June 22, 2012

The Best Place For You To Retire: How Would I Know?

One of the staples of satisfying retirement-based web sites and blogs are all sorts of lists that suggest the best places to retire. I'm sure you have seen them: the Top 10 college towns, the best places in Florida or North Carolina or (name a state), the best beach towns, the best mountain towns....and on and on. Based on various criteria, these lists suggest where you would be happy and content if you'd just relocate to one of their choices.

There is one value in all these lists. An area of the country or a particular criteria that you hadn't considered may cause you to think more deeply about your post-retirement living choice. Gathering as much information as possible before making such a major, life-changing decision is always a good thing.

What I caution against is the awareness that someone's opinion of "the best" anything is just an opinion, or even a sales pitch. Making a move after retirement is one of the most important decisions you will make. I have had all sorts of e-mails from folks wondering about the wisdom of moving closer to kids or grandkids, moving near the beach or mountains, or trying a new city on the opposite side or the country.

My comments to each of them is the same: think long and hard before uprooting yourself from the familiar. Retirement is a substantial life change. Pile a move on top of that and you are setting yourself up for a double dose of serious stress. As we age it becomes more difficult to replace long-term friendships. It is harder to start all over again with doctors, shopping choices, your church and social organiztions. There are major costs involved with a move of any distance.

My best advice is to stay put for the time being. Maybe a move closer to family is best. Perhaps you are sick of winter and want the warmth of Arizona or Florida. Maybe, you want to spend your summers in one climate and winters somewhere else. All of those options are available to you upon retirement. But, please, don't rush into such a change. Give yourself at least a year to adjust to how you handle retirement. Spend a few weeks in a place you are thinking of moving. Live there part time during different seasons of the year. Then, if you are still happy about the decision go ahead and move if you can afford to do so.

What I find almost comical is that every list couldn't be the "best." If I Google the term "best retirement towns " over 2 million web sites pop up. Potentially, that is more than every city, town, and hamlet in the country! Obviously the same key spots show up of most of the lists. But, how could the authors possibilty predict which is "best" for anyone other than themselves?

If you are thinking about a move, besides waiting at least a year after retirement do your homework. Make up your own list of what a new location should have: good restaurants, museums, live theaters for plays and musicals, near a college? Or, maybe none of that means anything to you. Your list includes being near a lake or the mountains, lots of biking and hiking trails, a climate that allows you to grow your own vegetables, plenty of wide open spaces, and no suburbs.

Don't forget to look at the cost of living, taxes, availablity of good medical care, whether you are near enough to an airport if you want to fly to visit family members, good local transportation...even high speed Internet access! We tend to take that for granted, but a lot of rural areas do not lend themselves to computer connectivity. If that is important to you then take the time to check it out.

The bottom line is simple: a published list of the "best retirement towns" should not be your source for picking a new place to live. The "best" retirement location is one that fits your specific, unique needs and helps you enjoy a truly satisfying retirement. And for an increasing number of us, the best retirement place is exactly where we live now. We don't need a list...we have already found our home.

39 comments:

  1. Good advice! Another way to look at it that I read somewhere is this: Don't think of what you will "gain" (i.e. warm weather) by moving, rather think of what you will "lose." (friends, family, etc.)

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    1. I like that gain-lose balance. Most folks are happier with the scale tipping toward the relationship side.

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  2. I agree that it needs to be a thoughtful decision. I don't know about waiting a year though. We are going to spend the next 5 years figuring out exactly where to move once my husband retires and I imagine it will be across the country to be near our children and other family. We will lose friends here but that will be offset by family gains and being back in a part of the country we really like. I know it will be a huge readjustment and take years to settle in and we are going to prepare for that carefully.

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    1. The suggested one year wait was a minimum time frame after full retirement. I know of a few recent retirees who didn't do so and regretted that decision. Spending the time before retirement doing your homework is certainly preferable. You will likely be much happier spending the 5 years on planning and investigating. Good decision!

      Moving to family is usually the best choice....but not always. That's what makes the decision so important.

