4 gorgeous beach towns where you can retire comfortably on $40,000 a year

Published: July 2, 2019 1:04 p.m. ET

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Sunshine, sand and surf don’t have to come at a premium

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On the beach, and on a budget?

That can be a reality for retirees — that is, if they know where to look. The average over-65 household in America drops $49,000 a year on everything from housing to food, according to the Census Bureau. But you don’t have to spend that much and, in fact, can spend far less — and retire to a sunny beach town. (No, really.)

MarketWatch looked at beach towns across America where the overall cost of living was significantly below average, where housing was reasonably priced and where there are plenty of things to see and do. (Though we can’t promise that summers won’t be hot, and your hurricane risk is admittedly elevated.) We found four attractive beach towns where you could spend roughly $40,000 a year and live a decent lifestyle.

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Bay St. Louis, Miss.

All your friends may be flocking to Florida for retirement, but you may get more for your money — and a gorgeous beach — in Mississippi. One town to consider: Bay St. Louis. “Beach lovers with a penchant for old architecture and affordable renovation spaces will love this small town,” writes Coastal Living magazine, calling it “a mix of Southern grace, mystery and heat.”

After a day on the beaches here — which Travel + Leisure magazine lauds for “soft and buttermilk white” sand — you can nosh on gumbo, po-boys and fresh Gulf seafood, while strolling down the shop-lined Main Street and chatting with friendly, creative-minded locals. And if you get bored with that, you can be in vibrant New Orleans, which is just about 60 miles away, in an hour.

Perhaps the best part: the cost. Average homes are priced at under $150,000, and you can find plenty of apartments renting for well under $1,000 a month; the cost of living, overall, is significantly below average (though food does tend to cost a little more than the national average). And personal finance site SmartAsset notes that “property taxes here are also not too significant,” with the average property owner spending about “$1,088 per year for an effective property tax rate of 1.64%.” No wonder Southern Living magazine named Bay St. Louis one of its favorite little towns in Mississippi.

By the numbers:
Population: 12,000
Average home value: $138,000
Cost-of-living index (100 is average): 93.9
Source: Sperling’s Best Places

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Pensacola, Fla.

Residents of Pensacola won’t be surprised that their Florida Panhandle city was ranked 37th in the annual “best places to live” in America by U.S. News & World Report. The city of roughly 50,000 offers a compelling mix of low-cost living; sugar-sand beaches; and a walkable downtown, with plenty to do.

Of course, you probably already know about the Gulf Coast beaches of Florida and those tranquil turquoise waters, so let’s start with all there is to do. The Pensacola Saenger Theatre books everything from orchestras to Broadway shows, the Pensacola Museum of Art has rotating exhibitions and a permanent collection including works by Warhol, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec and more, and there are tons of special events throughout the year, from a popular seafood festival to concerts on the beach. Locals also love the Saturday farmers’ market and the city’s myriad restaurants and bars.

As one therapist recently joked about the area: “Pensacola is the most disappointing market in the country for mental-health professionals. The weather is so damn balmy and the lifestyle so unhurried that people are unnaturally healthy. This sets a bad example because it suggests that it’s possible to live a normal life without pills, couches or lobotomies.”

And then there’s the lower-than-average price tag. Florida became a hot retirement haven not only for its warm winters, but also for its lack of a state income tax (retirement income isn’t taxed here either). And Pensacola in particular is affordable with a significantly lower than average cost of living, home prices that hover around $140,000, and reasonable property taxes.

By the numbers:
Population: 53,000
Average home value: $138,000
Cost-of-living index (100 is average): 93.1
Sources: Sperling’s Best Places

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Waterfront park in Fort Pierce, Fla.

Fort Pierce, Fla.

This affordable beach town roughly an hour north of Palm Beach offers a charming downtown — both Reader’s Digest and Travel & Leisure put Fort Pierce’s on their lists of the best main streets in America — lined with historic architecture, rustling palm trees, and restaurants and attractions.

While this isn’t a bustling town, there’s enough to do: attend a Broadway show or a music or comedy act at the beautifully renovated Sunrise Theater; visit the Navy SEAL museum; shop the popular Saturday morning farmers’ market; or hit up Friday Fest, where you’ll enjoy music, food and other festivities on the first Friday of the month (it’s great fun for the grandkids, too).

But perhaps the big draw here is the great fishing in uncrowded waters. You can nab mahi-mahi, tuna, pompano, amberjack, cobia, snapper and grouper; some people have broken records with the fish they’ve pulled in. It’s also a good spot for nature lovers, who can visit the Indian River Lagoon Estuary, home to more than 4,000 plant and animal species, or the Heathcote Botanical Garden.

It’s inexpensive, too, with a cost of living that’s significantly below average, home prices that are around $150,000 and Florida’s retiree-friendly tax laws. Even better: According to Census Bureau data, median housing costs for Fort Pierce residents are under $10,000 a year.

By the numbers:
Population: 44,000
Average home value: $152,000
Cost-of-living index (100 is average): 91.5
Sources: Sperlings Best Places

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Padre Island.

Corpus Christi, Texas

If the idea of a littler town freaks you out a bit — where will you shop, and what if you get sick of the restaurants? — but you still want a beach life, Corpus Christi is worth a look.

The Gulf Coast city offers something for 5- and 50-year-olds alike, “thanks to a lively downtown anchored by a slew of skyscrapers and busy shoreline lined with condos and seafood restaurants,” Travel + Leisure notes. “There’s also a beach for every personality, from sports enthusiasts to nature lovers.”

You won’t be bored in Corpus. The Texas State Aquarium boasts 360 species of underwater life; there are a handful of museums, including the well-regarded Art Museum of South Texas; and pretty much any kind of restaurant you could want, from fresh seafood to Mexican to Thai, French and Italian.

There are also lots of options for beach going, including the 18-mile Mustang Island, as well as the Padre Island National Seashore, which is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world, boasting 70 miles of coastline, a nesting ground for sea turtles and more than 380 bird species.

Plus, average home values are around $150,000, the cost of living is the lowest of the cities on this list, and Texas doesn’t charge an income tax.

By the numbers:
Population: 323,000
Average home value: $147,000
Cost-of-living index (100 is average): 90.1
Sources: Sperling’s Best Places

This story was originally published in April 2019.

Catey Hill is MarketWatch's senior content strategist. She writes about how to upgrade your life, and helps readers find great deals on products and services. Follow her on Twitter @CateyHill.

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