October 18, 2016

City, Small Town, or Rural Setting: Your Retirement Choice?

A previous guest post, Downsizing To a Forever Home, generated some interesting comments about where to retire: an urban setting, long time home in the suburbs, smaller town, or in a more rural setting. Author, Barbara Hammond and husband, Dave, moved from Philadelphia to the seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey. She says the couple have found the perfect place to put down roots. It has a busy, resort feel in the summer and a quiet, locals only vibe during colder weather.

That post prompted a suggestion to ask some follow up questions about the benefits and pitfalls of each retirement choice.

Betty and I gave serious thought last year to a move to downtown Phoenix. After 30 years in our suburban Scottsdale home we liked the idea of a more vibrant environment, public transportation, and being close to restaurants, theaters, museums, and sporting venues. The smaller housing options were what we thought we wanted, too. 

Well, that wasn't our final choice. Being close to family became the deciding factor. A condo wasn't really our style and single family homes were too pricey. The lack of a yard for Bailey was a problem. We thought the concrete and traffic noise would wear us down. 

We settled on a suburban home. It was slightly bigger than the previous one, within minutes of our grandkids, and with a big backyard for family gatherings, BBQ meals, and plenty of space for Bailey to run and play. Like all American suburbs it has too many strip malls and traffic. But, there are several excellent parks nearby, a full range of restaurant choices, local theaters and a good community college just a few minutes away. 

Betty says she would love to live in a small town. She likes the idea of being able to walk more than drive, knowing the local merchants by name, and forming a real sense of community. Unfortunately, no such place exists close enough to our family without the reality of cold winters, a fatal flaw for us.

Madeline, a regular reader, thought she and her husband would enjoy living in a rural community in the White Mountains of Arizona. They moved to a smaller home in the forest that seemed like a dream location. Then, the reality of being at least 2 hours from trusted doctors and full service hospitals, very few restaurants or entertainment options, and a town that "closed" during the winter struck the couple. They decided their home back in a Phoenix suburb was a much better choice. 

So, what do you think? Which choice is one you have made, or would make if given the opportunity? Does living in a city excite you, or are you happy with the relative quiet of a suburb? Do you call a smaller town home? What are the major attractions of such a choice? How about a rural environment? Is the isolation perfect for you, or do you agree with some of Madeline's issues with that type of life?

Each retirement is a unique journey; the selection of where to live is just as individual a choice. I look forward to your comments!


Too small?

Too large?



37 comments:

  1. My husband and I retired from a fairly large city/suburban area to a smaller city and more rural with a complete climate change..warm to colder. He passed away three years ago and I stayed for awhile, but have I now moved back to an even smaller city (but near bigger ones) and still suburban and back again to warm, as I got tired of the cold and found the winters depressing. I like the quiet of being out of the city itself, but near enough for the opportunities there. I think retirement choices are very individual but ultimately being around some support system, be it family or friends is the best choice.

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    1. I am sorry for your loss, Mary.

      Like you, I could not tolerate cold again. The cliche about one's blood getting thinner in warm climates is quite true.

      Your are so right: the support of family and friends is most important.

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    2. I'm currently living near Houston and in about 6 months I'll be retired to Sonora CA. So I will be testing that blood thining theory.

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    3. Sonora is much less humid and hot than Houston..your blood should thicken up!

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  2. Our sojourn into rural living also brought abrupt and big changes in climate,social network,churches, and volunteer activities and yes,closeness to family! Your blog addresses all of these issues in various posts,Bob. It's important to examine ALL of them when making a decision to move.Try to picture your life without some of those elements.. we found that contentment is a COMBINATION , a patchwork quilt of all those important needs... we underestimated some of our social and physical needs, and we OVER estimated how much fun a "small town" and "quiet" would be!! We're so happy back in the Valley!! I think if we had just rented for a year instead of purchasing a house, life would have been smoother.. but we've course-corrected and life is good. I try to learn from what others do--your blog is a good guidepost ! Many good people sharing their experiences!

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    1. The last few posts have generated some really good comments, all helpful to us all.

      I understand your reaction to small town living in the mountains north of Phoenix. Like you, I think I would find the limited choices bothersome. While most of what I need can be purchased on line, there are times when I want to get out to do something new.

      The closest town to us that I would probably enjoy is Prescott. It has a lot of what both Betty and I like, as well as some friends from the Valley who spend part of the year there. But, it is 2 hours from our family and that is just too much for full time living.