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  3. Great advice Bob. As you know I just got back from a group bus trip to Washington DC. I was surprised to hear of so many of the folks who said they moved someplace upon retirement (usually FL) but came back to their roots within a couple of years. As Roberta above said you must always think of what you will lose as much as what you will gain.

    Me, I enjoy the winter months in the Midwest as that is a planned time to get caught up with inside work. And yes the snow is pretty as long as you don't have to get out in it ;) The only difference between me and you is that you in Arizona spend your summer months inside looking out at the sweltering heat and I spend my winters looking out at the winter landscape (but not so much of that the last few years -- global warming I guess).

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    1. Yes, the standard answer is our summers are your winters. The only difference is you don't have to shovel sunshine. But, the reality is the heat alters your day every bit as much as the cold. Both can kill and both can be beautiful in their own way. That being said, I could never go back to cold and snow.

      Family is here and this is where we will be. Our upcoming trip to Portland may convince us that is a great place to spend part of the summer. But, it is important that I see my dad on a weekly basis so a move that far away even for a month or two will have to wait.

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  4. There are a growing number of us who made the last move for a job. I have four childhood friends in the same spot as us. We could move back to our childhood home, but none like the huge, hot city it has become.
    Do we move to our 80 year old parents or our 30 year old children? Fortunately, we get along with both. Since we moved for a job, we did not lay down roots in our new space. A move is inevitable.
    The side shows of best places to retire are all about selling real estate, just as home improvement shows take one to the stores. We like to watch both, but know our children are home and we could live in a small place as long as we can play near them.

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    1. Not come back to Phoenix? Don't like 3.5 million people and summers?

      If Portland turns out not to be a logical/affordable place for our summers, Flagstaff is a good alternative.

      HGTV is the devil. It is impossible to watch that channel and not feel an overwhelming urge to rush out to Home Depot or Lowes!

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    2. Done with the heat and smust :>)

      You should decide on a summer place soon. Flagstaff is at an all time low in prices. The rebound in Phoenix is hitting- but Flag is dropping like a rock! I know a realtor if you go that direction.

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    3. As Betty and I talk about a summer place, we keep coming back to problem of picking just one and committing to it with a purchase. We think our personal style might be better served by going to lots of different places by renting, either a condo or home, or an RV.

      A month one summer in Maine sounds heavenly. The next year we could do a month in Flagstaff or Portland. Maybe part of a summer in Tennessee or Kentucky would be fun. The freedom to move around is what appeals to us.

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  5. Hi Bob,
    Last week I met a former neighbour who told me that had left the city (Toronto) five years ago to move to his cottage which is near to our summer place. He told me that moving was his biggest retirement mistake as missed the galleries, museums and access to other leisure activities. He acknowledged that the lake environment was idyllic but during the off-season, he found himself bored. Further, since opting out of an expensive real estate market, he was unable to get back into an urban setting.

    Choices of a retirement location need a lot of thought as sometimes it is impossible to reverse the decision. My opinion is that one should make the best of every day wherever we find ourselves. For now, I'm happy that we chose to stay in our pre-retirement setting and use our time to enjoy activities that we missed during those busy career years.

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    1. Making the best of where one finds oneself can be a very viable choice. A move is expensive and stressful. The grass is not always greener somewhere else. The key is what you have noted: choice of a retirement location needs a lot of though as sometimes it is impossible to reverse the decision!

      BTW, I am trying to add your excellent blog, postworksavvy,com to my blogroll but the feed is not updating. It shows a post from 2 weeks ago. Do you have an RSS feed that I can access through Google Reader? That is one way to insure an up-to-the-minute listing.

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  6. We thought long and hard before leaving our previous location, where between two homes we had lived for over 30 years. It took us away from our only child, but between flying her down here and driving up there, coupled with the Internet/phone/texting, we are in constant touch with her and her husband. The same is true with friends. We made the move before I have actually retired, but cannot imagine wanting a better place to be than where we are now. The key is to make sure you are in the position of wanting to leave, do a goodly amount of due diligence, visit the intended area if possible, and can afford to do so. When it is time to go you will, or your decision-making will cause you to stay where you have been all along. The key is not to regret it either way.

