Is there a hidden gem place to retire on a limited income?
August 6, 2015 11:50 PM   Subscribe

My husband of 28 years suddenly and unexpectedly passed away from a massive heart attack at the age of 47. Now, almost 9 years later, I find myself alone and realizing that I will not be able to continue living in Southern California for much longer. Both of my sons and my grandchildren live in this area, so my move means that I will be leaving the only family I have. I'll be honest: I am absolutely terrified.

I've never lived more than a 5 hour drive away from family, and even then, I had my husband. So, time to put my big girl panties on and make some tough decisions. Since I'm not a desert person, and I grew up in the DC area, I am drawn to the east coast. So far, I've mainly been looking in Florida, the Gulf side, but I'm not opposed to considering other options just about anywhere, though I do enjoy being close to water.

I am interested hearing in hearing both sides, i.e. fabulous places, as well as places I should avoid. I appreciate any suggestions you have. Thank you!
posted by Sunnyshe to Work & Money (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
My mother just retired from Southern California, to Davidson, NC, a college town north of Charlotte. An area north of that, Yadkin County, is turning into a wine region. And it's not far from Asheville, which is wonderful.

But if it were me, I'd look at the Oregon coast. Small cities like Astoria, Newport, Waldport, Coos Bay, etc. I'm kind of in love with Astoria right now.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:02 AM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

Is it possible you have overlooked affordable housing options where you live? Perhaps there is co-op housing near to you.
posted by little eiffel at 12:13 AM on August 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yeah, if you're planning to move out of state just because you think there's nothing affordable here in CA, I'd say keep looking! Look at other towns, buy one of those tiny houses, get a trailer home, get a roommate if you have to! You shouldn't live far away from your family unless you want to. Especially if you don't already know people in the town where you'd be moving.

Seriously, if you wanted to move, if you had friends out there, I'd say do it. But otherwise I think you should only do that as a last resort. You could also consider moving up or down the coast a bit, from where you are.

Talk to your sons about this, if you haven't already. Put your heads together and try and figure something out. Don't put a whole country between you and your grandkids!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:11 AM on August 7, 2015 [25 favorites]

Ok, this is quite possibly the worst suggestion ever but: Bakersfield is both much, much cheaper than southern CA and within a few hours drive. There are probably other, better communities in California that have similar cost of living perks without being... Bakersfield.

Though there are some serious drawbacks to Bako (air quality being the major one, the fact that the culture is more West Texas than California being the other), people are nice here (I'm a recent transplant) and there is enough to do most of the time. When there isn't enough to do, the beach and points south are just a couple hours away. Points north aren't much further.
posted by LyndsayMW at 1:17 AM on August 7, 2015

I'm not sure it's possible to really answer this question without some information about your working requirements. I mean, there are loads of affordable places to live all over the place, but if employment is a thing you need, that changes the options a lot. On the other hand, if you're retiring, that's different.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:26 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's not clear from your question if you're looking for a senior housing sort of situation or not, but I did some googling and found a list of low-income senior housing centers in southern California. Apologies if you've already found a list like that, but if not: I think it would be worth looking through, since staying in the L.A. area would allow you to be near your kids and grandkids.
posted by colfax at 2:38 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why move so far? If you just want lower cost of living, there are places closer to your family than FL.
posted by LoveHam at 4:23 AM on August 7, 2015

If you are in SoCal, have you considered moving just over the border to Mexico? I met a lot of ExPat retirees who spent part of the year in Central America due to cost of living, and also its lovely. If you were in Mexico, getting to from family in SoCal wouldn't be too difficult.
posted by Toddles at 6:36 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with the above about exploring lower cost of living options in Cali but if you do move east, look at Atlanta. Great place, lots to do...public transportation isn't great but we have low cost of living and a huge airport with cheap flights to the west coast.
posted by pearlybob at 6:42 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Morro Bay!
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 7:06 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've seen listings for mobile homes in nice communities along the coast (Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara) that are fairly cheap. Definitely cheap compared to anything else in those areas. They're often limited to people over 40. Here's one in Santa Barbara...looks pretty nice.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:33 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Morro Bay is a great suggestion - I was going to say SLO.

