If you dont have a traditional pension through your job and havent been saving a significant amount in a 401(k) or individual retirement account, Social Security is likely to be your largest source of retirement income. Almost all retirees (86 percent) receive Social Security payments, and for over a third (36 percent) of retirees, Social Securityaccountsfor 90 percent or more of their retirement income. The type of lifestyle Social Security alone will provide largely depends on how much you have earned in Social Security benefits and where you live.
The average Social Security benefit for retired workers was $1,294 per month at the end of 2013. A couple who each brought in this amount would have $31,056 in annual Social Security benefits, which will also be adjusted for inflation each year. US News analyzed Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics data to determine where a retired couple age 65 or older could cover their basic expenses, including typical costs for housing, food, utilities, transportation and health care, on this amount.
[See: 10 Places to Retire on Social Security Alone.]
It's important to note that in most places, Social Security alone barely covered these basic expenses. After paying for those five major costs, retirees living on Social Security alone likely won't have much cash left over for recreation, hobbies, clothing, consumer goods or travel. "If they are highly dependent on Social Security, it is not an easy life," says John Palmer, a Syracuse University professor and former public trustee for the Medicare and Social Security programs. "If they own their own home and don't have high medical expenses, they can probably get by."
Retirees would often be much more comfortable if they had income from another source in addition to Social Security, such as personal savings, a part-time job or a traditional pension. Taking steps to maximize your Social Security benefit is also important. "Not collecting until you are in your late 60s, if you can do it, is a good idea," Palmer says. "For every year you retire earlier than that and choose to collect Social Security, your monthly benefit is about 7 to 8 percent less, and for every year you delay up to age 70, your benefit increases by 8 percent."
In expensive cities including San Jose, California,Honolulu and San Francisco, Social Security alone did not cover the basic costs retirees face. "I wouldn't want to try to make it just on Social Security in New York City or the DC area, but in a lot of the rest of the country, the cost of living is substantially lower," says Kenneth Robinson, a certified financial planner for Practical Financial Planning in Cleveland. "Moving has expenses that go along with it, but if you have relatives who live in a less expensive place than where you are now, you might want to consider a move."
In these cities, a household with typical expenses and two average Social Security checks coming in could get by on Social Security income. Here are 10 places where it's possible for retirees to cover basic costs on Social Security alone:
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque homeowners age 65 and older pay a median of $1,078 per month if they have a mortgage and just $368 monthly if they have paid off the mortgage. Senior citizen renters pay a median of $686 monthly to live in Albuquerque. The city also provides many services to retirees who don't have a lot of extra cash. There are six senior centers where people age 50 and older can become members for just $13 a year. The Albuquerque 50+ Games is an athletic competition that includes bocce ball, tennis and pickleball exclusively for people 50 and older. And New Mexico residents age 65 and older can take classes at the University of New Mexico for just $5 per credit hour.
The low housing costs in Texas are drawing people to the state. A home in Austin costs retirees a median of $1,395 monthly with a mortgage and $545 if they own their home debt-free. The median rent for retirees age 65 and older is $887 monthly. Texas doesn't have a state income tax, but it's important to carefully consider the property tax you might face on any home purchase. This state capital city typically has mild and sunny winters that largely eliminate high heating bills, although you may pay significant cooling costs during the hottest summer months. Seniors age 65 and older even qualify for a tuition wavier on up to six credit hours at the University of Texas at Austin.
Buffalo, New York
If you can tolerate the cold and snowy winters in this upstate New York city, you'll be rewarded with a very low cost of living. Senior citizen homeowners pay just $466 monthly in housing costs if they have paid off their mortgage and $1,009 monthly if they are still making payments on their home. The typical rent for retirees age 65 and older is $611 monthly. The City of Buffalo also provides a senior discount card that entitles retirees to a percentage off their purchases when they shop at local businesses, including restaurants, salons and pharmacies.