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    1. Excellent summary of the process, Chuck. We have a good friend and his wife who moved to Tennessee and love it. They spend a few months each winter in Scottsdale to be near their daughter and grandkids, but don't want to leave their permanent home. Friends, church, and mountain beauty are holding them in place.

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  7. Bob, you make two excellent points. First, selection of a retirement location isn't a "one size fits all." Each prospective retiree has his or her own criteria. And the combinations are endless. Some seek sun, others fine dining and theater, and still others favor fly fishing. I find it interesting that the published lists of "best places to retire" will often include Bend, Oregon, a town of some 76,000 folk and also the City of New York with some eight million inhabitants.

    Your second point about initially "staying put" upon retirement is also excellent advice. Good to "get one's feet wet" in retirement before introducing yet another significant variable. Time for that a year or more downstream. Bill

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    1. Isn't that what you and Wendy did? At some point after the end of your career you sold your place in SoCal and moved to Oregon, a place you were familiar with and had checked out for quite a while. It has worked out well for you.

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  8. I posted recently about how I want to keep our beach house, which I don't want to live in during the winter, but also want to keep our city house because I love the hustle and bustle of the city and being able to walk everywhere. My fear is having to choose one or the other at some point.

    Being close to our kids is key for us, so we won't be moving far anyway, but I can't bear the thought of having to give one place up. We'll have to hope for the best or a lottery win.
    b

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    1. The Jersey Shore is a nice place to be in the summer. But, you are right, it can be bleak and miserable during the gray, cold days of a New Jersey winter. After living 8 years outside of Camden I know.

      I gather both your home and your beach house aren't that far apart and both near your kids so you may have found the best of all possible worlds, if the finance gods are kind.

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    2. Barbara I recently had to give up our vacation home. The very thought of even driving by it makes me want to cry uncontrollably. It is a hard thing to do. I hope you don't have to give up either one.

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    3. I feel for you Sue. Somehow I think if I had to choose I'd probably keep the beach house and find a way to survive the winter. Life can be cruel but we have to sometimes follow our heart.
      b

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  9. We(my husband and myself) are probably the minority as we both have lived in the same county our entire lives except when he was in National Guard basic training before we married. We farmed and had government jobs away from "the home place". Since we were able to retire early and rent out the farm, I suppose we could have moved. However, that was never anything either of us considered. Our family and friends are all here as well as our church family. However, we did start exploring the option of warmer weather in the winter the first year my husband retired. We visited the Gulf the first year (I was able to retire a year before my husband) and stayed 10 days. We were told by people we met there that we would be back and we have each year. The only exception is that now we try to go for two months. we find this to be a great balance for us. The rates at that time are such that we can go for the two months for what it would cost us for two weeks in the summer. Plus, that way we don't have upkeep,insurance,homeownership cost there, etc. We also like to go on short trips in the summer but find we are mostly content at home because of the pleasant weather, lots of family activities, and a huge garden that we raise and preserve from. So, for us, the idea of being snowbirds has satisfied our need to seasonally relocate and keep our roots where we are. I, too, have older parents that need attention and feel I don't want to put that need on my other siblings for long periods of time. And we have made such nice friends at the Gulf area and we visit them and they visit us when we are home. And while we are down south, we also get a few visitors from here at home. We find this is a win-win for us.

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    1. What a great situation, Linda. You sound perfectly content with both choices. Good for you. We had a time share on the Gulf Coast of Florida for 20 years..it is a beautiful part of the country.

      My brothers live in Kansas City and Atlanta so I am the only one who can really look after dad. He depends on Betty and me for his social life and even things as mundane as getting his shoes repaired or suits dry cleaned. So, we can't be too far away for more than a few weeks.

      In fact, our trip to Maui last October for almost 3 weeks stressed him out. We plan on a month-long trip to parts of Europe for my 65th birthday in 2014. If he is still living on his own that may be problematic.

