Many people come. Then many people go. I’ve made and lost several acquaintances since moving to Oahu in 2016. Whether we stay or go, we all agree; Hawai’i will drain your bank account faster than you can say “wiki wiki wiki.”
Hawai’i is both tropical and cosmopolitan. It’s a lush island paradise with modern amenities. Unfortunately, it can also be devastatingly expensive. There are several things to consider in deciding whether or not you’ll find affordable living in Hawai’i.
What Costs So Much?
Hawaii’s average living expenses are astronomical. Even though the median wage here is up to two-thirds higher than the rest of the country, it can be a real challenge to make ends meet. According to MoneyRates (website), Hawai’i has for the 7th time in a row, been voted the “worst state in which to make a living.”
FOOD, TAXES AND ENTERTAINMENT
Factors in Hawaii’s high cost of living include;
- The need to import everything to the island either by sea or plane. Even items found locally are brought in from the mainland and elsewhere in greater supply, like lemons or eggs
- Having one of the highest tax rates in the country at 5.3%.
Another site, Expatistan, estimates the following costs in comparison to other states;
- A basic dinner out for two in a neighborhood pub is an eye-watering $62
- It is the most expensive place in the world to buy four rolls of toilet paper for $6 (Charmin pic)
- Hawaii is the priciest place in the U.S. to buy gas.
Expatistan states that a lunch costs $15 per person in here. I agree that’s a good average, but it can get even more expensive, with little effort. My husband and I went to lunch at shopping center (not a mall) restaurant two weeks ago. I had chicken Parmesan and garlic bread and he had pork chops with rice with a side of veggies and a 5 piece wing ding appetizer. We had 1 iced tea and water. Our bill was $68 without the tip! This was a lunchtime meal. No large portions or specialty preparation, just a chicken pattie with a little cheese and tomato sauce over spaghetti. I was not feeling the Aloha spirit!
HOUSING AND UTILITIES
Housing costs on Oahu are exorbitant. With Airbnb entrepreneurs buying properties to turn into rentals and the fact Hawaii has become a preferred place for the international elite to buy property (as reported by Hawai’i News Now), the cost of housing has risen at an unbelievable rate.
When searching for homes I often saw ads for $1300-$1400 for 300 square feet. We are currently in our 2nd home here and are paying over $2100 for an 1100 square foot 3-bedroom house, but we had to move 40 minutes out of Honolulu to get it. We add another $300+ for water and electricity. The cost of our electricity is reported to be twice as high as the next most expensive state for energy, Alaska.
Where to Begin
I wanted to lay out a few facts, but do not be discouraged! Do your research and choose your location carefully based on personal interest and expectations. Oahu is generally a bit cheaper than the other islands in. More rural tends to be cheaper like in any other town.
Oahu, called The Gathering Place, is the “busy” island. All planes to Hawai’i’ land on Oahu first. Waikiki Beach and the state capital, Honolulu are located here. Oahu’s busyness makes it’s the best option to find work.
Also, you may want to lower your housing expectations. Remember that demand is high and you should be open to living differently than where you’re relocating from.
Single (and couples) could consider a home-share situation. Its very common here to rent a room or two instead of being responsible for full rent and utilities. Its not rare to find something oceanfront and affordable by doing this.
Things You’ll Spend Less For In Hawai’i Than You Are Now
There are a few areas in which you will probably save some money in Hawai’i. Figure out what you spend on these items and calculate your savings. This money you can add to your budget.
You will save a fortune on wardrobe! No winter clothes. No boots. No cold weather accessories like scarves, glove, or long-johns. You’ll rarely need to buy warm pjs, socks or even new shoes. We can wear slippers (flip-flops) just about anywhere and no one would even blink. Even if you are someone who loves stylish shoes, you will find that you wear your high heels or warm athletic shoes less and less over time. I personally have a great collection of shoes that are now just hanging on the dressing room wall. (pic of wall)
My $300+ rate went to $112 with the exact same coverage. Your drop may not be as dramatic, but I haven’t met anyone yet who didn’t claim a substantial savings in their car insurance rates.
