Decision for retirees: finding a new 'Eden' -- or staying put

Will you be moving to a new and presumably more pleasant locale when you retire? Or, will you stick with the familiar, near friends and children where you now live?

About five out of six retiring individuals and couples stay put, according to Peter Dickinson, author of several books on retirement and editor of the Retirement Letter (Phillips Publishing Company, 7310 Wisconsin Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20014). Powerful reasons abound for sticking in home territory. And, of course, many retirees already live in places many think are ideal.

But, if you are considering a move, Dickinson advises you not to pull up stakes without considerable study. He wrote a book bulging with factual data on warmer climates, "Sunbelt Retirement -- The Complete State by State Guide to Retiring in the South and West of the United States" (E. P. Dutton, N.Y., revised in 1980). Now he has just published a follow-up volume called "Retirement Edens Outside the Sunbelt" (E. P. Dutton, N.Y.).

According to Dickinson, "A retirement Eden is a place you would love to visit and like to live in. It is a haven where you will be happier, healthier and wealthier than you are now."

For over three years Dickinson researched locations as diverse as Anchorage, Alaska, and Key West, Fla. He interviewed many persons he met on his travels, picked the brains of experts, and checked on sites personally.

How does he rate a "retirement Eden"? He checked Edens against the following criteria:

* Climate.Ideal are days with an average high of 66 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity of 55 percent. These climactic conditions put less strain on some persons. Whether you would like every day to be ideal is a personal reaction. Personally, I would find it boring.

* Cost of living. Dickinson figures a couple should be able to live comfortably if not luxuriously on $10,000 a year in 1981 dollars and rates locations on that basis. He figures state and local taxes should be around 8 percent.

* Housing. A choice retirement Eden should offer a two-bedroom house in a price range of $40,000, again in 1981 dollars.

* Medical facilities. In a hospital a semiprivate room should cost less than

* Recreation and culture. The area should allow persons interested in books, music, or art to feel comfortable.

* Special services for senior citizens. Transportation and certain activities should be available to seniors on an organized basis.

Each major area has its special combination of pluses and minuses. Massachusetts, for example, is rated the worst state in a retirement study by Chase Econometrics because it has the highest cost for retirement living, high utility bills, high taxes on dividends and interest, and its part-time job opportunities are dominated by college students. But along with high costs are offsetting benefits -- excellent medical services, varied climate, innovative housing programs, unusual cultural opportunities, and many unique services for seniors. Thus, there is no clear answer on what is best for everyone.

You will likely have far different priorities than others about where you prefer to retire. Your financial position may permit you to live in a relatively high-cost retirement Eden and participate in its advantages without worrying unduly about money. Or, if you will be severely limited financially, you will choose a place where you can live economically. "Retirement Edens" lays out the facts, particularly the costs and services, on places nearby or far off from wherever you live in the US.

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