Since we have been in Hilo 3 months now, we are focusing on how to further downsize our cost of living. We created a budget before moving to Hilo based on living here for a month last year. We learned a lot about rents, neighborhoods, food shopping, gasoline and stuff like that. But a lot of our budget was speculation based on our optimistic estimates of health care costs, insurance, auto costs, entertainment, etc. The good thing for us, is coming from Northern California everything in Hilo is way cheaper.
A budget is a great planning tool, but achieving it is another matter. Just moving to Hilo has resulted in immediate improvements in our quality of life while at the same time downsizing our monthly expenses. We rented a 3 bedroom house with a garage and incredible view of Hilo Bay for less than 1/3 of the rent we paid for an old (1960's) 3 bedroom, upstairs apartment in Cupertino wedged between 280 and 85. The foods we like are much cheaper in Hilo as well. For example, we paid $5 for one organic Hawaiian papaya at Whole Foods in Cupertino; in Hilo a $1 gets you 6 Hawaiian papayas (since they are grown here in neaby Puna). Fresh line caught fish and Big Island grass fed beef are other examples of foods that are really expensive in California versus Hilo where they are caught and raised (see Healthy Hilo for more).
Our latest cost reduction victory is health insurance. We urgently needed to get off of COBRA which is outrageously expensive for a family and mostly useless to us in Hawaii. Having any interruption in health insurance is a huge ding against you when trying to get new health care insurance, so as appealing as it sounded, we couldn't just ditch COBRA. There are really only two choices for health plan insurance on the Big Island: HSMA and Kaiser. HSMA is Blue Cross/Blue Shield for Hawaii, and although expensive, it seems to be the popular choice for local businesses. There is a shortage of health professionals on the Big Island and some urgent care facilites don't accept Blue Cross/Blue Shield so its usability is a question. We investigated just getting HSMA's more affordable catastrophic insurance but it has Hawaii residency requirements which we don't meet. Kaiser on the other hand has its own care facilities and hospitals in Hawaii guaranteeing that some health professional will actually see you if you are desperate enough. The monthly costs for Kaiser's family coverage are less than half the cost of COBRA. Yet another step toward reducing our cost of living.