How Do You Choose a Location to Retire Early?

We have been trying to figure out where to retire.  This seems like a simple question at first and for some it may be an easy answer.  The FoFs have always lived where our jobs have taken us, so the freedom to retire and live (almost) anywhere was more challenging than we expected.  When you have the choice of living anywhere, how do you choose?

What is Important to Us?

We started to discuss the things that are important to us with respect to our retirement location.   Mrs. FoF and I are pretty well aligned in our objectives but we don’t always agree on every detail.   Our first discussions were some basic things that are important to consider.   These were some of the top items we wanted to consider, as we continue to search for locations this list varies.

Location to Family: We don’t have strong roots in any one place having moved around most of our adult lives.  We do not need to be close to immediate family but do want to have an easy drive to visit for Holidays and events.   Given most our family is Mid West and East Coast, we will probably focus in these area but still would consider other places like Colorado (where we do have some extended family) if it hit the rest of our criteria.  

Cost of Living: This is a big consideration.  The biggest items are Housing Costs, Taxes, and Healthcare costs.  

Climate:  A must-have is a warmer climate with shorter winters.  Does not need to be snow free.  We also don’t want it to be too warm in the summer so not too far south.  

Outdoor Activities: Access to green space like parks to be able to walk.  A plus would be some water access for kayaking.  We also want to have access to a swimming pool especially if we relocate to a warmer client.

Community: Since we will not be working, we want a location with a sense of community.  Smaller towns with a real downtown or village area were you can walk, not sprawling suburban area were everything is in a strip mall.  Also a consideration is a vibrant community with activities like farmers markets and summer concerts.  A growing community attractive to younger people would also be a plus.

Amenities:  Having the basics are important, close to a supermarket and Target.  A plus would be communities with small coffee shops, farm to table style restaurants, and micro brew locations.  Ideally we’d like some of these amenities to be walking distance, or at least easy uber access. 

Arts and Entertainment:  Access within reasonable drive to concerts, museums, plays.  Access to a Maker Space would be a plus.

Size:  Smaller town but close to larger city with more amenities if needed.

What are some things you would consider?  Add a comment below with your ideas and recommendations!

Potential Locations to Retire

Now that have our list of requirements, we needed to develop our list of places for consideration – and than narrow this down.  Based on previous vacations and family visits, we listed out places we had some notion of being a place we could call home.  In addition, we started looking at some of the “best places” lists to also get some additional ideas.  A few of those links are in our reference material.

Here is our not-so short list of potential locations we developed.  In general we’ve identified first the major city, within which, we have a number of options we would consider.  Climate was a must-have for our first pass – no sense picking a place with long winters even if it looked great otherwise.  This eliminated a lot of places that are considered low-cost, including the Dakotas, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont.

We spent many winters in Rochester, NY and are pretty much done with snow.  Having spent time in Florida, we did not want to go that far south either but did not totally exclude places based on this.  We also tended to stay away from coastal areas to avoid more expensive locations (and Hurricanes).

Initial Retirement Location Ideas

State / RegionLocationInitial Reason
ColoradoFort Collins AreaWe visited and really like Fort Collins.
ColoradoDenver AreaFamily nearby, We like Colorado, not necessarily low COL.
KentuckyLexingtonTop List (AARP), Low COL, reasonable healthcare
KentuckyLouisvilleTop List (AARP), Low COL, reasonable healthcare plus Bourbon!
North CarolinaRaleigh DurhamTop location lists, Possible engineering work if needed
North CarolinaCharlotte Area, Cornelius, Davidson, HuntersvilleClose to family, reasonable cost of living (COL)
OhioColumbus AreaOur current local. Family nearby, reasonable COL, decent ammenities
TennesseeNashvilleTop list, Low COL, No state income tax on income
TennesseeKnoxvilleTop Early Retire Location for Low COL, No state income tax on income
TexasSpring Texas AreaFriends nearby, Reasonable COL, No State income tax
TexasAustinTop lists, sounds like a cool place to live, No State income tax
Virginia ChesapeakeTop List, lower COL

The Long Shots

In addition to the places listed above we have also discussed some more exotic locations like Roatan, Honduras; Belize, and Panama City, Panama.  For now these are in the mix but due to pets and other reasons may not be practical for our situation.

Rating the Potential Places

We created an initial spreadsheet to collect some quantitative data for each location based on online research.  This allows us to rate each area based on the criteria that are important to us.  Once we develop this spreadsheet further we will provide a download on our Tools page.

Initial Quantitative Analysis Spreadsheet

How do you find the right location even when you narrowed down a city or region?  We use Google Maps to narrow down in areas with the right features.  One thing we noticed for us is density of coffee shops, micro breweries, and green space seems to be a good starting point.  We are also fans of Redfin, which includes the “Walk Score” for housing locations.

The numbers only get us so far and we want to make sure we visit and get some feel for the areas to help better narrow down our choices.   We plan to visit each area and get a more qualitative feel.  Could we see ourselves living here? 

Before making a final choice we may choose to spend longer time in a few of the areas, especially for locations that we’ve never visited.  For areas that make our final cut, we are planning to do some short-term rentals before making the final decision.  

What places are you considering for your retirement?  


U.S. News & World Report Top 10 Large Cities (2018)

Forbes: The 10 Best Cities If You Want To Retire Early (2017)

AARP: Want to Retire Early?(2017)

WalletHub: Best & Worst States for Health Care (2018)

MagnifyMoney: Best Places to Retire Early in 2017


BestPlaces: Cost of Living Calculator

City Data Website

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4 Replies to “How Do You Choose a Location to Retire Early?”

  1. This is a great assessment and analysis! You’ve really put a lot of work into it…

    We’ve done a lot of real estate investing, and of the 4 locations we invest in, 3 of them were chosen because we thought we might want to retire there or spend time in retirement there. The locations are Asheville NC (great little town and great outdoor living), Jacksonville FL (no state income tax, big city, near beach, while hot it has seasons and is cool in winter), Costa Rica (cheap, beautiful, beaches!). Next year when we are empty nesters, we will split time between properties we now own in Costa Rica and Jacksonville and in the summer ideally travel to cooler places.

    I agree that once you narrow down to your top choices, you should spend some quality time in each place. With AirBNB now, it is easy to live in a house in a neighborhood and really get a feel for a place. You can spend a month in a city, a week in different AirBNB’s trying out each neighborhoods to really get a sense of whether you like or not.

    1. Great recommendations. Asheville is also a consideration for our list too, but looks like property values may be getting a bit high. Love the AirBNB idea to spend more time to get a feel for the area. We were just discussing this last night. Need to look closer at Costa Rica for our long shot list.

  2. Great analysis! We will have to do something like it on our blog. We are currently in the Houston area, and we are eager to leave the 12 month summer. (Austin IS awesome, by the way…but it is has grown so much!). The summer months here feel like the surface of the sun (including Spring, TX).

    We initially thought we wanted to go where the kids could enjoy more of the seasons / outdoors – like CO or OR… but now we are throwing international into the mix – looking at Spain!

    -Tara / Four Take Flight

    1. Thanks for the feedback! Have to keep the “surface of the sun” in mind in our analysis. Lol. Let us know when you put something together, love to see how others make the trade-offs between locations. There are so many options really need to understand what is important for you.

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