12 Aug

50 Best US Cities for Early Retirement

Upon becoming financially independent, we decided to move away from the expensive San Francisco Bay Area. Although we’re currently enjoying life in Costa Rica, we will soon be driving Bruno back up to the US and need to figure out which cities are good candidates for living in.

To help us make this decision, I wanted to see which US cities have the lowest cost of living, are considered somewhat liberal, and also have mild winters.

After doing this research, below is the map I came up with. Cities with the lowest cost of living are identified on the map by lighter colored markers, while the more expensive cities have darker colored markers.

To build this list, I started by pulling the Consumer Price Index (CPI) data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for All Urban Consumers, which does a decent job of summarizing the cost of living, including housing, for all urban places with 2,500 inhabitants or more. I then sorted the list by CPI ascending, so the lowest cost cities are listed first. If you’re curious, here is a list of exactly what costs are included in the CPI.

Next, to identify places that are “somewhat liberal”, the least-terrible solution I could think of was to look up the 2012 Presidential Election results for each city and only include the ones where more than 50% of the vote were Democratic (Obama).

Finally, for selecting only “mild winter” locations, I looked up the average high/low temperatures for January and July. Cities that have an average January high of less than 40F (4.4C) were filtered out.

Finally, I added in a “Low Taxes Rank” for each of the states. I got this data from the Tax Foundation, which did a study on State-Local Tax Burdens for each state.

Here is the list sorted by CPI (ascending):

The great thing about the US is that it’s so big and varied. All of these cities have different people, cultures, weather, and geographies. If you’re looking to move soon, whatever your tastes are, I hope the above data can help you research those places that might fit you best!

For us, once we’re back in the US early next year, we’re going to head for the mountains of North Carolina and check out Asheville. At least, that’s the current plan. New ones are hatched daily!

If you’re curious enough to mess around with the data yourself, here is a link to the spreadsheet with all original data. If you make any changes or have any recommendations to make, please post in the comments section below!

  • If you would like something similar to Austin, but a bit smaller, minimal traffic, and 10x better outdoors, check out Fayetteville, AR. Hidden gem in the Ozarks and quite affordable.

    • Travis

      Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll look into it! I actually had the good fortune of riding a motorcycle through the Ozarks in Southern Missouri a few years ago and was quite impressed with the area.

      • sweetgum

        Adam beat me to it, but I was going to recommend considering Fayetteville, AR, too (or nearby Bentonville, AR) over Little Rock or Memphis in the same region. Depends what you’re really looking for, but with Wal-Mart corporate headquarters here in NWArkansas we have good direct flights out in all directions— to L.A., Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and Dallas— for when you need to get away!

        • Jay

          Just found your blog and was browsing some of the older articles. We, too, love it in NW Arkansas. But, if you are looking for a somewhat liberal political climate, this is not it. Also, each city is different for a variety of reasons. For example, Memphis is not very liberal, but it is 70% African-American, which tends to make it a highly democratic leaning area. We do love Northwest Arkansas! Fayetteville would be more liberal than say Rogers/Bentonville due to the University and more urban setting.

          • Travis

            Thanks Jay! Right now our plan is to investigate Asheville, NC and also Chattanooga, TN and see what happens. I’ll report back with details!

          • Sean

            Asheville is great. If you need a place to crash let me know. We live right in town. I’d like to hear what you think of Chattanooga. It gets a lot of buzz for being a great place!

          • Travis

            Thank you, we may take you up on that offer! A full report on Chattanooga coming your way!

  • Fabiooltje H

    Hmm. Texas is of course not known for its liberal policies. And living in a Texan city, no matter how liberal it is, will mean you are subject to state policies. So I would not choose a liberal city in a red state…

    • Travis

      “You mess with the bull you get the horns.” – Texas

  • Velisma

    If you’re looking at TX and more specifically the DFW area then Denton, Tx. is a good place if you’re a granola/outdoorsy type. There is a great art/music scene, a ton of trees, home to actor Jason Lee and it has a real cool, odd, independent vibe to it that is heavily community oriented. The most common way people describe it is, “It’s what Austin, Tx. was 20yrs. ago before the mass influx of people/traffic, etc.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghSE0c3844k

    • Travis

      Interesting, thanks for the suggestion! We’ll probably be heading straight east after going through Austin, so not sure if we’ll make it up to the DFW area, But if we do, I’ll definitely swing by Denton and check it out!

  • erica

    You are of course entitled to build the list according to your own criteria, but personally I would add a crime rate filter, because some of the places in your list are rather scary, I would not live there under any circumstances. Also I would eliminate any place with July high of 90+.

    • Travis

      Hi erica! I agree completely. My above spreadsheet only provides a partial picture, and it certainly lacks a humidity index as well as a crime index. At a minimum I wanted to add humidity data, but I found that not all weather stations in the country report this data which makes it more difficult to find and implement into the list. That being said, perhaps one day I’ll try to get it done!

  • Kristina

    I live right outside of Asheville and love it!! Housing can be expensive and hard to find but I look around every day and can’t believe I live in such a beautiful and open-minded place. If you need any help let me know.

    • Travis

      Thank you, we’re looking forward to checking it out! We’ll be there for a week in late February and I’ll probably post an update on our thoughts after!

  • John

    I live in Atlanta and there is an income based grant of $45k for moving in the city, the only requirement is that it’s your main residence and u live ther for 5 yrs. the income cut off is $45k I think for a married couple. U can probably find a decent 3/2 in need of some repair for $125k. Come on down yall.


    If u r interested I might be able to get the link to u for investatlanta, think they have the same in Savannah

    • Travis

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve heard great things about the Atlanta Beltline and I’m intrigued, since neither of us have been to Atlanta before (aside from the airport). I checked out that InvestAtlanta incentive, and it’s $10,000 towards the down-payment/closing costs for first time homebuyers. We’ll keep this in mind, and if we’re uninspired by both Asheville and Chattanooga, then Atlanta may make the list of spots to check out next!