Friday, March 8, 2013

Living in Hawaii on Less

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.

We believe that the high cost of living a “mainland life style” is the major reason most new arrivals to Hawaii stay only a few years.  Taking the time to plan and invent a Hawaii lifestyle can make a huge difference in the cost of living as well as increasing the enjoyment of being in Hawaii.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

hi there,

this is such fantastic, well researched and very helpful information you have on this blog and your writing is great, our sincere thanks to you.

we relocated from silicon valley to portland in 2004. after 9 years of gloomy weather we are looking to relocate to a sunnier locale and live a quiet, simple, organic life with our 5 year old daughter. the tropics are very appealing to me since i am have cuban and this dreary pdx weather is not healthy for us anymore.
my wife is in hi tech finance at intel. i am a self employed artist. we are coming to the big island next week and staying in the north kohala area for 13 days.
if you have any interest, we would like to meet you perhaps and share sometime together since i feel we are on a similar trajectory with our life. just a thought.

again mahalo!

miguel and yanina, portland oregon.

sorry for the double post i had to edit a typo.

Angie said...

I found your blog today. What a goose, I am! Should have known someone would be blogging about living on the Big Island! My husband's parents lived on the Big Island for many years. We visited for two to three weeks at a time, and loved being on the island. We live an extremely independent layed back life now, and don't want to change. We are considering a move of our own to the Big Island.

I totally understand and agree with the need to "go island", rather than try to live on the island with the busy mainland lifestyle.

We have been looking at property to buy for a couple years while we work toward our decision. We know just how difficult it is to keep electronics and appliances working in an extremely humid climate.

One thing I can't find an answer to, is would it be better to find super deals on new appliances and ship them to HI, or is it best to buy when we get there. I understand it would create goodwill in the area to shop locally, but there will be plenty of that as time goes on.

What is your take on this?

Thanks for the great information.


HiloLiving said...

Hi Angie,

Thanks for reading our blog.

Electricity is very expensive in Hawaii, 4 to 10 times higher than most places on the mainland. Appliances that use the least electricity will save you money in the long run.

We are renters, so we discovered renting a place with older appliances was a huge hit to our electric bill, even though we tried to conserve. Moving to another rental with a newer refrigerator and washer/dryer dramatically reduced our monthly electric expenses. We recently replaced our 42" LCD TV with a 42" LED TV through Amazon with free shipping using Amazon prime. We estimate the electricity saved paid for the new TV in under 5 months.

So, if you happen to have newer, energy efficient appliances and room in a container to bring them with your other belongings (so you do not have to pay extra for their shipping) it would be a savings to bring them.

We are not sure how much more it would cost to buy them here than on the mainland since we haven't purchased major appliances, but it seems that places like Home Depot and Lowes are trying keep prices close to mainland prices.

Hope this helps.


PS: Love your blog ( about your incredible, laid-back life at sea.

HiloLiving said...

Miguel, we emailed you a response. Hope you got it. Please email us if you want to meet up while you are in Hawaii at
Tyler and Chris

Larry Fitzgerald said...

Great blog! We've been researching the portion of relocating (retiring) to the Big Island from the real estate/home purchase angle. We're in Walnut Creek, CA; so it's pretty nice here, too. I see where you've moved to the Kailua-Kona area, so is there a place on your blog site that specifically deals with this area? This is the area that most interests us.
In our case it appears that our property taxes would be about $3K less in HI, and no state tax on pension benefits (we're both UC employees). These save us about $6K+/yr. I'll take the time to read though your blog entries.
Larry Fitzgerald

A war vet said...

Hello, My wife and I are living in lower Michigan and the winters here can be brutal and the summers brutal also.
We go down to Pensacola Fl for 2 months during the winter and the weather is a bit better at least there is no snow there but still chilly most of the time.
It seems that whenever you travel to a warmer climate to get away from the cold winters the cost of almost every thing you need is at leas 20% higher.
Hawaii seems the best place because of the moderate climate that means no AC or heating most of the time which can off set the higher costs of everything else.

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