Everyone dreams of retiring someday. But retire early, in your 30s or 40s? As far-fetched as this fantasy may seem, there’s a name for this wish that could help make it happen: FIRE.
Short for Financial Independence, Retire Early, the FIRE movement finds its roots in the 1992 best-seller “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez (a Wall Street financial analyst who—you guessed it—retired at 31) and Vicki Robin (who turned a modest inheritance into an income stream that allowed her to quit work at 23).
Although the idea of FIRE has been around for 25-plus years, it’s recently become the obsession du jour among a seemingly unlikely group: millennials. Say what you want about their adoration of avocado toast, but this group is gung-ho to quit the rat race ASAP. But how?
In a nutshell, the FIRE premise works like this: In your early working years, you adhere to a strict, even spartan, budget so you can sock away 40% to 70% of your income and wisely invest it.
FIRE requires some sacrifice: ditching or cutting way back on expensive/fun nights out on the town, exotic vacations, or even new clothes. (Hey, nobody said this would be easy.) But once this rapidly growing nest egg totals 30 times your yearly expenses, you’ve reached what’s called the “crossover point” where you can retire and live off the interest it generates for as long as you’re still alive and kicking. No job required!
While FIRE fans have a variety of strategies to reach these lofty goals, one key cornerstone to most FIRE plans involves buying a home—a well-priced one, in a town where the job market will allow you to bank plenty of cash.
So to help point you in the right direction, the data team at realtor.com® crunched the numbers and found where these FIRE-friendly enclaves are hiding, so you can embark on your own early path to retirement right now.
“Owning a home helps you build equity, forces saving—and, if you buy correctly, you’ll have your home paid off quickly,” says Ilyce Glink, founder and CEO of financial wellness platform BestMoneyMoves.com. At that point, you can either sell the place for a fat profit or rent it out, turning it into an income-producing asset.
Glink cautions that would-be FIRE followers need to be sure not to overly stretch their budget: Monthly housing costs should ideally fall well below 28% of gross monthly income (and well below the national median home price, which currently hovers around $305,000).
To find these areas that can help you get your FIRE mojo going, our data team scoped out your prospects in the nation’s top 150 metropolitan areas (which include the main city and surrounding suburbs and smaller cities). We looked at the following factors*:
- Lowest home sale prices
- Lowest cost of living
- Lowest property taxes and lowest or no state income tax
- Highest median wages
- Highest percentage of high-paying jobs
We also narrowed the list to include only one metro per state so that FIRE is achievable regardless of where you live.
And once you do reach this crossover point yourself? Learn Esperanto! Take up cave diving! Read Proust! Volunteer! And while the sky’s the limit as to where you head next (check out our list of the fastest-growing cities for retirement if you’re in need of ideas), these cities below could also be great places to stick around and grow old. Like, beyond 40.
1. Huntsville, Ala.
Average salary: $54,630**
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 28.1%
Median home sale price: $202,900
This Southern city is anything but sleepy, since it serves as home to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal, and offices for Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman. With such aerospace, defense, and tech heavyweights in the area, Huntsville is famed for its educated workforce and sky-high wages to go with it.
Paired with Huntsville’s low home prices and a cost of living 3.3% lower than the national average, it’s a FIRE-friendly combo at its best—and people are catching on.
“The market is going crazy,” says local real-estate agent Sid Pugh of Re/Max Alliance. With three historic districts around the downtown area (Old Town, Twickenham, and Five Points), Huntsville has the largest collection of historic homes in the state of Alabama. Not up for a fixer-upper? More modern loft living abounds in the recently revitalized downtown area, including the recently renovated Terry Hutchens Building, or 200-unit Artisan Lofts.
And although prices are creeping higher to meet the demand, Matt Curtis of Matt Curtis Real Estate says deals can still be found.
“Home prices here are still very affordable, with the average cost still in the low $200,000s,” he says. In fact, homes for well under $200,000 exist in the communities of Ashbury, Georgetown Square, and Madison, where this three-bedroom house is priced at a mere $155,000.
2. Knoxville, Tenn.
Average salary: $45,130
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 19.3%
Median home sale price: $192,500
Knoxville has a lot going for it on the FIRE front. For starters, Tennessee has no state income tax and local property taxes are low, according to agent Laura Slyman of Slyman Real Estate.
