Home to Auburn University, Friendly Auburn, Alabama Beckons with its Vibrant Atmosphere, OLLI and Southern Football Culture
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Auburn (population 63,000) sits in southeastern Alabama and has a history of ups and downs. Its founder, Judge John Harper, established it as a religious and educational center in 1839. A few years later, in 1856, Auburn University was founded, although at that time it was called East Alabama Male College. In subsequent years, the Civil War, fires and the Great Depression all took their toll on Auburn. It was during WWII when Auburn University (AU) was turned into a technical training ground for military personnel that the city began to thrive. A new highway system allowed for more University-related tourism, and an outstanding public school system brought in new families.
Today, this friendly college town continues to flourish, growing by 85% in the last decade or two, and it has a reputation for intellectual engagement. It has a young demographic, with just 25% of the population age 45 or better, but it has a lot to offer older adults. More than 50% of locals have at least a four year college degree, and most people lean to the right politically. The crime rate is well below the national average. Racial diversity is minimal. The cost of living is 12% below the national average.
The median home price is $325,000. Residences come in a broad range of prices, from less than $150,000 for modest ranch ramblers built during WWII to sprawling million dollar brick Tutors. Prices are generally less for homes in town than for those in newer subdivisions on the city's outskirts. Condominiums and town homes are plentiful. Apartments are in good supply, too, but most of these are rented by students. Auburn has a large number of mobile home parks, some of which are in better shape than others.
Alabama is a friendly state when it comes to retirement and taxes (and overall it has one of the lowest tax burdens in the country). Social Security is not taxed, and up to $65,000 in military, civil service, state/local government and qualified private pensions is exempt from state tax for people age 65 or better. Real estate is assessed at 40% of its fair market value, and homeowners 65 and better are exempt from all state property taxes. In Auburn, the annual taxes on a $210,000 home are approximately $1,890 with no exemptions. The state sales tax is 4%, but prescription drugs are exempt (food is not). The income tax ranges from 1% to 6%.
The lifeblood of Auburn is Auburn University (population 24,000 students). It, and WWII, not only brought Auburn back to life in the mid-20th century, but AU, the city's largest employer, is what keeps it alive today. The elegant campus has red brick buildings and sits in the center of the city. Around it are all the attendant commerce ventures, including bookstores, pubs, restaurants, clothing stores, cafes, drugstores and the like.
And if the University is the lifeblood of the city, then the beloved Auburn Tigers' football team is the heart of the University. This is a storied team that has produced three Heisman Trophy winners and won two national championships. Each Saturday autumn afternoon nearly 88,000 fans fill Jordan-Hare Stadium to root for the Tigers. The importance of football to this town cannot be overstated (the rivalry with the University of Alabama is particularly intense). Football-related traditions abound and include the Tiger Walk, in which up to 20,000 fans line the route from the AU athletic complex to the stadium to cheer the team as it walks to each game.
The city, along with the University, has a good menu of events, activities and venues not related to football, too. The Auburn Performing Arts Center hosts the annual Adventures in Art. The June Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art has exhibits and film screenings. The parks and recreation department hosts a fall concert series. The Auburn Community Orchestra has a robust schedule. The Telfair Peet Theatre presents productions throughout the year. Auburn University has music concerts, the Auburn Lecture Series, theater productions, equestrian events and more. The Auburn CityFest each April attracts 40,000 people who love food, entertainment and fun.
Shopping and dining options are fairly varied and include a lot of locally-owned shops and boutiques, two natural foods markets, chain restaurants and a farmers' market. Some fun pubs include Piccolos, which features live jazz on Friday and Saturday nights. National retailers, including Target, Wal-Mart, Publix and Bed, Bath and Beyond are here, and the Village Mall has a Sears, Belk, J.C. Penny, Dillard's and more.
The Auburn Public Library has an adult summer reading program, a book group and free w-fi. Miles of walking and bicycling trails and sixteen parks, including 700-acre Chewacla State Park, keep Auburn green. The city is also home to the Robert Trent Jones Grand National Golf Course, one of the country's top courses.
The city is somewhat spread out and is not particularly walkable. Fortunately, Lee-Russell Public Transit operates a curb-to-curb, dial-a-ride service throughout Auburn. It is open to everyone and operates Monday through Friday. Reservations may be made from two weeks to one day ahead of needing a ride. The regular fare is $2 to $6, depending on distance traveled, but people age 60 or better ride for $1. The University provides a service called Tiger Transit, but it is primarily for students and faculty and only runs around AU and the surrounding neighborhoods. The city sits along Interstate-85, creating easy access to Montgomery (population 205,000) and Birmingham (population 215,000) when needed.
While much of Auburn caters to the college crowd, AU has a Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), the program for learning in retirement. Housed at the Auburn University Office of Professional and Continuing Education, study groups and classes are organized by OLLI members and include titles such as Constitutional Controversies, Architecture Masterpiece Case Studies and the Dark Side of Literature. OLLI members may audit AU classes at reduced rates, ride Tiger Transit, use the AU library and receive discounts at the AU bookstore. Additionally, the city's parks and recreation department operates the Auburn Senior Center. Its activities include trips, meals, movie nights, classes and more.
East Alabama Medical Center (440 beds) is accredited by the Joint Commission and accepts Medicare patients. It is award-winning for overall patient experience and spine surgery and is a Top 100 Hospital for orthopedic surgery. For military retirees, Tuskegee is 17 miles away and has a VA hospital
Summers are hot and sticky with temperatures in the 80s and 90s, and winters are mild with temperatures in the 40s, 50s and 60s. The area receives plenty of rain, nearly 55 inches per year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Auburn comes in well below the national average. The sun shines 218 days of the year.
Retirement in Auburn has some downsides. Urban sprawl is increasing. Nearly every business caters to students. The city's population swells with college kids in the fall (but summers are very quiet). The football culture permeates every corner of town, although many people say AU is more relaxed about its football program than are some other Southern universities (such as the University of Alabama). The area around campus can become very rowdy after football games. The poverty rate is above the national average, but much of this is attributed to the large student population. The tornado risk is 110% above the national average.
So Auburn is not perfect. Still, retirees here enjoy its collegiate atmosphere, Southern friendliness, continuing education opportunities and football culture. Many of them think that Auburn is a great retirement spot!
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