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  10. In a recovery program I went through many years ago, they had a piece of advice that I think might come into play for retirement as well. "Don't make any major life decisions your first year." Of course, that might not apply to those who have spent the years pre-retirement researching, but for those that wait until the actual R date I think it is still valid. The reasoning was that you are going through a lot of changes the first year of [fill in the blank - sobriety, retirement, whatever] and moving to a new location may not be the best thing for you emotionally.

    I have moved quite a few times in my life and have been in my current house for almost 21 years. I have no desire to pick up and move and start all over again permanently, but I am toying with the idea of having another place to go in the summer. Kind of reverse snowbirds because the heat here in Texas can be brutal.

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    1. I agree with the "wait at least a year "guideline. As has been pointed out in earlier comments, even that might be too tight a timetable for something so important.

      Like you, we are exploring being reverse snowbirds. We are happy in Scottsdale but after 26 summers, are ready to spend at least some of the time in cooler climes.

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  11. We have lived in our location for almost 30 years. We both work in town and raised our kids here, so we have a deep core of friends. We have thrived here and had a wonderful life. HOWEVER...we are tired of the traffic, expense and craziness of the city.
    We have chosen a place in a quieter setting that still has access to shopping, cultural, educational and recreational activities. Since our kids will be making constant career moves, it is really not sensible to try to follow them as they move. So...we are near a good airport. We will visit them,and our new home has lots of things for them to do when they visit.
    We will miss our friends dearly, but since they too are moving (dieing) and changing, we choose not to build our lives around their fates.
    Our new community is very welcoming, with monthly block parties and groups that mirror our interests. We will get involved in volunteer work,church, and make an active effort to build new friendships. I have no doubt we will succeed.
    As long as my wife and I have each other we are happy. We are not huge social butterflies. We are most happy just holding hands. So as much as we will miss our friends, we (lord willing) will be with our best friends...each other.
    Moving to a new place is like starting a new chapter in life. Your world expands, you are energized by new problems, possibilities, adventures, and people.
    Moving to a new town makes us feel like newlywed kids again. We can't wait to see what our new world will be like. Will there be regrets? Of course....just as if we sat forever in our easy chairs, wondering what we missed while slowly petrifying in place.
    Sorry if some of that sounds negative ( about staying put)! We are just looking forward to a new chapter in our lives, approaching it with energy, enthusiasm, and a little delicious uncertainty.
    Dr Keith

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    1. This is a very powerful endorsement of making changes for all the right reasons and understanding all the costs and benefits. As we all agree, where one spends his or her retirement is a decision that is unique to each of us. You and your wife have found what you believe to be the best fit for this stage of your life while accepting what you are giving up.

      I love this comment. Nicely stated and well though out.

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  12. Steve in Los AngelesFri Jun 22, 09:54:00 PM MST

    The best place for me to retire is exactly where I currently live. I will have no mortgage and no loan interest to pay (once I pay off the loan hopefully within the next five years). I will have no real estate commission and other closing costs to pay. I will have no moving expenses. I will be able to tell people in the real estate lending and brokerage business to "take a hike"! I will continue to live in a vibrant large city that finally has a vibrant public transportation system which will be almost fully operational on Saturday, June 30, 2012. There apparently are many people who not like Los Angeles and its surrounding communities. I generally love living in Los Angeles. Of course, I have been living in the Greater Los Angeles area for my entire life, which now exceeds 56 years.

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    1. My youngest daughter lived in L.A. for a year and wasn't a fan. After moving from San Diego she missed the green and water right downtown. But, then she moved home to Phoenix and now she misses L.A. Go figure.

      You are a rare bird: a native Los Angelian!

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    2. Steve in Los AngelesSat Jun 23, 11:04:00 PM MST

      I guess that I am a "rare bird". Although I do live in the City of Los Angeles, I am a "Valley" person and not a "City" person. The "Valley", of course, refers to the San Fernando Valley, most of which is within the City of Los Angeles. There are a few smaller individual cities (Burbank, Calabasas, Glendale, Hidden Hills, and San Fernando) that are, at least in part, in the San Fernando Valley. The parts of the City of Los Angeles and adjoining smaller cities south of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills and within Los Angeles County are referred to as the "City".

