July 17, 2012 -- Like millions of Americans, Judy and Leroy Snyder worried about whether they could afford to retire. She is a former secretary; he worked cranes on construction jobs. When they decided to quit working in their early 60's the couple put down roots right where they'd already been living – in Pittsburgh.
It turns out they made a good choice. Pittsburgh is one of 10 U.S. cities that offer what a new analysis calls a "rich retirement at a fraction of the cost." The analysis, commissioned by AARP The Magazine, www.aarp.org began with one key question: Where could you live well on $100 a day, or an annual income of $36,500?
At a 25 percent tax rate, that's $27,375 in spendable income, or about $2,281 a month. If we spent about a third of that—$720—on mortgage payments, we could buy a home that costs $192,000. It turns out there are quite a few really wonderful cities where $192,000 buys not just a great home in a great neighborhood,
Housing costs though were just the starting point. "Other criteria we used were crime, cost of living, climate," said Gabrielle Redford, editorial projects manager for AAPR The Magazine. "We of course wanted health resources, doctors and hospitals. We looked at recreation, we looked at the arts." added Redford. A nearby college or university was a plus. So was easy access to an airport. They also factored in the number of sunny days a year. "
Combining the hard economic numbers, with the softer quality of life issues brought a broad array of choices from all parts of the country. "These are not necessarily retirement meccas," said Redford, "they are just great places to live and great places to retire."
Besides Pittsburgh, the other cities that grabbed the brass ring are San Antonio, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; Grand Junction, Colorado; Gainesville, Florida; Spokane, Washington; Las Cruces, New Mexico; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Roanoke, Virginia.
Roanoke is where Susan Koch and Jim Huizenga decided to retire, moving from the pricy Washington, D.C., suburb of Falls Church, Virginia. "It's big enough to be interesting, but small enough to be neighborly and friendly," Koch told ABC News.
It wasn't just the lower cost of living that attracted them. "We live within two blocks of a movie house that does independent films," said Koch, and the town "has a great symphony." There are hiking and biking trails. "Roanoke is very attractive for people who are interested in the outdoors," said Koch.
The Snyders too find Pittsburgh's offerings a real selling point. They have now moved to an active retirement community, Providence Point. "Within walking distance are countless galleries, boutiques and department stores, restaurants and sports arenas," said Judy Snyder.
"Never did I dream that retirement is as wonderful as it is," she added. "Whatever your pocketbook, I believe you could be content."
AARP The Magazine publishes an annual list of the best retirement cities. For this year's selections, the magazine offers a few tips on what makes its retirement picks so enjoyable. In Grand Junction for example, the recommended daytime lark is to "wander among the quirky outdoor sculptures."
Gainesville, Florida, offers a "funky hippie meets world traveler," vibe, and Omaha features a world-class zoo and aquarium, while San Antonio has an "endless selection of restaurants and patio dining on the famous River Walk."
"We thought we were going to end up with some tiny towns that no one had ever heard of," said Redford. "It's not true. You can really find some great prices and some great housing in great neighborhoods in a lot of cities around the country."
Some of the cities are far from the warmer, southern United States, an area traditionally thought of as a big retirement draw. But Pittsburgh's Judy Snyder says, don't let that stop you. "There were times this year," she laughed, "that we had warmer weather than Florida."