Our budget is $4,000-$5,500 a month, including rent — so where should we look?

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Dear MarketWatch,

I am a 51-year-old married woman and planning to semi-retire at 62 and fully retire at 65. My husband and I are starting to think about places that we would consider retiring to and then visiting many of them over the next 10 years.

Some of the things we are looking for include:

Mild climate — I don’t like being cold and my husband doesn’t like being too hot. I think temps in the mid to high 50s during the day (lows in the low 40s) in the winter and highs in the mid-90s in the summer would be best. Not too much rain either — brings me down a bit. A bit of rain and a bit of snow is OK, as long as it is not for months on end.

Would love to be close to a beach.

Cost of living around $4,000 to $5,500 a month, including rent for a three-bedroom place. We will be living off our retirement accounts and Social Security. So tax-friendly would be great, but not 100% a requirement.

Would like to be close to a major airport to go abroad or to other parts of the country, and drivable to other areas of interest for weekends away; we want to travel quite a bit.

Like to have good outdoor and cultural activities.

Would prefer liberal-leaning — not required, but a plus.

Would prefer a decent amount of diversity — we are an interracial couple.

Mindy

Dear Mindy,

Congratulations giving yourself plenty of time to explore possible retirement destinations. I’m going to start off with a giant caveat: A lot can change in a decade. For starters, how many of us would have predicted a decade ago that Boise would be a popular place to live?

I’m not going to try to predict hurricanes and climate change, but you may want to take that into consideration. This is one example of coastal flooding forecasts.

Politics and taxes, too, can change. But right now I would say don’t fret the taxes too much, based on what you’ve said. Here’s why:

Start with federal taxes and the fat standard deduction every adult gets. If both of you were 65 now, you’d get even more, for a total of $27,800 in standard deductions, so more than half of the budget you’ve given. As for state taxes, three-quarters of them don’t tax Social Security checks. Some also give breaks on other retirement income.

You can dig deeper with this retirement tax calculator from SmartAsset.

You can also dig deeper into how long your money will last using tools from New Retirement. After all, rents for three-bedroom apartments generally don’t come cheap in places with great weather, a beach and enticing cultural activities. In some places, the demand for short-term rentals has put extra pressure on rents.

Add on the travel budget, groceries and eating out, health insurance (even at 65 – Medicare isn’t free!), car repairs and eventually needing to replace that car…money can go awfully quickly.

All that said, I’ve found you three options to consider or to use as a jumping-off point to explore the surrounding area. The MarketWatch “Where Can I Retire?” tool can give you even more ideas, even more so if you’re willing to trade the beach for a lake. I hate to repeat myself, so you can find all the “Where Should I retire?” articles here.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Getty Images

This is the most northern of my suggestions, so yes, nighttime temperatures in the winter will be colder than you would like. I figure you’ll sleep through most of that. On the other hand, daytime highs average in the 50s, so that part is a check. 

In the summer average highs will be in the upper 80s and with less humidity than farther south. On average you’ll get a bit more than 3 inches of rain a month, more in July and August. 

Overall, pretty decent weather?

Virginia Beach has about 460,000 people, making it the largest of my three suggestions. So it has much more to offer than a party vacation spot. 

It’s the most youthful of my suggestions, with a share of retirees that’s below the national average. Just over 12% of its residents are veterans, which may not be surprising given the number of military facilities in the wider Hampton Roads area. Most of the region, including Virginia Beach, voted for Joe Biden in 2020, but the margins were close enough to qualify as politically mixed by our criteria (55%-45% or tighter).

On the cultural front, start with the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts plus the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. Explore the city’s ViBe district.

And of course you can benefit from events hosted at Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University in nearby Norfolk. Once you’re 60 you can audit classes for free.

A number of airlines fly out of nearby Norfolk International Airport. Depending on how much more you’re willing to drive, consider using airports in Newport News, Richmond and Washington, D.C. as well.

The rental market isn’t as transparent as the market of homes for sale is, but you can get a feel through the listings on Realtor.com, which like MarketWatch, is owned by News Corp.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Among all my suggestions, your money will go furthest here, according to Sperling’s Best Places.

However, while Myrtle Beach and its 36,000 residents are more than 300 miles south of Virginia Beach, it’s only slightly warmer in the winter. You’d still have to deal with average lows in the 30s (upper 30s this time) in January. Summer temps are similar, but there’s more rain then than in Virginia Beach. So there’s that trade-off.

Coastal Carolina University, a half-hour drive inland in Conway, offers seniors the opportunity to take classes for free. It also has an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, whose classes are more aimed at retirees than those seeking work skills. (We’ve also added Osher Institutes as an option in the retirement tool; look for university classes for those 50+ under “culture and arts”.) Given how classes at so many of the OLLIs around the country have gone remote, why not sign up for one now and start making connections with this (or another) community?

For concerts, start with the Carolina Opry Theater and, in North Myrtle Beach, the Alabama Theatre

Politically, this is a red county in a red state. Another trade-off given your preference for liberal-leaning.

You can feed the travel bug from Myrtle Beach International Airport, which claims it has the lowest average airfares in South Carolina. 

You can get a sense of the rental market here. And if Myrtle Beach feels too much like a tourist playground, look in other towns along the 60-mile Grand Strand, such as Murrell’s Inlet, a town of just under 10,000, a third of whom are 65 and older. (Realtor.com ranked it as the best and most affordable beach town for retirement in 2020.)

A blue Carolina alternative: Wilmington, N.C., a more expensive option than Myrtle Beach (but cheaper than Virginia Beach), was suggested here.

Fort Myers, Florida

Courtesy the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau

I figure you’ll be taking a look at Florida given its sunshine and the absence of state income tax. To give you a Gulf Coast option, I settled on Fort Myers, home to 86,000 people. About 760,000 people live across Lee County, so explore which communities feel best to you.

Fort Myers is the only one of my three suggestions that is majority minority, with Hispanic/Latinos and Black/African-Americans each making up almost a quarter of the population, according to the Census Bureau. (Lee County as a whole is less diverse.)

While 22% of those living in Fort Myers are 65 and older – the highest among my three suggestions – the number jumps to 29% for all of Lee County.

For your cultural fix, start with the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, which hosts traveling Broadway performances as well as concerts and more on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College. You can find more theater at Florida Repertory Theatre.

At Florida Gulf Coast University, those 60 and older can audit undergrad classes for free.

Beyond the beaches, be sure to explore the 3,500-acre Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, perhaps with a guided walk to look for otters, alligators and birds.

Of course, Florida also means spring training for baseball; the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins train in Fort Myers. After all, daytime highs average in the 70s in the dead of winter.

Do visit in the summer too. Average highs hit 90 in August, but it’s the humidity to watch out for. Summer rains also are the heaviest of the three suggestions.

Southwest Florida International Airport is your nearest travel gateway; flights include one nonstop flight to Europe. Or you can use airports in Fort Lauderdale (2 hours away) and Miami (2 ½ hours). 

The Fort Myers area ranks highly on The Wall Street Journal and Realtor.com Emerging Housing Markets Index for winter 2022. Sperling’s says your money won’t go as far as in Myrtle Beach but will buy you more than in Virginia Beach. Here’s a look at the rental market, again using listings on Realtor.com.

Readers, what communities should Mindy and her husband explore ahead of retirement? Leave your suggestions in the comments section.

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