Is your desire to move out-of-state connected with trying to make a fresh start and get away from memories of life with your husband, by any chance? I'm sorry to armchair psychiatrist but I cannot see why you'd leave your social / family support network under the excuse of 'affordable housing'. Yeah, it is really bad in California, but you can find something in central California, or I even like the Bakersfield suggestion (great, great Costco there but I digress).

It's also hard to advise you when I don't know what sort of community you're looking for. If you could drop in and give us the deets (are you retired? are you looking for senior housing? what elements of living are important to you?) we can be of more help. What's your budget? etc.

Finally - I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:05 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You should look at Central Florida. Everyone looks at Florida for the Coastal Cities, but there are great communities for retirees inland. Look at cities like: Lakeland, Davenport, St Cloud, Winter Haven, and Auburndale. This cities will be considerably cheaper than anything on the coast of Florida.

Also, if you find a good 55+ community in Florida, you will also find a good support network. Lots of retirees in Florida group together in these communities, and they help each other, support each other, develop real community. Trust me, there are thousands of others in similar situations, and in the good retirement communities in Central Florida, people are finding themselves re-engaged in with a community of their peers.
posted by Flood at 8:26 AM on August 7, 2015

A six hour drive away from southern CA is Prescott AZ. It's in the foothills of the mountains, so it is nowhere near as hot as Phoenix and the landscape is pine trees not desert, so there is a lot more shade, too. I looked at an online cost of living comparison for San Diego vs Prescott and it looks quite a bit less. There are other little towns around that area that might cost less and/or be a bit closer, but you want to look at elevation and average temperatures. Maybe Kingman, which is 5.5 hours away.

* I don't know anything about these places personally. I was just massively surprised to go to a July wedding in Prescott last year and IT WAS NOT HOT!!! And I remember Girl Scout camping in Flagstaff from years ago. Had to wear jackets in June.
posted by CathyG at 8:36 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Please talk to your kids! If you were my mom, I'd find a way to have you move in with me, like buying a new house with an in-law apartment or something like that.
posted by sutel at 8:54 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should add that I do want/need to continue working for another 7-10 years. I am an RN, so being close to a medical center would be helpful, yet I'm not completely opposed to doing something different.

Also, I do find the idea of living in a senior community appealing, however not mandatory. I am in the beginning stages of figuring this all out and your responses are helping me in this process by helping me to think about things that I haven't yet thought about. Thank you.
posted by Sunnyshe at 9:45 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

One thing about moving across the country from your kids is that they will have a much harder time supporting you as you age. My grandmother just passed, and she was able to stay in her house all the way to the end- but it was only because my mom and aunt were able to help her out, arrange care, etc. She would have had a much different last five years if she had moved to Florida, as no one in my family would have had the wherewithal to go down there more than once or twice a year. If family support is not part of the plan, then don't worry about it.
posted by rockindata at 10:12 AM on August 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

I have grown sons and grandchildren. Fortunately they all ended up returning to the cold northeastern town where I raised them so when I go visit once a year I get to see everyone. I live about 1000 miles away and my oldest and youngest son have both visited me several times. My middle son has two young children and traveling for them is so complicated that they never come to see me. Periodically I think of moving somewhere closer but not as cold; however, I like where I am and have a job I enjoy. I'm also at an age where finding new jobs has become difficult.

