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Thinking Small Town Retirement – 7 Reasons Why It Might Not Be a Good Idea

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

September 26, 2018 — A few years ago we published an article about small town retirement that a lot of people seemed to really like: “Five Big Reasons to Choose a Small Town Retirement“. Here is the counterpoint; some great reasons why that might not be the best idea.

Moving to a small town for retirement is a frequent dream for many baby boomers. Friendly neighbors, walking to downtown for coffee, and no traffic are just some of the attractions for people fed up with suburban sprawl and city hassles. Unfortunately, sometimes the dream does not work out that well. Or, people just realize that small town living isn’t for them.

Decorah, Iowa – a town many Member say is a great small town for retrirement

Some of the problems we have seen
Access to medical care. The #1 issue we hear about is people who are disappointed with the health available in the small town they move to. There might not be many doctors, few specialists, and only a tiny hospital offering limited care. This really becomes a problem if you develop a condition that requires a specialist or a big hospital. A two or three hour drive to regular appointments, or in an emergency, will be a big problem for you. Small towns also greatly reduce your choice of doctors. It is not so much of an issue with towns that are near a big metro, of course, where the quality of care tends to be higher.

Entertainment options. If your new town only has a couple of good eateries, you might get bored quickly. Likewise if it doesn’t have a good movie theater, local drama or musical venue, or other entertainment available, you might begin to feel like you are missing out.

Everybody’s business. If you have lived your adult life in a city you might be unpleasantly surprised by how much interest your new neighbors take in just about every aspect of your life. What church you go to (or don’t go to), for example, or your politics. If you prefer to be more private, it might take some effort to maintain a comfortable distance.

Can’t break in – or fit in. When you move to a small town with set social hierarchy, you might have trouble breaking in, despite your best efforts. The people that have lived there forever don’t necessarily want you, either. As one person on our Blog reported, the locals… “like to see ya’ come, and they like to see you go!” Your Topretirements Editor sees evidence of the same thinking when he visits a town and gets enthusiastic about it. “Don’t tell anyone about us” they say, drawing up their version of a drawbridge. Also, if you come from a faster-paced environment, you might be too intense to fit in with the locals.

Not enough diversity. One problem happens if, for example, your politics are blue and the town is deeply red, as might happen in the south (the opposite might occur in the northeast or in coastal America). Feeling like you are in the minority and having to guard your conversations has sometimes been an issue experienced by our friend Jeff in his adopted South Carolina community. Likewise if you like to be in a diverse racial, religious, and ethnic environment, chances are most small towns are going to disappoint.

Transportation problems. Most small towns have no or a very limited public transportation system. If you can walk, bike, or drive, you might not need it. But in other cases the services might be so limited and infrequent to be trying. Likewise the distance to an airport with service to many other cities can be very frustrating to people who plan on travelling a lot in their retirement. There is probably no Uber, and maybe only one taxi.

Tourist town issues. One issue about small towns was described on our Blog by Carol. She mentioned Charlevoix, MI, which is not only a beautiful town sometimes mobbed by tourists, but which also has a drawbridge that can bring local traffic to its knees. Small towns that are big tourist draws can wear you down with their traffic, dawdling tourists, and crowded restaurants.

It’s a personal choice
There is no perfect solution for everyone. Some people are going to thrive in a small town. Others will suffocate. If you are tempted to try a small town retirement, the best way to find out is to try it, visiting or renting for an extensive period before you make a major move.

One Solution
Many of our Members have offered this advice in the past: if you do choose small town living, try to be close to a city or college town. That way you can experience the best of both worlds.

Comments? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below. Did you retire to a small town – and if you did – how is it going? Would you do it again?

For further reading:
Five Big Reasons to Choose a Small Town Retirement
Five Reasons Why You Might Not Want to Retire in a Small Town (Wall St. Journal)

Posted by Admin on September 25th, 2018


  1. We tried Sedona AZ (yes, it’s beautiful). EVERY one of these “problems” is spot on.

    by Guy Short — September 26, 2018

  2. Yep, we tried it twice without success: politics, guns, religion, education, health care, culture, cuisine and more [or less]. Don’t go where you are odd person out. You were warned.

    by Roger Preuss — September 26, 2018

  3. Thanks for this article. Almost every article about places to retire will mention something tourists care about like a museum or park that a resident will visit maybe once, and never mention the hospital situation. Coming from a family of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and ultrasonographers, I’ve concluded that the retirement town needs to either have a hospital that is 100 beds or larger, or be a regional trauma hospital (any level of trauma center).

    by ron manuel — September 26, 2018

  4. Since the Chamber of Commerce won’t mention it, you can often find the information on Wikipedia. Here’s the link for Washington State: 60 hospitals that are too small to handle everything a retiree needs, in my opinion, and 46 hospitals that have the critical mass needed. I see that trauma hospitals now go all the way down to a level 5. I’d revise my suggestion above that any level is good enough and restrict it to Level 3 or better.

