Looking for a Budget Retirement that Doesn’t Sacrifice Quality of Life? Try a College Town.

Most people, when saving and planning for retirement, take a range of financial and lifestyle considerations into account. Most, however – unless they’re retiring wealthy in France or are dead-set on a condo in Miami – don’t put much thought into their retirement location. They figure, understandably, that “destination retirements” are only for those who have the means.

But if you hail from a metro area, there is a place to retire where your budget can usually go further, and can do so without sacrificing cultural or lifestyle amenities: college towns.

Although the trend is two decades in the making, it’s a move that most mid and lower-budget retirees fail to consider. To be sure, not all college towns are appropriate for retirees. Some colleges may seem too much like veritable replicas of Animal House, contributing beer cans and not much else to the surrounding town. Others appear more like an Academy from ancient Greece; cloistered, full of commuters, and largely cut off from the town.

But some college towns strike an appropriate balance. They are small, friendlier places where housing is cheaper but restaurants and other amenities exist. Their student body adds vibrancy to the town without overrunning it. And retirees would be amiss to not consider healthcare facilities, which are often quality institutions affiliated with the local university.

Many popular college towns also have the added incentive of being in the South and boasting warmer weather. For this reason, Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Athens, Georgia are popular towns among the empty nest crowd.

For the most part, though, people move to a given town for a reason unique to their destination. Want an outdoorsy atmosphere? Move to Flagstaff, Arizona or Fort Collins, Colorado. Seeking a more liberal retirement locale? Try Eugene, Oregon.

How can you tell if the move is right for you? If you and your spouse are approaching retirement age and are looking to spend your latter years somewhere new, you’ve made the first cut. Now consider whether you’d like being around twenty-year-olds and whether small town life appeals to you in the first place. If you’ve made it this far, start thinking about towns. In what region would you like to be? What activities and amenities matter most to you? How important is your proximity to other relatives?

And, of course, we always want to take our budget into account. Ask yourself: what are home values in the prospective town? Will I save money on taxes? How about gas and food? While there’s no doubt that some college towns will probably run a higher total bill, those retirees with some flexibility should be able to find something within their budget – even, yes, if you don’t have that French chateau.

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