America's Best Affordable Places to Retire

Soon-to-be retirees are resetting their expectations for their golden years.


Slide Show: America's Best Places to Retire

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For many baby boomers suffering the shock waves of 2008's market losses, it's so long, South Beach. Instead of retiring to Maui, soon-to-be retirees are scaling back expectations. But even though popular and pricey retirement locales may be out of reach, there are still plenty of excellent places that will tickle your fancy without busting your budget.

[Slide Show: America's Best Affordable Places to Retire.]

Consider Columbia, S.C., a colorful capital city with a riverfront esplanade where the median home price is just more than $147,000 (another plus: property taxes that average just over a grand annually). Or the bustling city of Aurora, Colo., where the median home costs $40,000 less than in neighboring Denver.

A city's affordability extends beyond housing, however. A night out on the town can cost a bundle in big cities like New York and Miami, but you'll find loads of free or low-cost entertainment in less ritzy locales. Kansas City, Mo., which is undergoing a major downtown revitalization project, offers free concerts and theater in area parks. And in Columbus, Ohio, seniors can get reduced admission to everything from baseball games to symphonies.

You may not be able to swing retirement in a California beach town, but living near the ocean is still a possibility. For example, you might consider passing over pricey Fort Lauderdale for the more down-to-earth and reasonably priced Jacksonville, Fla.

Cheap transportation also plays into a city's affordability. Bus rides are free for seniors in Eugene, Ore., and Ann Arbor. The Michigan town also offers discounted taxi rides. Plus, not every retiree will be able to kiss the workforce goodbye completely, so it helps to find a city with a strong job market. Many affordable retirement spots, including Kansas City, Fort Worth, and Eugene, are employing more people than they were a year ago.

[Video: America's Best Affordable Places to Retire.]

To find affordable retirement spots, U.S. News revved up our best-places-to-retire online search tool and worked with Onboard Informatics, which also provided the underlying data. We sought out places with a low cost of living and reasonable housing prices that still offered access to the services and amenities that people should look for in an ideal retirement spot. Each city on the list has high-quality healthcare and elder-care facilities, as well as an abundance of educational and cultural events.

Not all of the places on our list will feel downright cheap to those hoarding hard-earned dough for future expenses, but they all offer a good value for your retirement dollars:

Ann Arbor, Michigan

If your idea of retirement is sitting in a rocking chair and watching the time go by, don't come to Ann Arbor. This lively college town has so many concerts, art fairs, lectures, sporting events, courses, museums, and other attractions—many of them free—that it practically knocks on your door and begs you to come out. Seniors even get free bus service and discounted taxi rides. "There's an interest group here for just about anything you can imagine," says Ron Powell, a retired professor who moved to Ann Arbor with his wife, Jeanne, earlier this year.

Much of that activity revolves around the University of Michigan, whose 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students account for about a third of Ann Arbor's population. And needless to say, the retiree population includes plenty of voluble Wolverine fans. Bill and Janet Cassebaum met in Ann Arbor in the 1950s, when he was a law student at Michigan and she was an undergrad. They married in town, then moved to eastern Pennsylvania, where Bill practiced law for 40 years. They finally returned to Ann Arbor after retiring in 1998—and still haven't had their fill of college sports. The couple regularly takes in baseball, basketball, and of course football at Michigan Stadium, which seats more than 100,000 and is known as the Carnegie Hall of sports. The games (and tailgate parties) help draw their two teenage grandsons for a visit. Their 5-year-old granddaughter prefers the local parks and the Hands-On science museum.