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  3. We are soon to leave our close to downtown old suburb in the SE to live in a 55+ community in a quite suburban must drive everywhere part of S CA. Ideal or our first choice? Absolutely not but dictated by our desire to be close to my 90 year old FIL to help provide support and care for him in his last years. Then we will move again to a more urban, walking, public transportation area nearer to our kids which is an exhausting thought but the right thing to do. I'm going with the "bloom where you are planted" thoughts right now.

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    1. Wow, that is quite an admirable commitment. Obviously, you have a strong bond to him and he to you. Southern California? I am not sure I could do it. The weather is nice but the traffic and number of people would drive me nuts. Then again, family wins out.

      "Bloom where you are planted" is a tremendous expression I have never heard but will now never forget.

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  4. We left Syracuse NY for small town TN six years ago this month, and couldn't be happier now that we are both retired. What's not to like? Small town values, enough retail for our needs (combined with Amazon and others), and more restaurant choices 30 miles away. We have a much lower cost of living, and spring and summer are fantastic. Even Fall and Winter are mild by our standards, but it just so happens that we are traveling extensively during those seasons anymore. Very good medical facilities due the large # of retirees, and if something more is needed, you have your pick of three major cities and their facilities anywhere from 1-2 hours away.

    "Keep Manhattan and gimme that countryside" (a blast from the TV past)

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    1. As you know, we were just within shouting distance of your new home, and loved the area. Gatlinburg was charming, the Smoky Mountains beautiful, and Chattanooga was one of the nicest medium sized cities I have ever visited.

      Like you, I spent several years in Syracuse and enjoyed the city and the experiences, but couldn't go back. Upstate winters are brutal.

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  5. Thanks for the shout out, Bob. I can see the dilemmas some folks have and how it affects their retirement decision. I was never a fan of suburbia and when the kids moved on we did, too. I loved living in a big city but, the lure of a small beach town was so enticing. I agree with Betty about getting to know the local merchants and being able to walk vs. drive most of the time. Medical is an issue here, but we're close enough to Philly if necessary. We still go back to our docs there. I'm sure it is much harder for folks who have not moved very often. We've moved so many times that part wasn't a real factor

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    1. I still see my dentist in Scottsdale, but that is only 35 minutes, not 2 hours! The medical issue is important. As more family doctors leave the practice of medicine or join larger organizations, small town residents suffer.

      If you and Dave make it out here next year, be sure to bring all sorts of pictures and stories of small town beach community living!

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  6. Great thought-provoking post! I surprised myself after spending a few weekends in Prescott several years ago and found that two nights MAX is all I can handle in a smaller town environment. I enjoy living in my casita near Old Town Scottsdale, but could easily live in a studio apartment somewhere (it’s just me and my cat). Next summer I’m renting a 450 square foot cottage in Laguna Beach for three weeks. That for me is an ideal place. Very scenic, easy to get around by walking, biking or trolley, great restaurants, perfect weather, and lots of places to explore nearby.

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    1. See my comment above about Prescott! Of course, since I have only spent 2 days there at one time, I might find I have your reaction.

      It is hard to go wrong in the Laguna Beach-Newport Beach area, particularly in the summer.

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  7. So much depends on your family and health situation. We retired about 18 months ago and stayed in the family home of 30 years, there was no reason to downsize as we never upsized in the first place (a 1950's 1,200 sq ft side-split). We are located in a smaller city on the rail line to the big city so we can easily get in for sports and cultural events. We could have moved to a smaller community and made some cash on our house but our 2 daughters each live about 3 miles from our place. With one grandson and another grandchild on the way we wouldn't dream of leaving the area and moving away.
    - David

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    1. You have the perfect setup. Don't go anywhere, David.

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  8. Things are probably very different in different countries in that respect I think? I'm in Britain and have moved from a small university-centred city in England to a small town in West Wales. For those that don't know (and that did include me...) it's the most "Welsh" part of Wales and many people here regard Welsh as their first language and think of themselves as "Welsh", rather than "British". It's very swings and roundabouts situation and people do need to realise that there may be rather a different "way of thinking" between different styles of places. Being from a university city - then I look at things in a pretty objective/impartial way and try to make decisions according to logic and the thought never crossed my mind of expecting to be treated better because I was a local person. Moving to a small town in a part of the country that many local people regard as being a different country and one does see frequent examples of local people being regarded as having "first rights" on things and bias being exercised in their favour sometimes (eg planning permission given for a house because they are locals - that wouldnt be given to anyone else for that exact same house in that exact same position). There can be things like the person "in the wrong" in something (eg that has committed a crime) being the one that gets supported - because they are local. That is probably fairly typical of small town thinking anywhere I suspect?? Moving to a different type of area can mean being thought of by some as not having a right to express an opinion on local matters. Of course - it might be a shock to people if they do a move in the other direction (ie from a small town to a university city) and then wondering why people expect them to make up their own minds about everything/question everything/etc. I guess it cuts both ways.

