WalletHub released its 2015 list of the best and worst places to retire based on 23 metrics across the 150 largest cities in the USA. Texas is a mixed bag. Unsurprisingly, six of the top 10 are in Florida (4) and Arizona (2) – states with no income taxes and long-time targets of the retirement set (and so resources targeting seniors). The first Texas city in the rankings is Amarillo at #14 – we’ll talk about that later.
The main buckets of “affordability,” “activities,” “quality of life,” and “health care” are each sub-divided into smaller buckets. Some of these sub-buckets are subjective. For example, within “activities” there are the numbers per 100,000 residents of senior centers, fishing, hiking, golf, adult volunteer activities and another WalletHub comparison on “recreation” that includes parks and overall climate.
I don’t know about you, but fishing, hiking and golf are not high on my list now or in retirement. And besides, many cities in Texas are penalized by geography. For example, coastal cities in Florida and Hawaii are the winners in fishing while cities with hilly or mountainous geographies nab the top spots for hiking. In flat cities like Dallas, hiking is called walking.
When looking for a place to retire, first examine your own needs and desires – and in many cases the subjectivity of intangible measurements. For example, there’s the assumption that retirees want to live surrounded by other retirees. Like gravity, the more old folks there are, the more it will attract. While there is something to be said for living around people with shared life experiences and longevity, personally I’d want to live in a more vibrant area to expose myself to the world of new ideas and change rather than a seniors-centric bubble of early dinners, coupons and golf carts.
Some numbers are head-scratching. For example, Dallas is ranked #72 out of 100 for climate while Arlington nets #36 and Fort Worth #32. Winter-filled Boise, ID is ranked #26 while “driving with potholders for half the year” Scottsdale, AZ is #3, Phoenix is #17 and neighboring Chandler, AZ, is #14. How do weather and climate differ so dramatically in the space of 20 or 30 miles? They don’t. And if that’s not enough, aside from Dallas, all these cities, including Tulsa and Oklahoma City, rank higher in climate than #43, Honolulu. Really?
So how did the metroplex fare?
Plano and Grand Prairie ranked #2 and #3, respectively, in having the highest percentage of employed people over 65. This is important if your retirement savings aren’t up to snuff and you’ll need to supplement your income. It’s also important if you simply view some work as keeping you active and involved. To me this says that older people want/need to work and have a higher ability to do so in these areas. At the opposite end is Brownsville ranked #146.
For those thinking they’ll need in-home healthcare, unsurprisingly border towns Brownsville and El Paso take the #1 and #5 slots in lowest costs. California dominated the most expensive category with three of the top five most expensive.
Lowest adjusted cost of living had two Texas cities in the Top 5. Laredo took #1 and Amarillo #4. Unsurprisingly, California took three of the Top 5 most expensive slots along with New York City and Honolulu.
Overall, one of the recommendations of the survey comes from the fact that in 2014 only about 11 percent of workers were financially able to retire at age 65 (even though 23 percent expected to) according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s latest Retirement Confidence Survey. Of course the biggest reason for these low numbers is money, or more accurately, debt. Thirty-one percent of workers enter retirement age with enough debt to force them to keep working.
There are four ways to deal with debt. Windfall. Bankruptcy. Earn more. Spend less.
Windfall is your basic inheritance, lottery win or gold-digging (scratch that for me).
Bankruptcy can be an option provided student loan debt isn’t the reason (their lobbyists conveniently got that option removed in 2005). You may titter about student loan debt being a problem decades after school let out, but in 2014, 17 percent of all student loan debt was held by borrowers over 50 years old (that’s $204 billion). If that’s not bad enough, balances of those over 60 has grown nine-times since 2004. Yes, some of this is due to co-signing but the majority is for those returning to school. And in addition to its bulletproofness to bankruptcy, Social Security payments can be garnished.
Earning more can equally difficult.
Spending less is the sure-fire way to increase savings and pay down debt. One of the easiest ways being to relocate to an area that pays well but costs less. Bonus points given if it’s a place you’d like to retire.
In an effort to spend less, “affordability” is the key. This measurement has three components. Cost of living, taxes and in-home services costs. In Texas it comes as no surprise that of the 50 states, we’re #47 in real estate taxes and #38 in sales tax. We’re tied for #1 in state income taxes (because we have none). Because this ranking is focused on retirement, in-home services are an important factor.
Based on these criteria, the middle aged looking to live in Texas long-term, reduce debt and save for retirement should consider this affordability ranking based on the Top 150 cities in the United States:
El Paso #19
Corpus Christi #25
San Antonio #38
Grand Prairie #66
Ft Worth #81
To a great extent, the cheapest places to live are places fewer people want to live (Laredo anyone?). It’s supply and demand reasoning … mostly demand. That said, the majority of Texas cities using this study’s metrics fall in the lower half, and many, including Dallas in the lower third. Cross referencing rankings in the study, perhaps one of the reasons there are so many employed senior citizens in Plano is because it seemingly costs so much to live there?
So how did Amarillo wind up as #14 in the overall list? Mostly because it’s a cheap place to live. It ranked #44 in “quality of life” (pretty good) but #100 in healthcare and #91 in “activities.” If you’re saving for retirement, and healthcare, fishing, hiking and golf aren’t big concerns, Amarillo it is!
Like all calculators and lists that purport to give wholesale definitive answers, all they really do is force readers to ask questions – and questions are the beginnings of individual answers.
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