As a result, “Knoxville is an easy place to live, to raise a family, or to retire,” she says.
This easy living is further enhanced by the area’s strong job market, with the largest employers being the U.S. Department of Energy and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Most of the highest-paying gigs here are in sectors relating to science, government, or health services.
Meanwhile, with a plethora of five-star restaurants and nightlife combined with plenty of greenways and the scenic Smoky Mountains in the distance, Knoxville is often referred to as a “small big city” catering to urbanites and outdoorsy types alike, with a variety of affordable housing options.
North Knoxville is an up-and-coming neighborhood with historic properties that would make great investments. Check out this newly renovated cottage with a spacious back deck priced at $164,900.
3. Dayton, Ohio
Average salary: $50,100
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 21.5%
Median home sale price: $146,000
As hometown to the Wright brothers and, currently, the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton is steeped in aviation history that’s still present today. Aerospace and defense are some of Dayton’s top industries, along with manufacturing thanks to heavyweights Cargill and PepsiCo.
And these businesses have fueled not only this area’s demand for high-paying jobs, but also the development of 20 city parks, more than 330 miles of biking trails, and a bike-share program. Meanwhile a revitalized downtown seeks to attract millennials by building everything from microbreweries to a new crop of green urban living environments like the Litehouse, which features a private, cobblestone interior street that oozes European charm.
The streets of Dayton are also lined with grand old fixer-uppers being remodeled and flipped for decent prices. For instance, this charming vintage-style home built in 1919 boasts a new bathroom, new flooring, even a new roof and water heater, all for a mere $79,900.
4. Peoria, Ill.
Average salary: $51,510
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 21.7%
Median home sale price: $135,000
The catchphrase “Will it play in Peoria?” has been around since Groucho Marx, and for good reason: This Midwestern city is the very model of mainstream America. As such, this river city has been used as a test market for everything from presidential campaigns to Metallica tours.
So if you’re proud to be an American, this is your place! It’s also a bustling manufacturing hub, serving as headquarters for equipment giant Caterpillar and Japanese equipment manufacturer Komatsu. The city boasts a higher employment-to-population ratio than most Northeastern, Western, or Sun Belt states—and a cost of living 20% below the national average.
And if you happen to be handy with a little construction yourself, Peoria is a prime place to snag run-down fixer-uppers for under $50,000, or even less. Don’t believe us? In the neighborhood of Averyville, the median listing price hovers around $30,000, and bargains like this three-bedroom home can be had for a mere $12,500. There’s nowhere to go but up—particularly since Komatsu has announced plans to raze run-down buildings along the river in this area to make way for a new park with dramatic river views.
5. Indianapolis, Ind.
Average salary: $49,380
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 22.3%
Median home sale price: $209,109
The hit HGTV show “Good Bones” is set in Indianapolis, and for good reason: The city is filled with gorgeous old homes that just need a little TLC—which makes ‘em prime digs for FIRE enthusiasts who want to roll up their sleeves.
And those who settle here have a lot more than a nice house to look forward to. “Crossroads of America” is the official motto of this state capital, one of the busiest transportation hubs in the U.S. As such, many large employers like Amazon, Rolls-Royce, and Eli Lilly and Co. have offices here, while a budding tech scene reels in younger entrepreneurs.
Yet home pries still hover 20% below the national average, according to Josh Latham, director of sales at Re/Max Advanced Realty in Indianapolis. As such, he says, “FIRE could easily be a growing theme for the city of Indianapolis and surrounding burbs.”
As for which neighborhoods are up-and-coming but easy on the wallet, he points to Franklin Township, with its newly revitalized downtown and bountiful affordable housing options, including this adorable 1,632-square-foot, three bedroom for $175,000.
6. Beaumont, Texas
Average salary: $49,150
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 16.5%
Median home sale price: $163,125
In 1901, a well under a Beaumont oil field called Spindletop struck black gold—and gushed over 100,000 barrels a day for nine days, ushering in America’s oil age. Today, Beaumont (along with nearby Gulf cities Port Arthur and Orange) makes up a major industrial area known as the Golden Triangle, where lucrative jobs from Exxon Mobil Corp., Total Petrochemicals, and other heavyweights are flowing.