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    1. Your experience doesn't sound that different from many places in the states. Local residents are often set in their ways and see anyone who moves in as a source of more traffic, inflated housing costs, and a change in their way of life. In rapidly growing parts of the country, local vs. new resident isn't a big deal. But, in smaller towns in New England, the deep south, or Pacific Northwest, there is real resistance to any influxes of newbies. Add in the language issue in west Wales and I would guess you do feel a little left out.

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  9. Love, love, love the energy, museums, restaurants and entertainment options of a big city, but prefer to live slightly outside of them, rather than in them. Also require open space for running, hiking and biking, which our current location, Orange County, delivers in spades, as does adjacent San Digo County. Can not imagine living in a small town under any circumstance, as I know it's just not me. Love my state (California) and love living within a 30 minute drive of the ocean, but have plans to live even closer in the next few years, as in walking distance close.

    Like the size of our current home, 2400 sq ft, but would be willing to give up one bedroom in a new home. Looked at beach townhomes but discovered we really do prefer a single family home. Would happily give up yard space in exchange for a closer-to-the coast location. Love fixing up homes, so plan is to buy the ugly duckling in a nice neighborhood and remodel to our specs.



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    1. This is a good summary of the Tamara I know. Here is an idea: let climate change continue for another decade and your current home will be within walking distance of water.

      I hadn't thought of it until now, but RV travel is a form of small town living. If you are in location for more than a few days, you do strike up conversations with other campers and form a community, albeit a temporary one. You make do with limited amenities and choices (think of the store at typical RV park). Then you move on and repeat the process.

      Eventually you return home to a more vibrant place with more choices and activities. Maybe that's one of the reasons I enjoy RV travel: small "town" living but it is not permanent.

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  10. We have moved all of our married life. Small towns, big cities, rural, urban, walkable, driving, desert, mountains, beach and plains. It is what you make of it. I knew the grocer in my Hong Kong market as well as the one at Bashas in Flagstaff. I find more fresh veggies here then I did in Kansas.
    The last three moves have been on our own- progressively less maintenance in each case.
    Not smaller- just less work.
    I suspect we will be here for about ten years. We love Dover- but a volunteer ambulance system will not work when we are really older. We are within five hours of both kids (yes, that is close for a military family), but when we cannot easily drive, other choices will come into play.
    The next move will be to a much smaller residence, very close (blocks) to one family or the other. Both will have retired from their first careers by then- so we shall see where they (and we) end up. We can make anything work. We don't mind starting over. Home is where you hang your hat!

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    1. Good summary of your situation and thinking, Janette. Yes, I would imagine a volunteer ambulance situation when minutes count would be unacceptable. Juhli's "bloom where you are planted" and your "home is where you hang your hat" summarize the attitude we should all adopt. Regardless of where our home is, we can make it a positive, loving place.

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  11. Small town is what we're looking for. We've actually considered Cape May. It's nice in its way, esp. with the beach; but it's kind of expensive and seems far away from everywhere else.

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    1. When Hurricane Matthew was headed that way, I would have rethought my choice! Luckily, Barbara said there were no ill effects. I have been on Long Island and in Key West during hurricanes...no fun.

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    2. You might be surprised at some very affordable places here in Cape May, Tom. We are in West Cape May but still walking distance to beach and Cape May City. It's not as far away from civilization as it seems at first. We've adapted pretty well. The pros outweigh the cons for us. We'd be happy to show you around!
      b

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  12. We moved to Hawai'i based on a spreadsheet! My husband and I had both been to Oahu on vacation, years and years ago, but otherwise knew very little about the state. If you'd told me 10 years ago that I would retire to Hawai'i I would have considered you out of your mind.

    We came up with a list of nine different factors that we considered important in a potential retirement location. Number 1 was weather because we were tired of the long, wet Oregon winters. Other factors included things like cost of living, schools (we still had/have school-age children), proximity to military facilities (husband is retired military), ease of travel to Japan where our son, his wife and our grandchildren live, taxes, and a few other things. We then came up with a list of potential retirement locations, everything from Florida to the SW to California. Hawai'i was added to the list as a joke.