      I remember during the summer of 1989, I was living and working in Ridgecrest, which is a northern Mojave Desert city about 153 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Every Friday night, I got in my car to drive to my parents' house to spend the weekend with them. Every Sunday night, I drove back to Ridgecrest. During that time in Ridgecrest, I was homesick. By Labor Day in September 1989, I decided it was time to move back home and to find another job. The job I had in Ridgecrest was completely different than the job as the interviewer described to me. Furthermore, I missed L.A. and I missed seeing my parents and friends on a regular basis. I started another job in January 1990.

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  13. I can't imagine living any place other than So. Cal. I have lived her since I was one year old and have only thought of leaving twice. In high school I wanted to move to either New York or Missouri(born in St. Louis) and then when my husband and I sold everything and headed out in our truck and camper in 1977 to go to Agape Force, which was a christian school in Texas, I begged him not to bring us back to CA. when our school days were up. But here we came and here we are. Now I would never leave unless both of my son's moved to another state. Then I would want to go live where they were living. Blessedly they both live within 20 miles of us.

    I think if anyone is thinking of moving after retiring they should consider when they do now that they love, what they want to do more, and local cost of living. If they can still do the things they love, and will get to do the things they want to do more and if the cost of living fits their budget then moving would probably be ok.

    My friend moved to Washington state. She loves to walk and there she can walk in some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and by water. That, great public transportation, and a great job and church she found has made it a great move for her. So she is not retired but she is doing good.

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    1. Cost of living is important, but it isn't the most important factor. You can always make allowances for how expensive a place is, like parts of Southern California, Scottsdale, NYC, or Long Island. But, feeling like you are home, having some form of roots, and enjoying your life would always top my list.

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    2. Steve in Los AngelesSun Jun 24, 08:44:00 AM MST

      I agree, Bob. When I purchased my place (for $172,000) over 3 1/2 years ago, I took into consideration what I could afford. However, I knew that I needed to remain within the Los Angeles area, because I know that L.A. is home and L.A. is where I have my roots. Enjoying my life also is very important to me. I certainly have many means to enjoy my life within the L.A. area, especially with the huge availability of what is now excellent public transportation.

      If people are not careful with their decisions to move to an unfamiliar locality and especially if they purchase a residence in that unfamiliar locality, they may seriously regret those decisions. My advice to people to who plan to move to a new or to an unfamiliar area is to rent in that area for while to make sure that they will be happy in that area. If they purchase a residence in a new or unfamiliar area, they may be stuck in that residence for a LONG TIME whether or not they are happy in that area.

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    3. Renting while getting comfortable with a new area is excellent advice. Also, visit for extended periods during different times of the year. Can you stand the heat of Arizona in August or the drizzle and constant overcast skies of February in Seattle? All places in the country (except Hawaii) have enough variety in weather to make checking out each season important.

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    4. Steve in Los AngelesSun Jun 24, 04:10:00 PM MST

      The climate also is very important. That is one reason why I would have a difficult living in Las Vegas or in Arizona from late July through the middle of September. Where I live in the San Fernando Valley definitely gets quite warm during the middle of summer, but I am very familiar with the area where I live. If it gets too warm outside where I live, I either stay indoors or I take public transportation over the Santa Monica Mountains to either Venice or Santa Monica beach, where it is relatively cool (about 72 degrees to 75 degrees). Of course, with the breezes from the Pacific Ocean, the beach communities rarely get hot.