As if that weren’t enough to fuel your fantasies of retiring early, get this: Texas has no income tax, which means more of your paycheck can be funneled toward your yonder years. Furthermore, unlike its larger (and pricier) sister cities Dallas, Houston, and Austin, Beaumont is still a bargain where you can score deals on oil boom–era mansions just begging for a makeover. For instance, this 2,452-square-foot, four-bedroom Colonial in the Oaks Historic District needs a little love, but at $119,000, it’s a great investment, for residents or aspiring real estate investors alike.
7. Winston-Salem, N.C.
Average salary: $45,850
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 19.0%
Median home sale price: $178,000
Let’s start with the important stuff: Winston-Salem is home of the first Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, opened in 1937. Are we done here? No? Well, even if you’re more interested in a lean, thrifty lifestyle than one filled with glazed crullers, this city has a whole lot going for it.
For one, Winston-Salem’s downtown has received nearly $2 billion in business investments over the past several years, including the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter—a hub for research, biomedical science education and businesses, technology, digital media, and more. This joins many other large companies in the area, including the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (recognized for its cancer research), Hanesbrands, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and BB&T bank.
All in all, this has turned this charming Southern city into one of the fastest-growing in the country. With a median home price of $178,000, you can get a lot of real estate for your money here—particularly in the neighborhood of Konnoak, where the median list price comes in just shy of $100,000 and you can buy this three-bedroom brick house for a mere $132,000.
Average salary: $50,070
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 23.2%
Median home sale price: $175,900
Once famed for its steel mills that eventually shuttered their doors, Pittsburgh is a whole different place today, with tech heavyweights like Facebook, Uber, and Google moving in, and wages rising.
“We attract a lot of the younger demographic because of the technology,” says Brian Teyssier, a local real-estate agent with Re/Max Advanced Realtors.
Plus, the city has sprouted a plethora of biking/walking paths that appeal to younger home buyers who are into the outdoors, as well as saving money on gas and auto bills.
Meanwhile home prices range from $160,000 to $180,000, Teyssier says. One neighborhood that’s experiencing a renaissance is Brighton Heights and Brentwood, where this newly remodeled gem is listed for an affordable $139,500 just 15 minutes away from the city.
9. Palm Bay, Fla.
Average salary: $48,940
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 23.2%
Median home sale price: $220,000
Palm Bay was recently ranked in the top 10 “best places to buy a house” by Niche. The city, located on the state’s western coast, has many affordable homes with a suburban feel. And of course, the lack of state income tax doesn’t hurt when it comes to savings.
Some of the top jobs here are in the health care, defense, and technology sectors with employers like John F. Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Oh yeah, Orlando and Disney World are just 50 miles away, if that’s your thing.
For well below the $220,000 median home price, home buyers should check out the Bridgewater gated community in Bayside Lakes, where this 1,873-square-foot three-bedroom home is going for $195,000.
10. Colorado Springs, Colo.
Average salary: $51,430
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 22.5%
Median home sale price: $315,000
Love winter sports, but hate the high cost of living in ski towns like Aspen, CO, or Park City, UT? Then head to Colorado Springs, with a host of primo, lower-key ski slopes nearby, like Monarch Mountain. The city also recently ranked No. 3 in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best Places to Live list due to its low cost of living and unemployment rate, making it a perfect spot for FIRE fanatics.
This healthy job market mostly centers on the military and defense sectors, with plenty of tech and aerospace gigs available. Colorado Springs is home to Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Knob Hill, northeast of downtown Colorado Springs, is a great option for young professionals with its arts district, breweries, restaurants, and other attractions. In the Knob Hill area, this ranch-style home is well below the median home price at $274,999. For well-established neighborhoods, check out Cimarron and Briargate, which is near the Air Force Academy.
This nifty tool from our partners at MarketWatch can help you figure out the best places to retire based on your personal priorities.
* Data is from CoreLogic sales records, Consumer Price Index, The Tax Foundation, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the U.S. Census Bureau. (Highest salaries were determined by taking the top five highest-paying job categories nationally and determining what percentage of those jobs were available in that metro.)
** Median home sale prices are from May.
Erica Sweeney is a writer and editor in Little Rock, Arkansas