Want an ‘average’ retirement lifestyle? You’ll need more than $1 million in these cities

What does it take to have an average lifestyle in nearly 40% of the 384 U.S. metropolitan areas? More than a cool million.

Nationally, retirees would need an average nest egg of $1.07 million. Meanwhile, a retiree in San Francisco needs nearly $1.37 million—the highest total across the U.S., a study by LendingTree found.

The new LendingTree study calculates how much people need to retire in each U.S. metro based on the amount retirees spend in a year and on the median annual earnings of people ages 55 to 64.

Read: Americans think they need $1.25 million to retire. Is that enough?

After San Francisco, rounding out the five places you’ll need the biggest nest egg to retire are New York ($1,315,587), San Diego ($1,298,796), Honolulu ($1,288,763) and San Jose, Calif. ($1,276,997).

You can retire with an average lifestyle for less than $800,000 in just one metro area: Johnstown, Pa. The Pennsylvania metro slides just under that mark at $779,765. Cumberland, Md. ($802,988), and Danville, Ill. ($804,301), are the next closest.

According to LendingTree senior economist Jacob Channel, many factors contribute to how expensive a metro is, including how many people live there or want to live there, how many and what kinds of homes there are, what zoning and building laws look like and what sort of industries are most common.

For example, high housing costs in San Francisco are often attributed to strict development regulations and scarce land. That’s created limited supply in a city with high demand. Add that it’s close to Silicon Valley, with high salaries that can drive up prices, and it’s no wonder San Francisco—and San Jose—are pricey places to live and retire, Lending Tree found.

“Ultimately, each metro is unique and will have its own quirks that can make it more or less expensive,” Channel says. “This is true of metros that are ostensibly similar or that are in the same state. Anyone thinking about retiring in a given area should thoroughly research it before packing their bags and moving. Don’t let your preconceived notions or vague ideas about an area dictate whether you choose to live there.”

While San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose are at the top end of the list of where you’ll need the biggest nest egg to retire, other California metros aren’t far behind. In fact, 12 of the top 20 metros are in the Golden State. Joining them is Los Angeles at sixth, where it takes a nest egg of $1,273,643 to retire and maintain an average standard of living, the study found. 

“Simply put, California is a very attractive state for a lot of people,” Channel says. “The climate is generally agreeable, there is a lot of variety in terms of the geography that one can experience within the state (from beaches to mountain ranges), and there are a lot of stable (and often high-paying) jobs to go around. Owing to how appealing California is, many people want to live there. This means there is less housing supply and other resources, and the cost of living is higher. For many retirees, this higher cost of living can be well worth it, even if it requires more savings.”

Other states with metros that make top 20 appearances include New York, Hawaii, Florida, the District of Columbia, Colorado and Washington. The only metro primarily in a landlocked state in the top 20 is Denver, where you’ll likely need a nest egg of $1,243,532 to retire.

“Of course, having a high-paying job and not a lot of debt—two things that many people don’t have—will make saving much easier,” Channel said. “And, even if you do ‘everything right,’ there’s no guarantee you’ll ever end up with a $1 million nest egg. That said, a million dollars isn’t something everyone will need to have a happy retirement. What matters most is saving what you can and planning a lifestyle around the finances that you do have, instead of the finances that you wish you had.”

Do you have questions about retirement, Social Security, where to live or how to afford it at all? Write to HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com and we may use your question in a future story.

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