I want to get out of New York state and retire to a rural location with four seasons — where should I go?

Dear MarketWatch,

I currently live in upstate New York (Saratoga County). I will retire from my state government job with an $80,000 public pension. If I stay, I won’t have to pay state income taxes on my pension, Social Security and the first $20,000 annually from my deferred compensation. Despite all of that, all the other taxes in New York make retiring here seem very expensive.

I’m looking for a rural retirement location with four seasons and where I can have a hobby farm. I like living less than 45 minutes from a town with a vibrant downtown, golf, fishing, hiking, hunting, and skiing. The location must be affordable, including housing, as I will have a mortgage and also want good health-care options.



To add to the wish list, I’d love to be closer to my family who are in Fort Collins, Colo., and Mesa, Ariz.), or least be within 90 minutes of an airport so I can visit often.

Any suggestions would be most appreciated!

Sandy

Sandy,

Let’s look out West for that four-season retirement spot and also get you closer to family. Your $80,000 pension already makes you better off than many retirees, and that’s before any investment or other income, so you have plenty of choices. Natural beauty and amenities often come with a price premium, of course. I’ll suggest three smaller cities and leave you to scout out the nearby rural options and the hobby farm possibilities.

The cost of farmland varies widely across the U.S., depending on local conditions and what the land is used for, but on the whole, it’s cheapest in the mountain states region, which includes Wyoming and Montana. I’m assuming you have worked out the time commitment and financial implications of having such a farm and already know that hobby farms don’t qualify for the tax breaks that small farms do.

As always, spend some time in any place you’re considering and make sure to experience it in all kinds of weather. Sometimes no matter how perfect a place may sound on paper, it’s the intangibles that capture your heart — or turn you off.

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Wyoming, as you may know, has no state income tax. For someone who wants out of New York state taxes, that’s a big plus. It’s also 45 minutes from your family in Fort Collins, so that eliminates one set of airline tickets without, I hope, being too close.

You’re definitely in cowboy country here. In Cheyenne, the state capital, you’ll find 65,000 people, one of the biggest hospitals in the state, several golf courses — and the world’s largest outdoor rodeo festival in Cheyenne Frontier Days. Laramie, home to the University of Wyoming and just over half the size of Cheyenne, is an hour away.

Don’t worry about hunting opportunities. Your closest option for downhill skiing, Snowy Range Ski Area, is 90 minutes away, on the other side of Laramie.

The downside: the cost of housing is above the national median, even though the overall cost of living is just below the national average. Of course, that’s for Cheyenne, and you’re looking for something more rural but with land. You can see what’s on the market right now across Laramie County on Realtor.com (owned, as is MarketWatch, by News Corp.)

If the Laramie area (in Albany County) is more to your liking, here’s what your money buys there.

Pocatello, Idaho

The tourism office calls this town of 57,000, located in the southeast corner of the state, an unassuming mountain town, but it’s livelier than you might expect given Idaho State University and its 12,000 students. You’ll find golf, fishing in the Snake River, skiing just 30 minutes away (only $43 for a lift ticket!) and plenty of hiking trails. You didn’t mention cycling, but the website Singletracks rates Pocatello No. 3 among the best affordable mountain bike towns .

To top off all the outdoor opportunities, you’d be sandwiched between two vastly different national parks —- Crater of the Moon National Monument and Grand Teton National Park.

Both housing and the cost of living are below the national average. It’s also one of the choices that comes up using MarketWatch’s “where should I retire?” tool. (Coeur d’Alene, at the other end of the state, does too, but it’s pricier.)

Here’s what’s on the market now in Pocatello and Bannock County.

Yes, Idaho has a state income tax but its “tax freedom day”, as calculated by the National Tax Foundation and taking all federal, state and local taxes into account, actually comes a few days earlier than Wyoming’s. That’s a good reminder that income taxes aren’t the only tax to consider.

One downside is the local airport’s limited service. But the airport in Idaho Falls (population 63,000) just an hour away has more options. That’s also your closest “big city,” though you’ll find some of the state’s largest hospitals in both Pocatello and Idaho Falls. Both Salt Lake City (with its major airport) as well as Jackson Hole and the Tetons are about 2½ hours away.

Bozeman, Montana

A reader recently flagged Livingston, a town of 7,000 on the way to Yellowstone National Park, as a retirement destination. The New York Times has called it “the literary town on the Yellowstone River”. Another writer described it as having “a blue-collar heart and a bohemian soul.”

The big city, just 30 minutes away, would be fast-growing Bozeman, now about 51,000 people and home to Montana State with almost 17,000 students. Among the many reasons I like college towns is that state universities often let retirees audit classes for free. That’s the case here.

Montana checks the box on low taxes (including no sales tax) — its “tax freedom day” is April 6, the same as Idaho’s — and Bozeman has a large hospital. The local economy has been strong, with unemployment below the national average. Unfortunately, housing costs are above average, even within 20 miles of Bozeman. So finding your new home and farm may take some looking.

To see what’s on the market across Gallatin County (home to Bozeman), click here.

Outside Bozeman, Mt.

courtesy Bozeman CVB

In some ways, this is the most rural choice; the nearest really big city — Salt Lake City — is 400 miles.

What you do get in exchange is plenty of outdoors. It’s no coincidence that the big ski resort an hour south of Bozeman is called Big Sky, with one run that goes on for 6 miles. Fishing is big here. Golf courses are plentiful. You can get to Yellowstone National Park in less than two hours. On the way is Livingston as well as the rugged Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness (nearly 1 million acres, with many peaks above 12,000 feet) and hot springs.

With all there is to do, will there be time for a hobby farm?

A word of warning: winter is no joke here. Bozeman on average gets more than 5 feet of snow. But that’s similar to what you now get in Saratoga County. Winter is long, with frost into late May. The flip side is a low-humidity summer.

And if you want a break from all that snow, what better time to visit the family in Mesa? Even better, you can catch a non-stop flight from Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.

Readers, where do you think Sandy should go?


Originally published on MarketWatch

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