Rural but Literary, Oxford, Mississippi Beckons to Retirees Seeking Gracious Living, Southern Sophistication, a Creative Vibe, Intellectual Stimulation and an Intense Collegiate Football Culture
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Reasons to retire in Oxford (population 23,000) abound, but the town's alluring literary tradition might be one of the best. Located in the rolling hills of north central Mississippi, this vibrant hamlet is home to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and has been the inspiration for writers William Faulkner, John Grisham, Willie Morris, Cynthia Shearer and many others. Locals talk of the town's famous "literary mystique," that intangible something that gets the creative juices flowing, inspiring poets, novelists, and, yes, retirees. Not only does Oxford offer a rich, laid-back but cosmopolitan ambiance at a reasonable price; it is also a Certified Retirement City, meaning that it has much of what many retirees are seeking.
The cost of living is 10% below the national average, and the city has grown by 23% during the last decade. It is racially diverse, and residents lean to the right politically. Twenty-six of locals are age 45 or better, and nearly 50% have at least a four year college degree. The crime rate is below the national average.
The median home price is $220,000. Most residences sit on a leafy street, and housing is varied, from beautifully restored antebellum mansions and palatial French country manors to ordinary ranch ramblers. There are several master planned developments, including Wellsgate. It has large homes from the $300,000s. Steeplechase is a prestigious area with properties starting in the $500,000s. Oxford also has good selection of apartments, although many units are rented by students.
Mississippi has one of the lowest per capita tax burdens of any state, and when it comes to retirement and taxes, it is a very friendly place. Retirement income, including Social Security and income from IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, Keoghs and qualified public and private pension plans, is not taxed. Property is assessed at just 10%, and people age 65 or better receive a $75,000 homestead exemption. The annual taxes on a $220,000 Oxford home are approximately $1,720 (less for people age 65 or better). The state sales tax is 7% (prescription drugs and health care services are exempt). The top income tax rate is 5%.
From the Civil War, when much of the town core was torched by a Union general, to civil unrest during the 1960s, Oxford has seen its share of upheaval. Today, though, it is undergoing gentrification. People are helpful and well-mannered. Much of life in Oxford happens in the historic downtown Square where coffeehouses, pubs, banks, retailers, art galleries, law offices and Neilson's Department Store, which is the oldest department store in the South, rub shoulders. More than 50 very good restaurants, including some award-winning ones, are here, too.
Rowhouse condos with colorful balconies, the Oxford Midtown Farmers' Market and the renowned Square Books bookstore (where book signings take place and where famous authors are said to hang-out) add to the Square's stimulating atmosphere. Students help keep the area hoppin', but everyone seems to enjoy the festive feeling. Oxford has a vibrant music scene, and jazz piano riffs and blues tunes are often heard wafting from downtown buildings. Historic sites are at nearly every turn.
Each spring, Ole Miss (24,000 students) hosts the Oxford Conference for the Book, a three day event that brings to town some of the nation's most authoritative writers, poets and publishers. It is open to the public and is always well-attended. Each August, the University also presents another literary get-together, the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, which draws William Faulkner scholars from around the world (Faulkner's home - Rowan Oak- is still here and is open for tours).
In addition, Ole Miss presents live theater events, concerts, museum exhibits and lectures for the public. The University library is also open to all residents. New Theatre Oxford, the local community theater group, presents plays throughout the year, and the annual Double Decker Arts Festival showcases food, art and music.
The Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library has books by mail, an interlibrary loan program, classes, public computers, workshops and the highest circulation rate in the state. Churches are many, with Baptist and Methodist being the most popular. There are numerous shopping centers, as well as Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, Belk and other national chains.
Sports enthusiasts revel in the University's football culture, which is nearly a religion. The Ole Miss golf course, the Country Club of Oxford and several other courses each offer 18 holes of challenging play. Walkers and bicyclists love the city's system of meandering paved paths, and Holly Springs National Forest, just to the east of town, has opportunities for fishing, backpacking and hiking.
Baptist Memorial Hospital - North Mississippi has more than 200 beds and is accredited by the Joint Commission. It is a Level III adult trauma center and is part of the award-winning Baptist Memorial Healthcare system. Medicare patients are accepted. For military retirees, the closest VA outpatient clinic is in Byhalia, 35 miles away, but the closest VA hospital is in Memphis, Tennessee, 60 miles away.
The Three Rivers Area Agency on Aging provides services, including meals, Medicare assistance and legal services, to the mature population in Lafayette County. The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) has volunteer opportunities for retirees. Meals on Wheels is active, too.
For those who still yearn to learn, the University's Division of Outreach and Continuing Education lets people age 65 or better enroll in limited undergraduate classes tuition free. Its Communiversity is for all ages and has non-credit classes in everything from dancing to cupcake decorating. People age 55 or better receive 10% off tuition costs. The program also partners with the Academic Traveler to offer overnight and day trips to local areas of interest, including the Mississippi Delta, Birmingham, Strawberry Plains Audubon Center and more.
Public transportation is provided by OUT (Oxford University Transit). The regular fare is $1, but people age 65 or better ride for half price. Oxford is a good walking city, and it is very bicycle friendly, but most people still need a car or a good friend with a car to get around. Oxford has a municipal airport, but the closest international airport is 60 miles away in Memphis, Tennessee.
The weather is hot and humid in the summer with temperatures are in the high 80s and low 90s but pleasant in the winter with temperatures in the 40s and 50s. On average, the area receives 55 inches of rain and a trace of snow annually. The sun shines 215 days of the year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Oxford comes in well below the national average. The city occasionally experiences after-effects of Gulf Coast hurricanes. The air quality is poor.
For all of its appeal, Oxford does have drawbacks as a retirement spot. There are signs of urban sprawl, and traffic congestion has been increasing. The parks and recreation department does not have much in the way of 55+ classes, and senior services are somewhat limited. The tornado risk is 157% higher than the national average. The city has a high poverty rate, but much of this is attributed to the large student population.
Yet, despite these negatives, the city's rich Southern character, quiet sophistication and fun collegiate flavor, all available at a reasonable cost, are hard to resist. Oxford is indeed a great retirement spot!
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