Retirees seeking the retirement trifecta — golf, the beach and warm weather — often flock to pricey places like Hilton Head, Palm Beach or Santa Barbara. But sugar-sand beaches, sunshine and some of the best golf in the nation can be had at a much lower price in Alabama.
The northern part of the state encompasses foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, where the outdoor amenities include hiking, lake-side living and fishing. High-tech Huntsville, where the National Aeronautics and Space Administration planned its moon landings, attracts professionals in all kinds of scientific fields. Cities such as Montgomery, Birmingham and Fairhope offer Southern hospitality and more arts and culture than some might expect.
Among the highlights for many retirees is the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, a collection of 11 different sites with 26 championship-quality courses within about 100 miles of each other, which The Wall Street Journal said “may be the biggest bargain in the country.”
But it’s not just the golf that’s affordable here. The state’s overall cost of living is 10.1% below the national average, and even living along the coastline is reasonable. Gulf Shores, along the Gulf of Mexico, costs only 1.6% more than average to live in, compared with 33% for Hilton Head, S.C., 92% for Palm Beach, Fla., and 105% for Santa Barbara, Calif.
Nicknamed the “Heart of Dixie,” Alabama offers residents an environment with a distinct southern flair (expect a lot of “yes ma’ams”), often anchored in a rabid love of college football (Alabama and Auburn games leave the cities that host their games awash in red and orange, respectively).
The state has several top-notch health-care facilities, including the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham, the Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan and the Baptist Health System statewide. And Alabama’s assisted living and nursing homes are notably affordable. A private room in a nursing home in Alabama has a median daily cost of $191, compared with $230 for the nation as a whole; and families faced a $2,600 median monthly rate for assisted living, compared with $3,450 for the rest of the country, according to a 2013 study by Genworth Financial, Inc.
Although residents pay income taxes here, the rate tops out at 5%, and Social Security and pension income are exempt. Plus, homeowners over 65 don’t pay property taxes and there is no estate tax. State gas taxes and cigarette taxes are among the nation’s lowest at 21 cents per gallon and 43 cents per pack respectively. But while Alabama has one of the nation’s lower statewide sales tax rates at 4%, add to that one of the highest average local sales tax at 4.48% and you may be paying more than 8 cents per dollar in some locations, according to the Tax Foundation.