      I almost could write a book on the following subject: One of the reasons why the areas of Los Angeles and adjacent cities within 20 miles of the Pacific Ocean and south of the Santa Monica Mountains are so expensive for housing and one of the reasons so many people like living in these communities is that some people do not like the summer heat in the inland areas, such as the San Fernando Valley. However, there is "no free lunch". Living in those areas south of the Santa Monica Mountains costs a LOT of money whether a person or family owns their home or rents their home (with rents almost always well above $1000 per month and that is just for a very basic apartment as most rents exceed $1500 per month). I set my priorities. I would rather have a relatively inexpensive residence and have a comfortable and a "Satisfying Retirement". My parents, who grew up during the "The Great Depression", gave me an excellent upbringing, which included teaching me about the importance of money. I learned my lessons from my parents extremely well. For a five-dollar all-day transit pass, I can take a transit (bus or train) ride into those expensive areas whenever I have some free time. Too many people in the United States, which, of course, include many people living in those expensive parts of the Greater Los Angeles area, blame the government, their employers or their former employers, or the financial markets for the poor shape of their personal finances. The government, the employers or former employers, and the financial markets, in my opinion, really are not to blame. These people, who have poor and even reckless spending habits, have only themselves to blame. These people are adults, but they act like spoiled children and clearly do not understand or appreciate the value of a buck. Don't any of these people have any common sense?????

      When I was searching for my current residence during the late summer and very early autumn of 2008, my real estate agent suggested that I purchase a more expensive residence. I told him "no". I am very happy with my current residence and will be staying in my place indefinitely. I have no problem with living within my means. In fact, I have no problem with living BENEATH my means.

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  14. Steve in Los AngelesSun Jun 24, 03:04:00 PM MST

    Bob, using great care in making the decision as to whether or not to move to another locality, especially if that locality is in another state, is extremely important. I remember back in either 1994 or 1995 that my parents were considering moving to the Sun City retirement community (age 55+) within the Summerlin area of Las Vegas. For one week, they went by themselves and stayed at one of the residences in Sun City. Fortunately, they did not purchase anything. On a later trip in 1995, my parents and I stayed at a nice hotel in the downtown area of Las Vegas. My parents took me to see the place where they stayed in Sun City during their previous trip. I thought that the place was nice, but I did NOT think that moving to Las Vegas was a good idea. My Mom's health was poor and my parents' health provider, Kaiser Permanente, was not available in Nevada. My parents never moved to Las Vegas. However, they did go to Las Vegas to visit once in a while. After my Mom passed away in January 2000, my Dad's caregiver accompanied my Dad to Las Vegas periodically. My Dad visited Las Vegas a few more times, but he had to stop going to Las Vegas when his health started to decline. My Dad passed away in October 2002. After my parents moved to California in 1948, my parents never moved out of the state.

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  15. Yes, I have to laugh at those Best Places to Live lists to - they've moved to the point of silliness at this point given the broad array of cities you can find highlighted. I guess the bottom line is that home is where the heart can be found.

    We've toyed with the idea of moving from S. to N. California simply to enjoy exploring a whole new region of a state we enjoy for the second chapter of our lives. What stops us is not wanting to go through the process of developing a whole new circle of friends all over again. A large part of why our life is currently so rich and satisfying is because of the people we are able to spend time and enjoying doing things with.

    What we've landed on instead at this point is to spend several months of each year exploring new areas either in our RV or via long term vacation rentals. Our thinking currently is that that will satisfy our wanderlust for the next decade or so, maybe even presenting a possibly new place to live to consider living in should we be so inclined. The key is we would have to be convinced we were moving toward something, as opposed to away from something. The later rarely works out as we think.

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    1. That's the direction we seem to be moving...spending time in other places but without a permanent change or second home. We want to stay centered in Phoenix but live for a month or two a year in different environments. Maybe the RV experiment this fall will give us a clearer picture of what is best for us.

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  16. I agree that there are many factors to consider regarding where to retire and most of them won't be found in a 10 Best places article. It is such a personal decision and can be complicated by finances, family, friends, personal needs, etc.

    Ultimately, I think you have to understand yourselves as a couple and make decisions that are practical, affordable and satisfying on as many levels as possible. It takes time to know all that and to adjust to retirement life so I think your suggestion to wait at least one year before making a move is advisable. After nearly seven years we are still making new discoveries.

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    1. We celebrate 36 years together on Tuesday and have been retired for 11 years and are still thinking through options together!

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