    Funny thing though. Hawai'i met seven of our nine criteria, more than any other location, so we crunched the numbers, thought about it for a while, and then said "let's do it!" It was a process getting here, but we've spent two and a half years on our little rural island, out in the middle of the ocean, and can't imagine living anywhere else. There's no location where we'd ever be close to all our children, so we decided to live where we'd be happy and they would be happy to come and visit. Kaua'i isn't perfect, but it's the right place for us.

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    1. Hi, Laura. You followed both logic and a dream. From your guest post a few weeks ago I know it has worked out well for you. Kauai is stunning. You made a good choice.

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  13. Just pondering that exact question at moment with my partner. Added complication is that we are selling two houses and moving in together, itself a big step. After spending 6 months looking at villages, prettier bigger towns that our current one we have concluded that what matters is being near friends and places that are familiar so we are staying put in Colchester but looking to get a fairly big house where we can entertain, have family stay and I can finally achieve my twin ambitions of having a brewery and a music studio in my house.

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    1. A brewery and music studio...that is a combination I don't think I have heard of before. It sounds like you have done your due diligence and found the best answer.

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  14. This is a great discussion! I intentionally moved from my Mayberryesque southern Oklahoma hometown many years ago to the "big city" of Norman, OK. I've been here ever since. Although I have wonderful memories of living there- it really was an idyllic childhood with a national park and lake- the idea of living in a small town of less than 5000 nearly two hours from great medical care and every shopping opportunity is not appealing. Plus, my wife would not be on board, either. She has never lived in a small town. I enjoy suburban living, too, although we downsized to a somewhat smaller home with a very small yard two years ago. It's interesting to see our needs and wants change with age. I think I'd love the Phoenix area with no tornadoes and warm winters. Now to convince my DW.
    Jeff in OK

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    1. Phoenix really has no weather...sunny 330 days a year, no hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, high winds (like west Texas!), very low humidity, and not much rain.

      Of course, there is the heat that lasts from May until October. It takes some getting used to, but like winter in other parts of the country you spend most of your time indoors going from air conditioned house, to air conditioned car to air conditioned whatever. Early mornings and after sunset are quite nice. And, for the rest of the year it is pretty close to perfect.

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  15. I'm avidly reading these comments because I'm ready to move out of the big house. While I don't necessarily believe my next house will be my "final" house, I do know it's time to start making decisions that are more personal and meaningful at this stage in life. Newly divorced, my youngest finishing up HS in a few years and starting to plan act II, I'm ready for a change. I'm 49 years and only wish my mom had the same free wheeling spirit of most of you here. The #1 motivator for me is not to get so attached to my house, my elbow room, and my stuff, that I become immoveable. That would put me in an early grave, for sure. Being around people is crucial!

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    1. Thanks for the nice compliment, Jen, for the readers of this blog. You can always depend on them for insightful and interesting comments!

      Retirement has become a stage of life no different from any other, except for the freedom to make choices based on what is best for you.

      Your motivation to not get overly attached is a good one, though a hard one to adhere to in our culture. Best of luck, and suggest your mom give this blog a glance!

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  16. We are planning to move in the next year or two after I retire. We know we want to move to the Canadian province where all five of our kids and two sets of grandchildren live, but it is a big province and they are widely spread out. Recently, we narrowed it down to four towns/mid-sized cities that are the most likely candidates. (If we choose one of the cities, we would live in the outskirts as we like the slower pace.) Then we used Laura's idea of a spread sheet to rank the four places on several factors that we agreed were the most important to us. Trouble is, we discovered we aren't in agreement about our top choices aren't at this point. However, it is a process, and as we keep talking about it, I think we will keep narrowing it down. Then eventually we'll just have to make a choice and do it!
    -Jude

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    1. Interesting...using the spreadsheet approach. I am sure Linda will appreciate your comment.

      Canadian provinces are quite large, especially in the west. It would be like trying to be close to the kids and grand kids in Texas...with one in El Paso, one in Tyler, one in Houston, and one in Amarillo. That would be a full time travel schedule just to visit them all on a regular basis.

      Glad you are still working through the process. It will eventually resolve itself.

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  17. Right now, the most important features for my quality of life are quiet, room to garden, and connection with nature -- so, I have chosen a rural house at the end of a woodsy dirt road. This is not a good choice for "aging in place," however, because of the upkeep required for my rural house and garden and because you have to be able to drive to get most places. Self-driving cars might solve the latter problem (a huge one for seniors in rural America). One of the things I will need to decide in the next decade is whether to look for a housing unit with less upkeep in a rural area or to move into a suburban area with more walking possibilities. -Jean

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    1. That is the biggest problem with a rural setting: transportation, probably followed closely by the quality and availability of medical resources. I would guess you are right: a move at some point will be required.

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