Retire In Place or Relocate?
Some Important Things to Consider Before You Start Packing
By Roger M. Williams
NEA-Retired members are a robust group. From what you tell us, you are embarking on world travels, writing books, refurbishing old houses, taking up sports and hobbies, keeping up with technology, and working for causes you believe in. Some of you are taking a more low-key, but no less busy, approach to retirement, scrapbooking, gardening, or spending time with grandchildren. Only a few of you seem to be spending time in the proverbial rocking chair—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
So there are multiple and various ways to spend your retirement, but everyone has to decide where to retire. Below are some factors to consider when making that important decision. This Active Life interviewed several NEA-Retired members on the topic—their stories follow.
One big decision to consider when retiring is whether to stay in your home or relocate. Presumably you like where you are now (you chose it way back when) and you have friends there, maybe family, too. If you’re lucky, you own your home outright.
In the later years, familiarity has strong appeal, and for many of today’s newly minted retirees, economic conditions also argue for staying put. In fact, U.S. News reported this year that only 3 percent of people 65 and older relocated between 2010 and 2011—"the lowest level of migration since the end of World War II." The primary reasons: sagging investments and the collapse in housing prices, both major determinants of where you choose to retire.
But American wanderlust is strong, and many retirees are considering moves to locations once thought to be exotic, which may now be affordable. Money isn’t the only thing spurring overseas retirement. As lifelong learners, NEA-Retired members have a higher level of sophistication (from reading and vacation travel, for example) and less fear of the cultural unknown. Even in the supposedly "declining years," NEA-Retired members are a braver, more adventuresome bunch than their predecessors.
When picking a new location for retirement, the range of choices is vast, and what seemed fanciful a few decades ago can now seem only slightly unusual. How about one of those American retiree "colonies" in Mexico? The weather’s great, and there will always be enough English-speakers for a bridge game or a lively discussion of U.S. politics.
Making a wise choice, domestic or foreign, requires honest self-examination. For example, a city with abundant high-cultural attractions may sound very appealing, but would you really take in those concerts and plays, and visit museums? Probably not if you haven’t already been doing so.
Factors to consider when deciding where to retire
In no particular order, because you will weigh these differently than others, the main factors to consider when deciding where to retire include the following:
Cost of living. The most obvious factor. It can range from a lot more than you’re paying now (the South of France, or other dreamy locations) to a lot less (with several cities in Mexico as the outstanding examples). Although housing prices constitute the main cost differential, other points on the price index can be important. Fans of Mexican locales such as Guadalajara and smaller cities like San Miguel de Allende rave about inexpensive meals and maids, permitting a lifestyle unaffordable back home.
Presence of family or friends—or access to new friends. Your interest in the most fascinating location will eventually pall if you can’t weave yourself into the social fabric. Outgoing types would be wise to choose either a sizable place with plenty of prospects or—in the case of a foreign country—with a large, well-established American and/or British-Canadian community. In any foreign country, you should get to know at least some of its citizens, not just to enrich the living experience but also because they can provide tips about daily living and important assistance should difficulties arise.
A very different option: relocating near your children and grandchildren. Ihose pluses need no explanation, especially if money is tight and a garage apartment or in-law suite awaits.
Affordable housing. If you’re sitting on a house that has been paid off and hasn’t hemorrhaged in value, you can sell and pretty much call the shots, within reason, on where to retire. Warm-weather countries throughout the Caribbean and Central America are options for you. In the U.S., there are so many low-cost, warm, or relatively warm cities in Florida and throughout the Sun Belt.
Pleasant weather. This is of course a subjective measurement: Some retirees thrive in heat or cold many of us wouldn’t even consider. Most people who are seeking a leisurely life, however, instinctively head for a place that has summers that do not scorch the skin and moderate, if not mild, winters. Nevertheless, if Maine or Arizona does appeal to you, do your research and know what you’re getting into.
Good healthcare. If not in your community, at least not hours away. Some people rate this factor so highly that they settle near such esteemed medical institutions as the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, or the multitude of hospitals in Boston. Conversely, many retirees rule out foreign locations simply because they don’t trust either the availability or quality of the medical care. (And don’t forget language barriers with medical personnel.) That is hardly a concern almost anywhere in the U.S. However, it is something to think about if you plan to settle in a remote area that is a long drive to a hospital and a correspondingly long drive for an ambulance to reach you.
Convenient transportation. Retirees often get to a point where they can’t or don’t want to drive. If you’re not living in a metropolitan area and you can’t afford frequent taxis, you can find yourself in a pickle. Wide-ranging public transportation is perhaps the best argument for retiring in a sizable city. And numerous smaller cities—including Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Corvallis, Oregon—have transit systems providing inexpensive or completely free rides to riders age 65 and over.
Job possibilities. Are there job prospects where you plan to retire? Some NEA-Retired members want to keep working, just for the love
of the profession. Others may need the extra income, or just want some "mad money" for extras. In most localities, retired teachers will have a leg up, because they make the most desirable substitutes at virtually any grade level. But if you’re in a remote or rural location, will there be opportunities, and a way to get to them? And what about the availability of non-teaching jobs?
