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Published: Sep 20, 2016 6 min read
Photograph by Jeff Harris for Money; Prop Styling by Renee Flugge

The statistics on how unprepared Americans are for retirement can be terrifying. The median retirement account balance is $2,500 for all working-age households and $14,500 for near-retirement households, according to a 2015 study by the National Institute on Retirement Security.

Two-thirds of working families fall short of conservative retirement savings targets for their age and income based on working until age 67, the report finds.

With virtually no retirement savings for the average working household and 45% (nearly 40 million) of working households not having any retirement assets, their best hope for surviving after age 67 may be income from Social Security.
What Social Security Pays

The average monthly Social Security check as of June 2016 was $1,234, according to the Social Security Administration, or SSA. Where could you afford to live on such an income?

There are some good options, but before we get to those, let's be a little more generous with the SSA income, based on the government's statistics.

While the average monthly benefit was $1,234, 82% of beneficiaries receive a little more — $1,280 from "Old-Age and Survivors Insurance" SSA beneficiaries. The largest average monthly SSA benefit was $1,348 for retired workers, who made up 67% of the pool.

Assuming you're a retired worker receiving the average $1,348 each month from SSA, that's still a low amount of money to live on each month, considering that a retirement planning rule of thumb is to plan on having 70%–80% percent of your pre-retirement income replaced with SSA, a retirement account, or other form of income in your old age.

At 80%, that $1,348 would equate to a pre-retirement monthly income of $1,685, or $20,220 per year. If you were comfortable living on $20,220 per year before retirement, then living on 80% of it during retirement should be just as comfortable, the theory goes.

For a couple who are both retired, their SSA income would double to $40,440 per year. But for our purposes, let's assume one retiree is living by themselves.

So, where to live on the average SSA check of $1,348 per month for retired workers? In no particular order, here are five cities where it's affordable.

1. Buffalo, New York

Buffalo may come as a surprise for being a cheap place to live because it's in New York state. But the median monthly rent in Buffalo is $512, making it the cheapest city in the U.S. to live in, according to a SmartAsset analysis. Buffalo also has the lowest cost of living at 79.34, meaning that the U.S. average is 100 and that $100 in groceries, for example, would cost $79.34 in Buffalo.

Read More: 7 States With the Lowest Taxes for Retirees

2. Johnstown, Pennsylvania

If you're looking for the cheapest rent in the country, this city of 20,576 residents has it with a gross median rent of $466 per month, according to data from the U.S. Census. Since housing is one of the biggest expenses in life, such low rent can make other expenses a lot more affordable.

The average per capita income in Johnstown is $16,153, according to FindTheHome, putting the average SSA income in retirement above the average there. In this city, you'd be rich.

Read More: 5 Financial Moves You Should Make Five Years Before Retirement

3. Memphis, Tennessee

If you're looking for a large U.S. city that's affordable in retirement, Memphis is it. This city of 653,450 has low housing costs. The average apartment rent of $709 per month is 21% below the U.S. average, and the median home value of $98,300 is 46% below the U.S. average, according to Kiplinger.

4. Akron, Ohio

Living in the center of the country is usually cheaper than it is elsewhere, and Akron, Ohio proves that point by being one of the most affordable places to live in the country. Its median home price listing in August 2015 was $120,450, and the median household income was $45,628 — putting the average SSA income at just below the median. The amount of monthly income spent on housing, utilities, and commuting in Akron was 28.9%, allowing retirees to spend about 70% of their income on other things.

Read More: How to Plan for Retirement When You’re Ready to Retire

5. Indianapolis, Indiana

Listed by Trulia as one of the best cities to move to for a high-paying job, Indianapolis has low home prices for Millennials looking for work and for retirees, too. The median home price of $130,000 is $58,900 below the median home price in America. That allows about two of every five renters to be able to afford a typically priced home there. For retirees who sell their homes and have enough money to buy a home outright or put down a large down payment, then living with little or almost no housing costs can leave a lot of room in their budget for other things.

The good news is that there are plenty more U.S. cities that are affordable for retirees who only have an income from Social Security. These are only five of them, and are a good start to investigate more when deciding on the cheapest places to retire.