Southern Hospitality, a Lively Collegiate Atmosphere and a Reasonable Cost of Living Bring Retirees to Stimulating Clemson, South Carolina
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Tucked away in the rural northwestern section of South Carolina known as the Upcountry, Clemson (population 16,000) is surrounded by wooded countryside and sparkling lakes. A youthful population, a boisterous football culture and an active cultural community are reasons that retirees come to this leafy town, a place that is completely defined by Clemson University (23,000 students). Not everyone wants to retire in such an active spot, but Clemson has a lot to offer, including lake recreation, a good senior support system and safe neighborhoods (in fact, Clemson was named South Carolina's safest city in 2019).
Thirty percent of locals are age 45 or better, and most residents lean to the right politically. Racial diversity is minimal. Nearly 65% of residents hold at least a four year college degree. The town has grown by 13% within the last decade.
After the Civil War, members of South Carolina's elites began to build second homes in the place that would one day become the village of Clemson. With the founding of the University in 1893 (originally Clemson College and for years an all male military school), the area began to grow and prosper. Luckily for today's residents, however, Clemson, unlike many college towns, has not become overpriced and still has a cost of living 5% below the national average.
The median home price of $220,000 buys a three bedroom, three bath home with mature landscaping in an established, middle-income neighborhood. Modest but well-kept brick ranch ramblers are available for less than $150,000. Clemson University is on the north and west sides of town, so neighborhoods at the opposite end of campus are the best bet for finding a quiet place to live. Apartments are plentiful, but most are occupied by students.
South Carolina is tax friendly when it comes to retirement. Social Security is not taxed, and although qualified retirement income (public employee retirement plans, Keogh plans, IRA distributions and military retirement benefits) is taxed, there is a $15,000 total deduction per spouse at age 65. Property tax is calculated at just 4% of a residence's fair market value, and for homeowners 65 and better, $50,000 is exempt from local property taxes. The annual taxes on a $220,000 Clemson residence are approximately $1,125 without the 65+ exemption. The state sales tax rate is 6%.
Clemson, South Carolina
The first-class Brooks Center for the Performing Arts brings all kinds of talent to town, including string quartets, jazz violinists and choral ensembles. It also presents a full season of dance performances and theater productions. The Arts Center of Clemson offers reasonably priced, high quality classes in fine art, writing and music to all ages and skill levels and exhibits local artists' works. The Clemson Little Theatre receives rave reviews and mounts productions throughout the year. The 295-acre South Carolina Botanic Gardens houses historic structures and is a soothing spot in which to spend a leisurely afternoon.
For outdoor lovers, pretty Lake Hartwell, along which Clemson is nestled, is a 56,000-acre recreation oasis with boating, swimming and bass fishing. Lake Keowee, just to the west, also attracts water devotees.
Of course, football fans love Clemson. In this part of the country football is practically a religion, and each autumn Saturday afternoon, 81,500 crazed fans fill Memorial Stadium, also known as "Death Valley," to cheer on their beloved Clemson Tigers. Clemson baseball, basketball and soccer teams also have loyal followings. And the Walker Golf Course at Clemson University has 18 holes and 6,911 yards to enjoy.
Shopping is not outstanding, but the attractive downtown, across from the University campus, has fun shops, cafes and restaurants. For more diverse shopping and dining, the towns of Seneca, Easly, Greenville/Spartanburg, Pendleton, and Anderson are all within a short drive. Atlanta, Georgia is about 125 miles to the southwest.
There is no local hospital, but Oconee Medical Campus in Seneca is just eight miles away. It is part of the Greenville Health System, has 169 beds and is accredited by the Joint Commission. Medicare patients are accepted. Larger hospitals are a little farther away in Anderson (20 miles)and Greenville (40 miles). For military retirees, Anderson and Greenville also have VA outpatient clinics, but the nearest VA hospital is in Asheville, North Carolina, 65 miles away.
Clemson Area Transit (CAT) operates a free bus service on campus and around town. There is also a para-transit service. Amtrak provides service to Greenville/Spartanburg, as well as New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte and New Orleans. The closest domestic airport is in Greenville, and the closest international airport is in Charlotte, North Carolina, 110 miles away.
The Central/Clemson Senior Center offers a variety of programs, including meals and transportation to medical appointments. The Central-Clemson Recreation Center provides classes especially for seniors, as well as a therapy pool and semi-private use of other pools and facilities. The Pitkens County Library, which is actually in the town of Central, five miles away, delivers books and other materials to those who cannot leave their home (and it has public computers). Meals on Wheels is also active. Churches are in abundance.
Perhaps best of all, Clemson University has an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). It has 1,300 members, and as with most OLLIs around the country, offers a diverse selection of stimulating classes to people age 50 or better. Course titles include America: Land of Political Philosophers, The Joy of Shade Gardening and A Journey into Upcountry Folklore and Traditions. The annual membership is just $35. Additionally, adults age 55+ may audit Clemson University classes at a reduced charge.
Residents say that the weather in the "Upcountry" is balmy, with the elevation of 748 feet above sea level mitigating the summer heat a bit. Still, July and August bring temperatures into the mid-90s. Winters are mild with temperatures in the 30s, 40s and 50s. On average, the area receives 52 inches of rain and a dusting of snow each year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Clemson comes in below the national average. The sun shines 223 days of the year.
Clemson does have some drawbacks. The overwhelming presence of the University and its youthful attendees may be too much for some people. Clemson is known as a party school, but for the most part, the parties are confined to the University campus and immediate surrounding neighborhoods (the Party Registration Program, a collaboration between the city and Clemson University in which student parties register with the police, helps keep noise levels down). Heavy traffic on football game days in the fall is a headache, and the occasional brawl has occured after football games. The tornado risk is 50% higher than the national average.
While these negatives are real, a big plus is Clemson's reputation as a friendly town. It is a safe, well-managed place that successfully combines genuine Southern hospitality with a fun collegiate atmosphere. For many retirees, Clemson might be the perfect retirement spot!
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