A recent discussion on Google+ (hey, take another look at it if you haven’t lately, PassingThru’s page is here, and Pete and I are both using it more) on the cost of living in Hawaii was interesting. More than one commenter thought moving to Hawaii would only be possible with a big lottery win. Others referenced people they knew who dealt with the cost of living in Hawaii by making major changes in lifestyle. No one who actually was living in Hawaii, or even seriously thinking of moving to Hawaii, weighed in, except for yours truly.
We did a great deal of homework on the cost of living in Hawaii before we moved here. We looked forward to the lifestyle changes, and planned as best we could. Still, it’s a valid question for anyone: can I afford to live in Hawaii? Our answer: You can, just don’t try to duplicate a typical mainland lifestyle.
Yet, that’s exactly what people do. They want to plunk their suburban, SUV mini-van, payment-filled mainland life in the middle of paradise. Then they’re all “it costs too much!” Surprise! Basic costs are high in Hawaii. Duh. Everything has to be brought in, knuckleheads. So those inside-the-box-thinkers are right: they could never afford to live here. But what we’ve found, to paraphrase, is: whether you think you can or can’t afford living in Hawaii, you’re right.
Unless you have the cushion of a lottery win, your challenge when moving to Hawaii will be to rethink your lifestyle. Things like building materials that go into making houses, utilities, fuel, cars, groceries, clothing cost more. Stuff that you need every day, and stuff you think you need every day may cost more, too.
The first major expense that could kill your dream: getting your stuff here. When we first thought about moving to Hawaii, our mindset was “we’ll just pack all our household stuff in a container and ship it over there, and we’ll ship our Jeep, too.” This is how a move happens on the mainland, and lots of people figure they’ll do it the same way when they’re moving here. For military and corporate transferees to the Islands, it’s routine – someone else is paying. For us, though, totally cost defective. Fortunately, we were influenced by the many Craigslist ads: “Whole house – $5000, cost me $15K to ship it here, my loss, your gain.” When we realized it was going to cost a couple thousand dollars to ship our car over, we decided to buy an island car on arrival instead.
With about six months to go before moving day, we were still undecided about how much stuff was coming along. As time passed and the deadline loomed, we decided we weren’t going to haul, send or keep as much as we’d originally thought. A big factor in this decision was researching available housing. Fortunately, in Hawaii there are a high number of furnished housing units available. The population is more transient, vacation rentals are converted to long-term, owners are in transition, many different reasons. We decided our worst case scenario (purchasing the furnishings for new digs) was less expensive than shipping our stuff.
If you’re thinking of buying a home in Hawaii, you’ll probably encounter significant sticker shock. Your 4 bedroom, 2 story suburban lifestyle is going to cost you. But again, why would you do that? If you’re looking at a capital gain issue from the sale of your mainland home, yet you don’t have sufficient equity to fund a comfortable mortgage payment, you’ll want to consider alternatives. These might include downsizing or multiple household property units. Lots of Hawaiian homes have an ohana, from the Hawaiian word for “family,” unit on the ground level with the main family unit raised to catch the breezes. Or the ohana might be a separate building on the property. Many folks here are landlords because they need the rental income to fund the big mortgage.
We’d already made the switch from owning to renting on the mainland, so we began scouting furnished rental listings months ahead. From them, we acclimated to prices. We found all-inclusive rentals (utilities, cable, water included) in the size we needed were comparable within a couple hundred bucks per month of our expense load in Minnesota. When we factored in the extra cost of a furnished rental vs. buying furniture, we were shocked to discover it was much the same in Hawaii as we were paying in Minnesota. It began to seem like we’d be crazy not to move. 😉
In Minnesota, we were a two-car couple. Since we both work at home, keeping a two car lifestyle was a convenience that bore scrutiny. We ended up selling my car several months before we moved and got along fine with one car, which we sold right before moving day. Hawaii’s gas prices are the highest in the nation. We decided we would replace the car and if that was insufficient, we’d get a scooter. We haven’t needed the scooter so far, although they sure look like fun. Kauai isn’t a very big place, and the fact is we don’t drive much with our home office. We fill up the SUV’s tank about every three weeks, so our gasoline expenditures have actually gone down. Choose to commute into Honolulu and enjoy a tropical traffic jam on its freeway twice per day, and your mileage and your blood pressure will be higher.
People who come to Hawaii on vacation talk about expensive groceries. They’re shocked by the cost of milk, eggs, bread, meat, snack foods, soda, and on and on. But the reality is, your grocery bill, whether you live here in Hawaii or on the mainland, directly reflects your lifestyle. Eat more fruits and vegetables, many of which you can grow in your own garden with a 365 day per year season, and you can manage nicely in Hawaii. There are so many farmers markets here on Kauai, that what we can’t grow ourselves we can often buy from someone else. It’s fun to support local farmers and feel more independent from traditional food supply chains. Plus, we’ve found we don’t eat as much here for a variety of reasons. Win!
Just like with any major change in lifestyle, moving to Hawaii can be filled with complications and adjustments. Is it worth it? We think so. We’re happy here, for now. Can you afford to live in Hawaii? That depends on you.
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Patriot Politics (@TAKINGNOTICE) says
Via PassingThru: Living in Hawaii: Can You Afford It? http://t.co/nrGY9d70Lg #li #travel #freedom
Hi Betsy .. it is about adapting isn’t it .. and thinking ahead .. England has some small homes so coming back from South Africa .. I had no idea what to do .. some decisions were made for me – I couldn’t sell the car, so brought it over … others I sold a lot of the furniture and just had ‘personal’ items that meant things to me ..
It does sound as though you’ve worked your way round things, and in the circumstance sput your best foot forward ..
