This article is about how much money is enough to move to and live in Hawaii, updated for 2021. Could a single person make it by bringing $3,000 in a bank account? If you arrived in Hawaii and made $20,000 per year with your job, could you live like that?In general things cost a lot more in Hawaii than they do on the mainland. Shipping food over the ocean in boats (or planes) is one reason for this, but another is that grocers have to maintain huge stocks of food in warehouses to keep food on the shelves all the time.
This requires a lot more money to pay the rent and people for running the warehouses.
Another reason is Hawaii’s 4% excise tax. Which is added to just about everything business related.
Of course the main issue factoring into the high cost of living in Hawaii is the cost of housing – owning and renting homes.
The reason land and homes are so expensive is because land is not a renewable resource. What is here on the islands is all you have to work with. With the rugged terrain there is a lot of land it isn’t possible to build on.
Want to know the major reason prices are so high?
Demand. There are people WILLING to pay $600K – 900K for a regular sized home on Oahu or Maui. In most cases they are moving from Japan or California and have sold their home there and received about the same amount. It’s a rather affordable move for them.
The number of people that would answer ‘yes’ if you asked them, ‘if you could, would you live in Hawaii?’ is probably very high.
I don’t know many that would answer ‘no’ – do you?
Why is the demand so high for housing and rental units in Hawaii?
Well, there is a whole lot to like about the islands! Personally I rate it as one of the two top places to live in the world. Krabi, Thailand is one, and somewhere on Maui is another one. It’s a tough call to label one as better than the other – there are vast differences between them. Hawaii is, without a doubt, the best place to live in the USA. Hands down the winner!
Hawaii has everything I like – clean air; clean water; what I’d call perfect weather; a wide range of environments – forest, desert, beaches; a great group of people; delicious restaurants; and decent nightlife.
If you’ve already lived in Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, Korea; Hollywood, California, or New York City, New York, you will think Hawaii’s cost of living is reasonable. If you haven’t lived in a very high cost of living area before, you will probably become very cost-conscious once you start living here.
Chapter 18 covers homes and condos.
Car insurance, health insurance, fire insurance, every insurance, is more expensive in Hawaii. If you ride a motorcycle, be prepared to sign away a good portion of your monthly income to insurance. The whole living in Hawaii experience is outrageously expensive and it may go against your common sense to live here – but you may not be able to resist!
Many Hawaii residents have two and three jobs to keep up with expenses. It’s safe to say you’ll meet more people working more than one job in Hawaii than you have ever met anywhere else in your life.
I mentioned before that most grocery items are over $5. Many are over $10 now too!
Add to that the cost of gas, renting apartments that are very small and with pay for parking issues all over Waikiki if that’s where you plan to stay, and it gets expensive.
According to a survey I did of residents living in Hawaii, their average food bill per person in the family was, as a minimum, around $300. I routinely ate $800-1K per month just for me! It is not difficult to do; there are some great restaurants on the islands. Restraint is called for! Restraint I obviously didn’t have. Maybe that’s why I exercise so much.
Can you live in Hawaii making $20-25K per year? Yes, probably. But, be prepared to be very frugal and live in a manner you may not be accustomed to, eating food you may not be so happy with.
High Electricity Costs
At 30 cents per kilowatt-hour average across the islands, and with a range of 20 cents to 34 cents, the monthly cost is around $120 – 180 just for electricity.
Hawaii’s electrical generators are run on petroleum for the most part. When the price of gas went through the roof – so did electricity in Hawaii. The islands now boast the highest cost for electricity per unit – in the USA. It’s about 300% of the national average.
I think the figure mentioned above is being conservative. I typically used over $200 in electricity per month. Unless you’re really conscious about your electricity use, your average bill for a home will be over $200 and probably more like $300.
I’ve had water bills as low as $45 in Hawaii a couple years back. Some people with five adults and three or four kids report having to pay $300 every two months. Keep in mind, anyone with a house is using the sprinklers on their lawn, and sometimes filling swimming pools as well.
How Much Money is Enough?
This is the biggest unknown for most people, as they consider moving to Hawaii. It is for me too. Every time I move back to the islands, it is also the main question on my mind.
How much money is enough to cover you as you move from the mainland USA, or maybe another part of the world, to Hawaii? How much do you need each month to live, and for savings for the unknown future?
