Recently we saw an article that claimed the cost of living in Maui was 200% higher than the “average” cost of living on the mainland. This matches our experience of the costs in Hawaii when trying to live the same way as we did on the mainland. Over the past five years, we have modified our lifestyle in Hawaii in order to cut our costs and improve the quality of our life. As a result, our expenses are much cheaper than they were when we lived in Northern California and our life is substantially more pleasant. Below is a list of living expenses that we reduced by changing our lifestyle.
Utility Costs - Electricity costs 4 to 7 times more than most places on the mainland so we have learned to live with less electricity. We live in a house that has windows that open to let the air through and we block the sun from heating up the inside. We never use AC and rely on fans and cold showers on really hot days. We wear thin clothes and swim in the morning to lower our body temperature in the summer. We use only LED lights and have an LED TV and energy efficient appliances. We keep appliances unplugged, our lights turned off when not being used, and our water heater turned low. We don’t use hair dryers and we monitor anything electric with an electric current meter (Kill-a-watt ). These actions have cut our electric costs by over 75%.
Food Costs - We only eat local fruit, vegetables, grass fed beef, and fish. When we bought grass-fed beef and Hawaiian fish in California we paid about 3 times more than we pay in Hawaii and we never were able to get Hawaiian avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, mushrooms, bananas, and eggplants. We order processed foods in bulk (rice, rice pasta, almond flour, cherry juice concentrate, etc) from Amazon. Amazon has a Prime program that gives members free shipping, so we pay a third or less than the local store prices. We estimate eating local and ordering in bulk saves us about 75% from our grocery store costs on the mainland. We have to keep close track of our inventory to make sure we do not run out of food and modify our plan if the food we normally order is not on Prime at a particular time. Eating foods that are reasonably priced on the mainland or depending on meals at restaurants can break a budget in Hawaii because of the high costs of labor and shipping of foods to the island.
Housing costs - We rent and we move to take advantage of better deals as they become available. We have learned to look at the net cost of living in a place rather than just the cost of the rent. When we initially moved to Hilo, our rent was half of what we paid for a smaller, dumpy place in Cupertino, California. Though our rent went up when we moved to Kona, our net cost was lower because the rent included services that we were paying for in Hilo including sewer, water, trash, and access to a gym and swimming pool. When moved to South Kohala, we gained even more services and benefits without increasing our rent. Signing a long term lease during off season has allowed us to cut the cost of our rent by 75% of what we paid in California. Being able to decrease our housing costs over the past five years may not be feasible on other islands in Hawaii. Owning a home in Hawaii can be more expensive than on the mainland because of the cost of upkeep, security, taxes, utilities, County services, and owner association fees.
Medical Costs - The cost of our medical insurance on the mainland was staggering. When we moved to Hawaii we were able to cut our cost by over 75% by buying a Kaiser policy. Over the last five years our policy has doubled in cost, but it is still only 50% of what we paid in California. We shop around for any services we require like eye checks, glasses, etc. since the costs vary dramatically on the island. Maintaining a COBRA policy or mainland blue cross policy can be very expensive, so being able to switch to a low cost policy in Hawaii can make a big difference in cost of living.
Travel and Vacations - One of our biggest expenses in California was the cost of getting away from the cold, dreary winter to the sun in Hawaii. Now that we live in Hawaii, we never “go on vacation”. We have taken some trips to Oahu to visit our son, but we get great prices to stay in condos and hotels since we are locals and get Kamaaina rates. Many people we know travel back to the mainland frequently for business or family which can be a major cost of living in Hawaii.