    by ron manuel — September 26, 2018

  5. Left Hot Springs Village,AR for all the reasons listed. Back in the city and happy.

    by MJ Adamson — September 26, 2018

  6. We left a close in Chicago suburb for Traverse City, MI about 5 years ago. We rented for a year before we bought a home. We are very happy in our new community. Yes, it can be busy during the summer but you quickly learn the work arounds like avoid the major highways thru town, shop early the day, walk/bike as much as possible and avoid the tourist areas on weekends. The attraction for us was everything else, the tourism pays for the good stuff, numerous outstanding restaurants, 2 movie theaters, an Opera House, a Play House, a nationally recognized Film Festival, a wonderful Library, many brewpubs and wineries, waterfront parks, a large regional hospital complex, a community college and much more all of which is nestled in along the beautiful Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan. The key for us was to volunteer at non-profits whose mission we fully agreed with so you end up making many friends.

    by trout creek — September 26, 2018

  7. We seem to have found the best of both worlds which is an over 55 small community of active and very friendly neighbors. We are halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg, VA so even though our “town” is small, we are only 20 minutes from great medical care and hospitals, restaurants, shopping, historical points of interest,and pretty much anything we want.

    by Pat S. — September 26, 2018

  8. I moved to a university town with a good university hospital, diversity, large enough to have multiple entertainment venues and enough people to blend in and not have everyone know my business. Transportation may be an issue in the future. I am able to drive now, but I see how this could be a problem in the future. This town’s cost of living is 17% below the national average. My house is paid off. I can walk to my bank, restaurants, grocery store, car parts store, and other merchants. Still, it is not perfect. No place is, but living in a big city would cost more and I would lose other amenities that are important to me: easy access to nature; family here and family history woven into the community; a slowed down pace that matches my own; and everything close by. One of the bigger problems I have is overshooting where I am going because I keep thinking things are farther away than they are. I’m still on big city driving mode.

    by Elaine C. — September 26, 2018

  9. I’ve moved to a small new England town where I grew up summers and have a lot of friends who have known me my whole life. But I will only be here 5 months of the year (summers) and I don’t think I could live here year round — it is a tiny town with one store, a library and an art gallery, an 80 minutes’ drive from a larger city. I will spend winters in Southern California, in a small city with great arts and restaurants. Right now I’m 62, newly widowed, and the day may come when driving 5 days across the country twice a year is no longer appealing or feasible…but for now I hope this will be an ideal combination. Having grown up in a big city I am still getting used to small town life — especially when people I hardly know ask me, “How are you liking your new house?”!!

    by Elizabeth H. — September 26, 2018

  10. So very happy to see I’m not the only one who has found living in a small town to be a BIG mistake!! And for most of the reasons listed above. Moved from Albuquerque to Sierra Vista, AZ, last year where apartment rents are REALLY low. However, much prefer and find I NEED way more culture and amenities to be happy and fit in. One thing I must mention, I rely on the V.A. for health care. There’s a bare bones V.A. Clinic here but for anything serious, must drive 1 1/2 hours to the Tucson V.A. Hospital. Believe me, after eye surgery there and monthly follow-up appointment, that boring trip gets old fast!! Plan to move once again (been all over the country!) next year . Thanks so much for this article and hope many more people respond and/or take the information seriously.

    by D Morse — September 27, 2018

  11. The Sedona comment. So right. Please don’t go there. 😀 wink (drawbridge).
    Religious conservatives are the drawback for me. Physical beauty is all over the SE states, but would not get along with the locals, me being a liberal non believer.

    by Bob — September 28, 2018

  12. Bob – The only moderate-to-liberal larger metro area in the southeastern states I know of is the greater Miami area, encompassing Miami-Dade, Broward (Ft. Lauderdale) and Palm Beach counties. Of course, there are all kinds of politics represented (Donald Trump lives there part-time), but overall it’s fairly progressive. Presidential voting is usually 55-65% Democratic, depending on location. Most of the large cities in the southeast US have moderate pockets and some college towns tend to the more liberal side. But if you’re looking for a larger metro area in the southeast that’s more progressive politically, greater Miami is about it. I live there and it suits me fine, and I consider myself a pragmatic progressive.

    by Clyde — September 29, 2018

  13. Partagas, while not all of what the internet has to offer is good, I must say we are far more privy to what is really going on here there and everywhere else than we were in the past, when we had to rely on a one-sided view of all that. You made some fabulous points about our big city friends and their idea of quality. Give me small to medium towns any time and yes the dreaded conservatism that goes with them. I live in one and have for decades right along with some African American Christians and oh yes several Hispanic Catholics as well. Imagine that! Yes, we get along just fine.