When you rent a house here, homeowners generally pay for a once or twice-a-month visit from a landscaping crew to keep your yard(s) beautiful.
No joke even though I’m laughing. If you buy rice now, you’ll switch to buying it in bulk saving big bucks. Chances are that you will eat or serve a lot of rice. So, while you may never have seen a 25 lb. bag of rice, you will likely own one once you move to Hawai’i. (pic of rice and rice cooker)
You’ll probably be outside more, meaning you’ll need less tv. Hawaiian Telcom offers 5G internet with basic cable for $49.99. You can add an app like Sling for about $10 and go WiFi on other entertainment options like Netflix. $60 per month for the cable company is probably lower than you pay now. Am I right?
Creative Cost Savings
LIVE IN SOMEONE ELSE’S HOUSE
Hawai’i’i has many homeowners who have residences off-island or often work away from Oahu. It is also a destination for worldwide visitors that need a place to stay, so Airbnb properties are everywhere. You may want to post for job as house sitter, a property manager, or an Airbnb property contact person. If you can find a medium-to-long term situation obviously you could save a lot of money on rent (and probably utilities).
CRAIGSLIST AND ESTATE SALES
Craigslist and personal sales are big on the island. With a highly transitory population there are great deals to be found in classified ads. There are
military families and people just “over it” moving off the island daily and they need to get rid of stuff quickly.
Good old yard and church sales offer great deals on items needed for your home. I bought my sofa from a hotel that bought a 2-piece curved sofa for its library and someone spilled bleach on the edge of one of the pillows. It is a custom down-filled Ted Boehner set that retails for over $23,000. They needed it out immediately.
We paid $100, bought some dye and put it in my first Hawai’i’ian living room.
INVITE FRIENDS OVER
Locals are used to hanging out at home here. If you make a call everybody will bring something. Talk story with friends (or make new friends) and watch the sunset instead of spending big bucks at a nightclub or restaurant.
GROWING YOUR OWN FOOD
Ironically, local fruit is not cheap unless you have access to fruit trees, but one benefit to living in this remarkable weather is that everything grows “all year”. There’s no cold snaps so your plantings won’t freeze. If you don’t have a yard, a container garden will fit on the lanai. If you have a good amount of space you can really save on fresh groceries.
Where are the Deals?
Whether you need to simplify the wardrobe, get groceries or buy some slippers, there are some options for smart spending.
One of my favorite stores to hang out in is called Savers. It’s a well-organized store that sells new and used apparel, electronics, art, Halloween costumes and everything for the home except furniture. Similar to Goodwill, but more “retail-y” and with lots of new items. If you are a visitor, you should definitely get off the tourist trail and check out this place to find authentic island everything. (pic of Savers)
Another local favorite that you may already know is Ross for Less. Ross is a jobber store like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, but often offers even better deals on off-brand and designer clothing and home goods. There are also a couple of TJ Maxx stores on the island. A real lifesaver for gift-giving!
There is outlet shopping on the island! Stores like Coach, Ralph Lauren, Adidas and Michael Kors are at the Waikele Premium Outlets in Waipahu, about a 35-minute drive from Waikiki and there. There are over 50 outlet stores that can save you up to 80% off mall prices if you MUST buy something from Tory Burch or Barney’s New York Warehouse! Lol.
Items like condiments, cleaning supplies and paper goods tend to be pricey here and can really blow a budget. I think it safe to say that most households here have either a Costco or a Sam’s Club membership. To me this is absolutely essential for surviving Oahu comfortably! A club membership allows you to buy in bulk and really stretch your dollar. If your funds run low at least you’ll have plenty of rice, Spam and detergent.
You too can be a Resident in Paradise
There aren’t as many resources here to lean on when finances are stretched, like “dollar stores” or “dollar movie” theaters. But with some planning and a little compromise you can live in Hawai’i with a less than affluent income. 1,000,000+ people have worked it out – so can you.
If you have lived in Hawaii and have some insights, please share. I am always looking to learn the secrets of the ‘aina 😉