Living in Hawaii Cost: Can You Easily Afford It?

For Living in Hawaii Cost is a Main Factor

Any discussion on the cost of living in Hawaii is interesting. If you’re thinking about living in Hawaii cost is probably a main factor. Maybe you think moving to Hawaii would only be possible with a big lottery win. Others plan to deal with the cost of living in Hawaii by making major changes in lifestyle.

beach on kauai
Photo: Betsy Wuebker

We did a great deal of homework on what would living in Hawaii cost before we moved. 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.

Moving to Hawaii Cost is Dependent Upon Decisions You Make

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, and clothing all cost more. Stuff that you need every day and stuff you think you need every day may cost more, too.

How Much Stuff You Bring Considerably Affects Your Living in Hawaii Cost

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, bringing your stuff is 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 of 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.

hanalei town kauai
Photo: Betsy Wuebker

Renting vs Buying a Home May Make Better Sense

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 mainland expense load.

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 on the mainland. It began to seem like we’d be crazy not to move. 😉

Downsizing the Number of Cars in Your Household Will Keep Costs Down

On the mainland, we were a two-car couple. Since we both worked at home, keeping a two car lifestyle was a convenience that bore scrutiny. We ended up selling one 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 as a second vehicle. We didn’t neede the scooter, although they sure looked like fun.

For more details on this, check out Moving to Kauai: What About My Vehicle?

Kauai isn’t a very big place, and the fact is we didn’t drive much with our home office. We’d 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.

living in hawaii cost fresh produce
Photo: Betsy Wuebker

Change the Way You Eat to a More Healthy and Less Expensive Island Lifestyle

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 couldn’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. Can you afford to live in Hawaii? That depends on you.

Tips for Trip Success

Book Your Flight
Find an inexpensive flight by using Kayak, a favorite of ours because it regularly returns less expensive flight options from a variety of airlines.

Book Your Hotel or Special Accommodation
We are big fans of We like their review system and photos. If we want to see more reviews and additional booking options, we go to Expedia.

You Need Travel Insurance!
Good travel insurance means having total peace of mind. Travel insurance protects you when your medical insurance often will not and better than what you get from your credit card. It will provide comprehensive coverage should you need medical treatment or return to the United States, compensation for trip interruption, baggage loss, and other situations.Find the Perfect Insurance Plan for Your Tripimage 9133145 14418597

PassingThru is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

To view PassingThru’s privacy policy, click here.

Matt and Tammy Porter

Sunday 3rd of February 2019

What do you both do for a living that you both are able to work out of your home? Thanks!

Betsy Wuebker

Monday 11th of February 2019

Hi Matt and Tammy - We have a variety of online businesses that we have developed since 2008. Check our About section for more.

Moving to Hawaii: Let Go of Mainland Mentality | Passing Thru

Tuesday 21st of June 2016

[…] Living in Hawaii: Can You Afford It? […]

Can You Afford to Live in Hawaii? - Passing Thru

Monday 3rd of March 2014

[…] the previous post that’s getting all the traffic: Living in Hawaii: Can You Afford It, where the main point is don’t try to duplicate your current life here. If you want a […]

Sarah Carter

Sunday 2nd of February 2014

Hi Betsy! 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

Sunday 2nd of February 2014

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!


Tuesday 3rd of December 2013

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

Tuesday 3rd of December 2013

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. :)