Moving all the way across the country just doesn't sound appealing. I agree with the posters above who encourage you to look for less expensive communities that are still within a few hours drive of your sons. ( In my opinion, central Florida sucks, just endless suburban wasteland. If you're still interested in FL I'd be happy to tell you about St. Pete and Tallahassee.) Feel free to mefi mail me.
posted by mareli at 10:54 AM on August 7, 2015

How is your relationship with your sons and their spouses? Perhaps you could talk with them about some kind of shared housing? They might be more open to the idea than you would believe--it could be an opportunity for them to get into a bigger house/better neighborhood (if you can contribute to the mortgage/down payment) and if you pick the right property, you could arrange to have your own very private space. Particularly as you are still working, it is not like you will be underfoot a lot and they may really appreciate having you around to babysit on date nights or weekends.
posted by agatha_magatha at 11:18 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Trulia heat map of housing prices.

I am in California and left San Diego County in May in part to move someplace cheaper. But for REASONS, I need to try to remain in California if possible. I am finding their heat map useful. I will suggest the first thing you could do is check out your local area on the heat map and see if some nearby town or neighborhood might be a relatively low cost hidden gem that you had no idea about.

I will Nth that there are parts of California substantially cheaper than what is typical in SoCal. Victorville has a commuter bus to San Bernardino for $6, cleaner air than the LA basin and a much lower cost of living. As noted above, the Central Valley is also affordable compared to the more famous parts of the state.

I was a military wife, which just about precludes having a career. The one exception I knew of was nursing. My understanding is that it is a highly portable job and nurses are pretty routinely in short supply. So consider picking a more affordable spot not too far from family and start job hunting. If you find a good job, go there.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:10 PM on August 7, 2015

Best answer: Like others, I like the idea of digging a bit deeper into option closer. But, to go with the request of more information...

I live on the gulf coast, just south of Sarasota. I'm in my early/mid 40s, so a bit young to be here in many ways, but I love it. Sarasota is a great small city - a bit on the conservative side, but a vibrant arts scene for it's size. Venice, where I live, is a bit quiet, but it's a short easy drive up to Sarasota. It is affordable and as an RN you wouldn't have the job issues that I've been having down here. Medical is very much a thing, especially anything to do with aging. You could even transition out of nursing and into patient advocacy work taking on clients as you decided to. I know of a couple retired nurses in their 60s who do that, mostly word of mouth which spreads very quickly down here.

Being away from your family will be difficult, but I can't imagine a much easier place to do it than a place with a large active senior population. Many of your friends will be in the same shoes and understanding the emotional struggles (and, occasionally, relief) that comes with it. And retiring down here is, well, it's the thing to do. You'll have no problem meeting folks and being as active or not as you'd like.

If you would ever like more specific advice about the Sarasota, Venice, Englewood, North Port areas feel free to memail me. I wound up here because my mom winters down here as did her father. I actually live in a 55+ park, so know some of the ins & outs of them... land rent, property management, etc.
posted by imbri at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2015

Southern and central Arizona has some great places like Bisbee or Jerome with dirt cheap housing, small town artist havens and are still a short drive to SC.
posted by nestor_makhno at 1:13 PM on August 7, 2015

Laguna Woods is a 55+ community in Orange County that has some very affordable (for SoCal) condos and co-ops available.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 5:26 PM on August 7, 2015

If you are in the Los Angeles area, you might look at Angelus Plaza, the largest senior housing complex west of the Mississippi, which is on Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles. It's a well managed community, and in the middle of everything. I believe they have a waiting list.

If you're set on moving, maybe Joshua Tree.
posted by Scram at 6:08 PM on August 7, 2015

Best answer: It's a bit obvious, but I'd definitely do some research on the price, availability, and frequency of flights between wherever you're looking and your kids. My parents live 15 minutes away from a major airport with lots of flights to where the kids are--that makes life immeasurably easier than them living 45 minutes away from a podunk airport which requires an extra connection and $300 extra in airfare for a reunion. Major hubs aren't always where you expect--for instance, Charlotte, NC is as well connected to the rest of the U.S. as cities 5x its size due to being a US Airways hub.
posted by whitewall at 7:31 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

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