So pleased for you – lovely to see .. cheers Hilary
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Hilary – Yes, it really is about adapting. I did a rough cost analysis yesterday while bill-paying, and our monthly expenses, although allocated very differently here in Hawaii, are about the same as when we were in Minnesota. So that puts any controversy to rest. 🙂
Lori Sailiata says
It is MUCH cheaper for me to live here in Honolulu than it was for me to live in St Paul, MN while my daughter attended college.
But this ain’t my first luau, either.
I first encountered Hawaii in the 60s. Started classes at UH in the 70s. My children spend their small kine kid years here in the 80s and 90s. So when my daughter went ABD on that PhD, she said, “Okay, Mom, you can go home now.” I left for Honolulu with two suitcases to set up camp before even thinking of shipping anything over.
My car insurance with (at the time) two kids under 25 was well over $500/mo. Here, a bus pass gets me everywhere for $60/mo. HECO bill is rarely over $50. But no, my lifestyle is nothing like the Mainland. Lucky we live Hawaii!
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Lori – Welcome to PassingThru! Happy to hear your success story. People think it takes a free spirit to move here from the mainland, but we both know Hawaii sets the spirit further free. Aloha!
Lori Sailiata says
Truly! But it’s not to be entered into lightly. Glad you seem to agree. Here’s an older piece from my blog. http://larabritt.com/2012/04/20/afford-hawaii/ Same subject. Warning: my blog is currently undergoing a facelift.
Nice to connect with you. What part of Minnesota are you from?
Betsy Wuebker says
Loved your post, Lori, especially the part about the only regret you had about Hawaii was leaving. Thanks for linking it. We’re both from the Twin Cities, Minneapolis suburbs and so far, we agree: it’s living the dream. 🙂
Lori Sailiata says
Here is my virtual business card: http://about.me/lorisailiata. Please feel free to leave a comment on my “How Can You Afford…” post with a link to yours. I still get daily hits off of that post I wrote over a year and a half ago.
So nice to connect with you both.
I just stumbled upon this while doing some research on Hawaii. I have to say I am so green with envy of anyone who gets to live there! I have been trying to convince my husbands for over a year now to sell everything and just take the plunge but he isn’t on board (yet). I’ve lived in the Midwest all my life and I know in my soul that I am just meant to live somewhere else. It’s almost like a calling. I will continue to follow you on facebook and your blog and hopefully be able to convince my dear hubby that we need a life style change.
Hopeful in the Heartland 🙂
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Heather – It’s a big decision to be sure; we can understand your husband’s hesitation. But we don’t regret our decision for a minute. In my own case, not following through on a chance to move here 35 years ago was a regret. Now I feel like I was granted a do-over. Good luck with your plans, and please don’t hesitate to ask if there is something we can help with. 🙂
Sarah Carter says
My name is Sarah, and I live in Massachusetts. For a while now I have been researching life and Hawaii and I’m so happy I found your blog, it is refreshing to read a post from a knowledgeable person who actually LIVES in Hawaii. You’ve enlightened my outlook on living in Hawaii and have made me even more excited to move there. I have a few important questions but let me give you some background info that may help you out(:
First of all I am still in high school,(yes I’m young, but I’m serious about moving.) I would say I’m in the lower-middle class… therefore I understand that I have to work for what I want. I also am not super picky when it comes to homes, I realize that living in Hawaii I will have to sacrifice the size of my home, and that does not bother me at all! Ive done a bit of research on real estate in Hawaii my boyfriend and I particularly like Kona, HI but what ever is affordable will be an option for us. I would like to be in the food industry, I am currently studying Culinary Arts in school, and I dream of becoming a top chef. I have a huge passion for food, and I would LOVE to experience all of the different cultures that are in Hawaii (thus allowing me to expand my Culinary experience.) I love outdoor activates… and being warm!! In Hawaii I know that there is a wide variety of outdoor activities that I would enjoy. I would also love to grow my own food(super healthy for me, and saving costs on groceries) I would like to make the move after I graduate, or after college…
I know I kind of rambled a bit, oops! But here are my questions!!
First of all can I afford the Hawaiian life-style being so young..?
Ive yet to look at colleges in Hawaii, but are they any good? (I heard most schooling isn’t the best in Hawaii)
Is it possible to establish my life in Hawaii directly out of highschool/ college?
Lastly, if you are able to converse back by email with more of your knowledge and opinions I would very much appreciate it!! Thank you soooo much!(:
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Sarah – Welcome to PassingThru! Congrats on putting a plan for your life in place, too. Dreams don’t come true unless you give them a little help. 🙂
To answer your questions in order:
1. I’m not sure about higher education in Hawaii. The best advice I can offer is decide on a course of study and research your options for a quality education in that field. If you’re looking at a career in the culinary arts you may want to consider post-secondary training in the trade rather than a traditional 4 year college. There are many fine culinary schools all over the world. There are many fine resorts and hotels on the Islands, and good training may give you an edge over the competition, which I would imagine is quite fierce.
2. Yes, I would think it is possible and perhaps even more preferable to establish a life for yourself in Hawaii after high school or college. The reason I think this way: when you’re younger, your needs are simpler and you can be more flexible in your living and working arrangements. You may find yourself sharing an affordable home with others, for example, which you may not feel like doing once you get older. The older we get, the more we accumulate and travel down a traditional path. Sometimes it’s hard to undo these things sufficiently to make a big change such as a move from the mainland.
3. Please feel free to email me via the contact form on this blog as your plans materialize. I’ll do the best I can to provide an opinion.
Wishing you the best of luck!
Matt and Tammy Porter says
What do you both do for a living that you both are able to work out of your home?
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Matt and Tammy – We have a variety of online businesses that we have developed since 2008. Check our About section for more.