Age-appropriate recreational activities. Today’s typical retiree wants physical activity that is at least moderate. Does the town or city you’re considering have plenty of public tennis courts? One or more public golf courses (with discounts for seniors or players teeing off at non-peak hours)? Hiking trails? A good track or two for joggers and serious walkers—and enough of each to form a club offering companionship to newcomers to town? What about a gym or other workout facility with ample state-of-the-art equipment? Chances are you won’t find all of those, so decide which ones are most important to you.
Volunteer opportunities. A substantial commitment to volunteer work is one of the real pleasures of retirement—helping people and organizations you’ve always admired without concern for a dollar return. Given the financial pressure under which most organizations operate these days, retired volunteers have an extraordinarily wide range of jobs to choose from.
A Practical Tip
Unless the chosen location is a place you know well, give it a test drive before settling there. Although a several-month stay would be ideal, a long vacation ought to suffice.
Callie Waldrop, a retired community college teacher from Gadsden, Alabama, didn’t have much say in where she retired. While she was on vacation in Russia, she came back to find out her husband had sold their house!
They hadn’t even placed their house on the market yet when a realtor asked her husband if he’d be interested in selling. Before Waldrop returned from vacation, their house was nearly sold and her husband had lined up a new property in Helena, Alabama.
“We didn’t have to do a thing,” says Waldrop, “except move out!”
Waldrop was happy to move closer to her daughters in Birmingham, and although she didn’t choose Helena, she’s happy with the move.
After they arrived, Waldrop and her husband joined a group called Friendship Force, quickly meeting other community members, and the connections she made there helped her settle into her new home. She’s lived there for 15 years, and Waldrop and her husband, world travelers, have traveled with friends from the group, including trips to Rio, Ireland, China, and Holland.
Waldrop says Friendship Force was a huge help when she moved, and she recommends that anyone planning to retire in a new area think seriously about how many people they’ll know there, and to research the area thoroughly before making any decisions.
“If you sell your home and go somewhere, you cut a lot of ties,” says Waldrop. “I admit I wasn’t certain [about moving], but I was very okay with it.”
Carol Krejci, a retired social studies teacher from Omaha, Nebraska, says she couldn’t imagine retiring anywhere but Omaha.
By staying home, she’s able to take care of her elderly mother, and stay involved with one of her favorite passions: local politics. She’s also a chapter president with a teaching sorority, Kappa Kappa Iota, and she says she couldn’t be happier with retired life.
“If I want to stay up late and read my book— it’s okay,” says Krejci, “because I’ll just sleep in the next day!”
Choosing to stay in her hometown meant Krejci could catch up on favorite pastimes instead of hassling with a big move. She’s enjoyed working on local political campaigns for pro-education candidates and “sometimes getting eight hours of sleep!”
In addition to catching up on her rest, Krejci is catching up with old friends. She’s only been retired for about a year and a half, she says, but she’s planning to travel with all her newfound free time. Her college roommate has lived in Australia for the past 30 years, and Krejci is now planning a trip to visit.
She says she might consider teaching a college class part time, “strictly for personal satisfaction,” but otherwise she’s happy with life in her hometown.
Larry Koenck, a retired high school teacher from Eagan, Minnesota, commuted 60 miles from his home to his school because he wanted to live near family. When he finally retired, he decided that there was no other place that he would rather live.
“I had moved there to be close to my family,” Koenck says. “So, where I lived when I retired is where I stayed.”
Now instead of a long and early commute to work, Koenck has free time to spend with his two sons and grandchildren who live nearby. He especially likes attending his grandchildren’s hockey and soccer games. “They’re twin boys and I’ve been able to go see a lot of their games around the Twin Cities,” Koenck says.
Koenck also stays active with volunteer work. He is a member of the community outreach committee of Educators Minnesota, which undertakes three yearly projects to support charities across the state. Already the organization has sponsored a book drive, which supported 16 women’s shelters across Minnesota, a food drive to benefit local food banks, and a school-supply drive for the area’s needy students.
Koenck worked for the campaign of a school-friendly congressional candidate, and also enjoys working as a substitute teacher at local schools.
Angela Lutze, a retired elementary school teacher from York, Pennsylvania, didn’t see any reason to leave the city where she taught for 35 years.
“I stayed in the community to be near family and friends,” says Lutze. “Where I am [rural south-central Pennsylvania] is close to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other big cities, and now that I’m retired I have more freedom to go to some of the great cultural programs in the area.”
“If you want to take a break and go visit a big city you can, but then you can come back and just relax from all the hustle and bustle,” says Lutze.
Lutze continues to be active in the school district that she dedicated so much of her life to serving.
“I volunteer at school and do some subbing on my time schedule to stay active in the field of education,” says Lutze. And subbing opportunities in the school district have allowed her to remain close with former students.
“I still see some of the students that I taught before I retired. Subbing has let me maintain a relationship with them even though they’re growing up,” she says.
With all the friendships that she formed over her years teaching, Lutze can’t envision living anywhere else.
“I enjoy where I am. It’s not easy to pick up roots and just move away from where you’ve been and where your family is,” says Lutze.