It depends on you, and how you want to live before you buy or rent a home. You’ll be spending hours looking at houses or condominiums and you will need a place to sleep, that’s about it. You’ll be out of your room all day until nighttime. You only, realistically, need a place you can sleep that is safe and clean.
You can find a room for $100 or so per night, at many locations on the island of Oahu. Hostels have rooms for $30 per night if you’re desperate.
I don’t recommend bringing any valuables with you, like notebook computer, jewelry, or anything else too expensive that you can’t carry around with you all day in a backpack or bag.
Though the hotels insist their room safes are secure, I have lost items there when the cleaning staff or others broke into them. People I know have also been victims of theft.
I think it’s better to have a trusted friend or family member send valuables to you after you find your new home.
Most families in Hawaii have household income under $70K per annum. Before finding that statistic, I would have guessed that the average income for families in Hawaii was higher. It does make sense why everyone is griping about how expensive everything is!
It’s safe to say, at these income levels – you need A+ credit to buy a home in Hawaii – well, anywhere but Big Island, where homes are still somewhat affordable!
At $75K per year, for two unmarried people, it works out to just $37,500 each. Twelve thousand of that goes to taxes from each – which leaves $25K each, $50K total for two people. That isn’t so great at all.
Fully one quarter of all Hawaii households are pulling in less than $35K per year in income. That’s plain unlivable for more than one person.
I really think that any income over $50K per person is ‘enough’ to live in Hawaii. You can make that work on any of the islands. If you’re making any less than that you’re going to be too stressed that you aren’t making enough. My most recent multi-year stay in Hawaii had me racking up $800 in food bills per month – minimum!
Even if you’re staying in a studio or one-bedroom in Waikiki that is clean and has security, you’ll be paying $1K per month. Want 1-bedroom? You’ll pay around $1,400.
Every time we went to the grocery behind Ala Moana shopping center we shelled out $200+ for groceries. In Pennsylvania, where I grew up, you could fill the back of a truck for that! In Hawaii? You might get four or five bags if you’re lucky. I remember going to the fresh fish shop on Maui in Honokowai and paying $50 – $70 for some tuna, swordfish, and shrimp. It’s THAT bad! Who can go without fresh fish though? I certainly cannot. You just have to pay the price!
Car insurance, car payment, health insurance payment, kids’ private school costs, personal taxes, emergency costs, going out costs… all of these add up to eat up your entire paycheck if you’re making under $50K per year.
Life is what you make it, and life in Hawaii can be done at less than $50K per year in personal income, but I wouldn’t really recommend it unless you are ready to live very frugally. There are people that can do it on even $30K income per year. I’ve seen them. They don’t eat well, and they don’t do anything at night. Some are happy that way, and others tolerate it for a while before they move back to the mainland and raise their standard of living back up to what they are comfortable with.
Your standard of living is kind of built into you. You were raised in a certain standard – and that usually becomes your minimum you are willing to go down to. If you made $70K back in the mainland – in a town like Gibson City, Illinois – you could have whatever you wanted. Move to Hawaii and it’s like you’re making $40K. You have about the same amount of spending power.
So, the answer to the questions about how much money should you have saved before you arrive in Hawaii – is all based on what you need to be comfortable. For myself, just me arriving on Oahu, I’d want around $10,000 USD saved. I think I could get away with only spending half of that before I found a job, but I consider myself very resourceful and I have a lot of different skills. You might want to wait until you save even more than that before giving it a shot. I think the key is to bring more than you think you’ll need. Maybe twice as much as you initially think. That way if things go bad, you’re not packing up right away and moving back to the mainland with your tail between your legs!
Think very hard about moving to Hawaii if money is going to be a severely limiting factor. Can you live on less so you actually have some savings at the end of the month? Should you spend the next year before you move to learn skills that will help you get a better job? Should you start an Internet business that provides residual income in addition to what you make at a regular job working eight hours per day? Should you sell your car and get a bike in Hawaii?
There are so many questions… and so many ways to make it work if you really want to. Don’t take your move to the Hawaiian Islands lightly. Consider money very carefully, especially if you have a family relying on you.
Article originally authored by Vern Lovic and any expressed opinions are his own.