Money Matters

Retiring in San Diego? Here Are the Top 4 Considerations

25 Jan 2021 by: Matt Showley  , , ,

When you consider your retirement years, what do you envision? Many soon-to-be retirees imagine spending their time close to family, traveling, and pursuing new and exciting activities. If you already live here, you know why people from all over the country flock to the quality of life offered in California, and specifically, San Diego. 

San Diego offers retirees many ways to remain active and explore different interests because of a warm, year-round climate; various fine dining, cultural, and outdoor activities; and professional and college sporting events. The city also has affordable, accessible healthcare options and a wide array of living options. Retirees have their pick of new and established senior living communities, trendy condos in every area of town, and a geographically diverse landscape where the beach, mountains, and desert meet. The appeal is apparent, but is San Diego the best place to retire for you? 

A Five-Year Outlook

For residents and non-residents alike, many factors go into deciding if you’ll ultimately want—or can afford—to retire in San Diego. It can pose challenges, especially for those considering moving from a different part of California or anywhere else in the country. We like to guide our clients through a planning process to thoroughly weigh their options. Planning ahead will ensure you’ve considered the tax impact, cost of living, and quality of life benefits that make up your ideal retirement years. We’ll share the most significant factors you should consider before putting a stake in the ground in San Diego.

Cost of Living

Without the proper research and preparation, all of the benefits we mentioned above may come with a hefty price tag. Overall, San Diego has a 60 percent higher cost of living than the rest of the country. High taxes are another concern. California has a high state income tax and is one of a handful of states that taxes military and private retirement income. Cost of living can be a staggering transition for many who have a fixed retirement income or come from regions where expenses are historically lower. 

The high cost of living can also pose an issue for retirees wishing to stay close to their loved ones. If you envision spending time with family, you  must know whether your children and grandchildren can afford to live in San Diego, too, and communicate your wishes to them. It’s also critical to discuss your plans with a financial advisor two to three years before your retirement to ensure your retirement income, after taxes, can sustain living in the city. 


While the cost of living is higher than the national average, there is one expense that ultimately becomes a deciding factor for most—and that’s housing. Housing in San Diego is around 180 percent higher than the national average. If you’re already a resident, you’ve cleared one of the biggest hurdles for those who want to retire here by holding equity in your home or falling under previously passed legislation that has kept your property taxes low. Still, there are options to offset the high cost of living once you’ve stopped working, even if you are a long-time resident. You may consider downsizing, refinancing, or paying down your current mortgage two to three years out from your retirement.

If you’re a non-resident, determining where you want and can afford to live is one of the challenges that will take the most thought and planning. We suggest renting for a minimum of six months in your preferred location first. Renting can give you the lay of the land and help you avoid regret from committing to an expensive purchase. For example, beach living may sound like paradise. But after you experience the lack of parking, increased tourist traffic, and a younger demographic concentrated there, you may think twice—and be happy you didn’t plunge into buying in a beach community. 

Exploring San Diego by living here, not just visiting, will help you make an informed decision about your long-term options and provide a sufficient period to shift your arrangements if things don’t go according to plan.

Travel and Transportation

Does part of your ideal retirement include more travel? Convenient, affordable travel is another challenge for San Diego residents. The city still doesn’t have as many direct flight options as other major hubs in the country, which increases the expense and hassle of regular travel for retirees. San Diego also lacks convenient public transportation compared to other cities in the country. You’ll most likely still need a car if you wish to get to the airport and easily commute throughout the city without a headache. For all of these factors, you may determine that San Diego  may be more practical as a secondary or vacation home option for you when planning your retirement.

Build Your Ideal Retirement Plan

Retirement, in general, already requires careful thought and decision-making. Retiring in a place like San Diego comes with a separate host of challenges and factors to consider. You want to retire when and where you choose and ensure your retirement funds last as long as possible. A financial advisor should walk you through the questions and scenarios that will ultimately form your retirement years, including:

  • What does your ideal retirement look like; what are your must-haves?
  • Can you afford to live in San Diego? 
  • Where will your children and grandchildren live? 
  • Does the quality of life offered in San Diego outweigh the high cost of living? 
  • How long will your retirement income last in San Diego?
  • What can you do to improve the possibilities of retiring in San Diego?

These are the conversations we have with clients every day at CCMI. If you’re ready to start your retirement conversation, please contact us, and we can begin building your strategy to help you maximize your retirement benefits and reach your goals. 

CCMI provides personalized fee-only financial planning and investment management services to business owners, professionals, individuals and families in San Diego and throughout the country. CCMI has a team of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals who act as fiduciaries, which means our clients’ interests always come first.
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