A blizzard of articles give advice about the best places to retire. They generally recommend fleeing the North and heading for the Sunbelt, to places in the Carolinas, Florida, or Arizona. Occasionally they offer a surprise retirement spot in Iowa or Indiana. Sometimes they even tout retirement locales outside the United States.
These articles rely on statistics such as the cost of living or winter temperatures. But they miss the most important thing--the human element. Here are the real best places to retire:
Stay home. As we get older, moving, making new friends, and acclimatizing ourselves to new surroundings gets more difficult. Don't underestimate the value of your current community. Think long and hard before you cut those connections to go off to get a sunburn.
Your hometown likely offers more senior citizen benefits than you think including tax breaks, low-cost transportation, and subsidized meals. We have friends in the outer suburbs of New York who always thought they would retire somewhere warmer. But they finally realized how important their church community was to them and decided to stay put. Now they visit the senior center for a free meal every Thursday night. They walk at the mall two or three mornings a week and stay for coffee with new acquaintances. And they are still active in their church, among the friends they've known for decades.
Move near your children. My brother-in-law spent most of his career working around Pittsburgh, Pa. After he retired, he and his wife gathered together all the brochures and ultimately decided to move to Massachusetts. Their daughter lives outside of Boston and their son is in Rhode Island. They moved from a four-bedroom suburban home to a two-bedroom bungalow in their daughter's town. Their yard is smaller, just right for Grandpa to keep an eye on the grandkids while he relaxes on the patio. They've met new friends through their daughter, and they love their new life, in an area often billed as cold and expensive.
Follow your friends. One fellow I know retired to Maryland. Why? His long-time golfing partner retired there a few years earlier. He moved to the same town, joined the same golf club, and soon they were prowling the links together, just like old times. A year later, another friend joined them, who had a relative living nearby, and they all now play golf twice a week.
Their wives, who had known each other casually, are now close friends. They started a bridge club, brought in some other women, and from there developed meaningful connections to the community. These couples now feel as though, as one of the women put it, "We've lived here all our lives."
Move back home. One friend of mine grew up in El Paso, Texas. She went to college in California, then got married and moved to Washington, D.C. Some 25 years later, her husband died and she felt lost in the big city. She moved back west, to nearby New Mexico, where she started a small business which included some clients in Washington. Now she lives in her beloved mountains and travels to Washington occasionally to see clients.
Another woman grew up outside New York. She got married and moved to Oregon and spent most of her 20s and 30s around Portland. Eventually she got divorced and moved first to California, then Arizona, with a year-long stint in Alaska. But when she retired, she felt the pull of Portland, where she still had friends. To her, that was home. And that's where she moved.
No matter where you end up in retirement, remember that relationships are more important than the weather. The warmest climate can be found amidst the safety and security of family and friends.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement, and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.