Johnny_Excitement wrote: ↑Thu Jun 10, 2021 9:48 pm
MishkaWorries wrote: ↑Thu Jun 10, 2021 12:30 pm
Speaking of California, except for the cost of housing, California has everything OP wants. Taxes may be an issue but for people who can control their income, California is a surprisingly affordable place.
I live in California and it's not just housing that's expensive. Vehicle registration fees, gasoline/diesel fuel, food, etc. are all very high, relative to the rest of the country. There's no way in heck that I will retire here in California.
Depending on one's retirement lifestyle, some of those may be non-issues. Someone who doesn't drive much and just wants to sit in the backyard and enjoy the nice weather most of the time could live fairly cheaply and ignore many of the problems that plague CA for working-class folks. Also, food is a bit nuanced. Going out to restaurants is more expensive, but groceries can be surprisingly cheap, especially considering the wide variety and seasonal availability. This is especially true if you buy groceries in poorer sections of urban areas. We live in San Jose near incredibly cheap ethnic markets, but we also like to make the drive to more upscale supermarkets for certain items like premium meats or organic produce. My wife is always shocked at groceries when we visit family in the Kansas City, MO area. Not only are they significantly more expensive, but the variety tends to be way less as it almost exclusively caters to pretty standard Midwestern diets. There's like one major Asian market in the urban core which is not even particularly close to where my family lives, but we stopped by while visiting some museums in the city, and a small bottle of soju was like $9. Soju is basically just Korean vodka, often flavored. We can buy it in the Bay Area for like $2 per bottle, and I already consider that a premium price for an imported product, as regular vodka can be had much cheaper (but the non-Korean flavored vodkas are nasty in my opinion, so we pay up for that juicy flavor, haha). It's not just imported products, but regular fruits and vegetables can cost double what we pay, and it can be really difficult to find certain herbs, spices, vegetables, etc... and that's in the urban center at the heart of America's bread basket. It's way worse in more rural "food deserts" where people get their "groceries" at dollar and convenience stores.
I'm not saying CA isn't expensive, but retirement expenses are very nuanced and will depend on one's habits. I think if one's idea of retirement is grilling fresh produce in the back yard year round and the occasional trip to the beach or a national park, CA could easily be the best option. If someone plans to drive into the city and have fancy dinners at premium restaurants, CA could easily be the most expensive option with the most time spent in traffic and looking for parking. My wife is from China, and I think the thing that shocks a lot of Chinese people when they explore the US is just how rural much of it is by comparison to other countries. I think there's this pervasive myth in many foreign countries that the US is super highly developed, and obviously in some ways and places it is, but it's also not particularly densely populated for a developed nation. Compare that to China where there's a massive population clustered in urban centers to the point that even "small" cities have all the food options and stores you could ask for. It kind of hit my wife hard when she realized on our road trips that there are huge swaths of the country where frozen burgers is often the freshest, most affordable option available, and there are many Americans who live on processed foods and McDonald's and don't live anywhere near a high-end shopping mall. Even if you find a suburb with a good grocery store, it may only have 1 or 2 with very limited selection based on local customs. That's not to say such places would be unlivable, but depending on one's culture and expectations for food, this can essentially rule out the vast majority of options for people from foreign countries.
OP, I saw some other comments mention Spokane, WA, and I agree that's an option worth considering. You can get some of that Pacific NW feel and be not too far from Seattle and Vancouver, but you're also insulated a bit from the extreme rain, traffic, gentrification, etc. It's close to some nice natural destinations, and there are entertainment options in nearby Coeur d'Alene, ID as well. I've only visited once and am not super familiar with the area, but I think it checks a lot of boxes. It might feel really small and a bit run down for some people, but I don't think it's necessarily a dump either. It's probably less liberal leaning than you were hoping for, but I really can't think of too many liberal leaning places that are cheap, and the few that are tend to be surrounded by ultra-conservative areas (think Austin, which isn't even that cheap anymore). Spokane folks seemed a little more middle of the road to me, although that was just the vibe I got.
Obviously, I'm a bit biased when it comes to KC, but I think it's also worth a look as well. The weather is comparable to NJ in that it has 4 distinct seasons with pretty extreme hots and colds, but it's also not too humid and the cost of living is quite low for the class of city it is. Keep in mind, when I say KC, I'm really talking about the suburbs around KC. KC is unfortunately the poster child for white flight and urban disinvestment, so much of the urban core is poorer communities of color. That shows up as high crime stats and poor education scores, which are the things that tend to scare people away. However, many of the surrounding suburbs are easily some of the best places to live in the country, and there are also some really nice urban places for shopping and dining in some of the fancier areas. The local economy is surprisingly well diversified, so it tends to withstand economic shocks quite well and continues growing steadily over time. While the overall region of the country is conservative, there is a lot of political and cultural diversity around KC due to the universes and companies with lots of younger people, not to mention the substantial African American population in particular. You can very easily find the kinds of communities you'd align with, even if you don't identify with Midwestern politics as a whole. I think KC is the hidden gem of the Midwest. It's not without its faults, but I think it gets unfairly overlooked by a lot of outsiders based on certain unfavorable stats and being in the Great Plains away from any appealing natural destinations. There's a great selection of museums, amazing BBQ and other restaurants, great live music, sports, and just overall some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet.