America's Best Affordable Places to Retire

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

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Slide Show: America's Best Places to Retire

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Columbus also presents many opportunities to establish a more intimate connection to the community. Seniors can donate their time to local hospitals or social service organizations or even become ushers at Ohio State football games, says Carol Ventresca, executive director of Columbus-based Employment for Seniors. "You will never have a problem becoming a volunteer in Columbus." While the recession has made it more challenging for seniors to land full- or part-time jobs, Ventresca is planning workshops designed to help them turn hobbies or interests into small businesses of their own. And with median home prices at just $106,000—and expected to increase over the next decade—Columbus is an attractive place to launch a new commercial venture or a pleasant retirement.

Eugene, Oregon

Saturday market in Eugene overwhelms the senses. Surrounded by artists selling kaleidoscopic wares, free-spirited folks dance to a cover band's Grateful Dead tunes. Others stroll through the adjacent farmers market or lounge in the grass, enjoying a summer breeze laced with incense. It's enough to make you want to kick off your Birkenstocks.

But if bongos and tie-dye aren't your thing, don't count Eugene out just yet. Tucked in the southern Willamette Valley between the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains, the city has much to offer in the way of natural beauty, the arts, and recreational opportunities—all of which retirees can take advantage of on a budget.

Home to the University of Oregon and nicknamed "Track Town USA" for its rich running heritage, Eugene is rife with outdoor activities for the older set. Hiking clubs, for example, offer camaraderie and opportunities to explore the area's countless waterfalls and old-growth forests. The Obsidians outdoor club carpools to trail heads, often in the mountains. "It's highly organized," says Jim Duncan, the group's president, a retired professor who moved from Chicago to Eugene in 2001. "We pack lunches, and each year we have a summer camp and set up a kitchen in the woods."

Summer is beautiful in Eugene, and it's also a time when you can find free entertainment most nights of the week: marching bands, outdoor movies, live theater performances, and concerts of all sorts. One of the season's most anticipated events is the three-week Oregon Bach Festival, which showcases world-class musicians and singers from around the world. This year, more than a dozen of the festival's events were free.

At $242,000, Eugene's median home price is steeper than the nation's overall, but $170,000 will buy you a charming, two-story home near both the Willamette River and the RiverRidge Golf Course. Getting around is a cinch and easy on the wallet. Bus rides cost nothing for those 65 and older ($1.50 otherwise), or you can bike just about everywhere on the city's expansive trail system. There's also plenty of affordable eateries, such as the quirky Off the Waffle, where "authentic Liège waffles" go for $3. Toppings cost extra, but, yes—in case you're wondering—the restaurant is willing to barter.

Fort Worth, Texas

Fort Worth enjoys a reputation as an upscale cow town. The midsize city melds the low-key feel of the small towns that dot the dusty expanses just to its west with the suburban sprawl and studied glitz of neighboring Dallas to the east. The resulting mix is part rodeo, part Rothko, and locals say it's just the spot for a great retirement. "You can be as cosmopolitan or as laid-back and country as you want to be," says Margaret Puckett, a retired education professor and longtime Fort Worth resident.

The city, founded as a stop on Chisholm Trail cattle drives, retains many of the trappings of its history as a rough-and-tumble frontier town. The Fort Worth Stockyards are home to stock shows and a destination for country-western dance fans who take advantage of weekly lessons at Billy Bob's Texas, billed as the world's largest honky-tonk.

Avid collectors enjoy scouring for the best deals at the Montgomery Street Antique Mall, the largest in Fort Worth, where 240 stalls hawk everything under the sun and visitors stumble on the Secret Garden Tea Room tucked away inside. "You run into items that spark a memory of something you or your ancestors had," Puckett says.