Hawai‘i has a well-earned reputation for being an expensive place to live. Tales of $10 gallons of milk, eye-popping gas prices, and salaries that are significantly lower than the continental U.S. can deter even the most determined would-be Hawai‘i residents. But for the more than one million lucky folks who call this beautiful island state their home, the “price of paradise” is well worth it. Year-round perfect weather, powder-sand beaches, lush forests, and a slower pace, as well as a culture that celebrates diversity—all of these combine to make this one of the happiest, healthiest states in the union. To make living in paradise more manageable, we’ve gathered a few tips from long-time local residents to help you offset Hawaii’s high cost of living.
Cutting down on grocery costs
The majority of Hawaii’s food supply is shipped to our shores from outside the state, with some estimates pinning this number at a whopping 90 percent. This means that only ten percent of consumed food is grown locally. While there are strong community efforts to change this, the fact remains that the cost of a cross-ocean journey is often bundled into the price of fruits, vegetables, meats, and packaged staples.
To combat the high prices and short shelf-life of store bought foods, many Hawai‘i residents shop at local farmers’ markets instead. These are social, sometimes lively pop-up events that take place everywhere from community colleges to shopping mall parking lots. These markets offer a fantastic variety of locally grown produce and value-added products that are often fresher and more reasonably priced than at supermarkets. There’s also the added feel-good benefit of supporting local farmers and entrepreneurs.
Hawai‘i also has a strong culture of sharing. If you’re blessed to live on a property with fruit trees, consider passing some of your seasonal goodies along to friends, co-workers, and neighbors. It’s common in the islands for people to share bags or boxes of fresh mangos, papayas, apple bananas, avocados, lychees, tangerines, and lemons with those who don’t have this backyard bounty. Even if you don’t have an abundance of fruit trees on your property, feel free to bake an extra loaf of banana bread or pack up those extra apples from your Costco run and share them with your neighbors. You will find that many of them will return the favor! For a list of Oahu’s farmers’ markets, you can visit the Hawaii Farm Bureau’s website.
Find a long-term tenant or housemate
Wondering how your neighbors of modest means seem to afford day-care, private school tuition, new cars, or family vacations? For many locals, the secret is renting out single rooms, entire floors, or cottages to long-term tenants. These arrangements offer stable monthly income and the opportunity to build relationships with college and foreign students, working professionals, active-duty military, and even small families.
Take advantage of your kama‘aina discounts
Many businesses in the hospitality and tourism industries recognize the high cost of living. With little room in the budget for splurging on activities or vacations, many local businesses offer what’s known as a kama’aina discount—a reduced price for those who can produce a valid form of Hawaii I.D. or proof of residence. While it’s not necessary, knowing how to pronounce kama’aina (kah-muh-EYE-nuh) correctly is also helpful.
Some of the best kama‘aina values are offered by hotels and resorts that are particularly interested in picking up local business during slower periods. These last-minute discounts are best secured by signing up for their email lists or calling their local reservations line and asking if any discounts are available. Many hotels will also offer food and beverage discounts or free parking to sweeten the deal. Lots of local residents opt for a staycation instead of flying abroad for their vacation, saving them money on airfares and getting local rates right here at home.
Enjoy the outdoors
One of the reasons Hawai‘i is a dream home for so many is because of the abundance of incredible outdoor activities, many of which are free. Every island features stunning beaches, challenging hiking trails, wonderful snorkeling spots, gardens and arboretums, and easy waterfall viewing. Skip the movies or other pricey entertainment in favor of a sunset picnic at your favorite beach park, or pack up the kids to explore tidepool life at your nearest reef.