    Dan O

    by Dan — September 29, 2018

  14. I’ve been in a small, rural, college town in the South, since my husband’s job brought us here almost 20 years ago. Now that we’re retired, we’re thinking about where we’re going next. Living in a small town does have some real benefits, but I’ve also experienced a lot of the disadvantages mentioned in this article. What bothers me most is that I have very little in common with the overtly religious, conservative, gun-loving, liberal-hating people who are the overwhelming majority around here and who always–always!–assume that I share their views. On the plus side: you learn to really appreciate the few kindred souls that you meet.

    by carol — October 5, 2018

  15. Carol – what is the name of the small town where you’re living now? Dian

    by Dian — October 6, 2018

  16. The discussion of this blog veered away from Small Town Retirement, so the last few comments that discussed Seattle and Portland were moved to a blog about the Dueling Retirement States of Washington and Oregon:

    by Admin — October 6, 2018

  17. I built my ‘forever’ home in Sedona, AZ. BIG MISTAKE. Yes, all the reasons cited here. TRAFFIC being near the TOP of that list. I stayed 8 years, moving from one part of town to another; trying to make it work. FINALLY I realized FLAGSTAFF, just 30 mins away might be a better place. It too is a ‘tourist’ town and I’m finding it’s more expensive than Sedona! I love the TREES, Largest Pine Forest in the WORLD. 7,000 ft. Altitude is Marvelous, and no bugs at this altitude. NICE. But. . Politics, and the mentality of “ENTITLEMENT” by the ‘owners’ of this town have caused me to ‘start packing’. Only thing is: I’m not sure WHERE to move to. Pretty sure it won’t be a ‘tourist’ town!
    That’s why I’m on this site, looking for ideas, suggestions, and hopefully will find my next ‘home’.

    by SunnySmiles — October 6, 2018

  18. I am very happy with my choice to move to a small college town in New England. I am 10 miles away from a city, right on the ocean, and a great bus line that runs right outside my door. I am about an hour away from Boston and a few hours from NYC. The best hospitals in the country are very close by. I love, love, love, where I live! It is a little expensive and taxes are high. Every time I leave and come home, I breathe a sigh and thank God that I found this place!!!!!

    by Maimi — October 7, 2018

  19. Maimi,

    Where did you end up living? It seems that the life you lead more than compensates for thehigher taxes. Since I live in Washington, DC, I believe anything would seem cheaper than we have it here.


    by Jennifer — October 7, 2018

  20. I recently attended a wine tasting dinner in a small town on the eastern shore of MD which my husband and I had been seriously considering for retirement. We were seated with a retired couple from the area who proceeded to tell us of personal info – divorces, illnesses, financial problems and mental health issues of many restaurateurs and shop keepers in town. “We know everything about everyone in this town.”
    I’m not into gossip and wouldn’t want others discussing me. Is this a real problem or am I being overly concerned?

    by Staci — October 11, 2018

  21. Staci, many people in small towns take a great interest in their neighbors. I think it would be safe to assume that when anyone new moves in that they will reach out and even through friendship learn about you and maybe talk about you, so be careful about what you share–same applies in any size town.

    by Jennifer — October 12, 2018

  22. Don’t forget, people in small towns are related to or friends with everyone. So, it is best to never bad mouth anyone because it will get back to the person you are crabbing about.

    Another thing about city people moving to the country is that they like the quaint towns, but they want everything they had in the cities they came from. Like municipal swimming pools which are not something most tax payers in small towns don’t want to spend their money on. The city folk want what they are used to and that is why they need to question themselves if they can do without the THINGS that they are used to. No, we don’t have Broadway shows but we have high schools that put on plays. We have small playhouses where local people act. We don’t have municipal swimming pools but we have YMCA’s, lakes and swimming pools in our back yards. We don’t have Coney Island and the Nathan’s hot dog eating contests but we have plenty of backyard picnics. We have summer concerts on our town greens, we have farms where you can pick apples, strawberries, blueberries. We have farm CSA’s where you pay for a basket of fresh veggies each week straight from the farm supporting the local farmers. There are a lot of good things living in a small town but it isn’t for everyone. Just as some of us small town people would not enjoy all that big cities have to offer.

    by Louise — April 17, 2019

  23. Well said Louise! To be honest, we thought we wanted to be IN the city – to force ourselves to get out and be active but, once we were ready to make the move, we couldn’t afford it. We DID find a small town, just outside the city and after a year, we haven’t gone into “town” once! Small town has everything we need with less traffic and less expense. We know that downtown is there and hope to venture in for events one day soon but, we have been too busy to make the effort yet!

    by HEF — April 18, 2019

  24. Jennifer, I moved to Bristol, RI. There are a lot of retirees here.

    by Maimi — April 19, 2019

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