Jeff Opdyke: 5 cities where Social Security goes a long way, Part 2

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When it comes to retirement planning

Thirty-five percent of Americans, for instance, say they have no retirement savings, according to the website FinanceBuzz. And a 2019 Federal Reserve survey finds 13% of non-retirees over 60 have $0 saved.

All of which raises the big question that haunts our days: Where can you retire if your monthly income will basically be Social Security

The good news is that such places exist in America. And they’re not fleabag towns stuffed into an all-but-abandoned corner of the country, where you will die of boredom. Often, they’re vibrant towns and cities with plenty of activities and high livability scores.

In Part 1

—Brownsville, Texas

Overall score: 29.5 (out of a possible 39)

Total monthly living costs: $1,618

Healthcare costs: 88% (of the national average)


The city regularly pops up on “Best Places to Live” lists, in part because of its minimal traffic, local arts scene, abundance of outdoor activities (beaches, fishing, state parks), and high overall livability.

Brownsville is one of the few U.S. cities where you can live a bi-country lifestyle: Pop across the border to shop even more frugally than in Brownsville, or partake of another culture. As for medical care, U.S. News & World Report has recognized Valley Regional Medical Center and Valley Baptist Medical Center as among the best for heart and pulmonary issues.

Turtle Creek, Pa.

Overall score: 27

Total monthly living costs: $1,569

Healthcare costs: 86%

Pennsylvania is not known as a retirement haven. But for anyone looking to live an active urban life in a vibrant city, then the Pittsburgh suburb of Turtle Creek

The revitalizing Rust Belt city is stuffed with brand-name companies — HJ Heinz, General Nutrition Centers, PNC Bank. So, there’s wealth to support cultural activities, professional sports teams and abundant nightlife. Outdoor activities, too: hiking, camping, boating, fishing.

As for medical care, U.S. News ranks the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center 13th in the nation for geriatric care, 7th for cancer, and 33rd for cardiology.

—Grand Ledge, Mich.

Overall score: 24

Total monthly living costs: $1,583

Healthcare costs: 83%

With a population of less than 8,000, Grand Ledge

The town sits atop the picturesque sandstone ledges that line the Grand River. Leafy parklands and nearby wilderness areas are lined with photogenic hiking trails. You’ll find families rockclimbing the ledges; kayaking and canoeing on the river; or fishing for carp, pike and bass.

Crime is well below the national average and median income is well above. The bad news: Winters are typically cloudy and quite cold, often in the teens. If it’s a consolation, winter months tend to be dry. And you have summer to look forward to: Temperatures typically go no higher than the low-80s.

—Bentonville, Ark.

Overall score: 24

Total monthly living costs: $1,762

Healthcare costs: 81%


Despite retailing’s big behemoth being located here, downtown Bentonville is lined with mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, as well as boutique hotels and art galleries. Within 30 minutes is Hobbs State Park, Arkansas’ largest, a fly-fisherman’s nirvana packed with rivers and lakes. Bentonville has direct air access to an unusually large number of cities coast-to-coast via American, Delta, United and others.

Weather is middling, since winters can be snowy, and it’s in a part of the country that sees heavy spring rains and tornadoes. But crime is well below the national average. As for health, the local Mercy hospitals and clinics are part of the St. Louis-based Mercy healthcare system, ranked among the top five hospital systems nationally. One fact to be aware of: Bentonville is a largely conservative bulwark, politically. If your views lean liberal side, you might feel out of place.

—Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Overall score: 24

Total monthly living costs: $1,720

Healthcare costs: 87%

Scorching and freezing. Military and hippies. Twentynine Palms

The town of 25,000 is plopped in the middle of Southern California’s mountainous high desert, near Joshua Tree National Park. Because of its altitude — nearly 2,000 feet above sea level — nights are pleasant to freezing almost the entire year. Days are largely pleasant as well, save for the summer months, when triple-digit highs are the norm.

Twentynine Palms is mainly known for its military presence — the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the country’s largest Marine Corps base. Culturally, there’s not a lot to do. But there are several golf courses, and Palm Springs and Palm Desert are about an hour away, and they offer plenty more cultural activities. And, of course, Las Vegas is three hours to the northeast, if Los Angeles isn’t your scene.


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