The Cost of Living in Hawaii in 2020

Considering a move to Hawaii? It’s beautiful here, surrounded by vast ocean, pristine weather and rich culture, but paradise comes at a cost – a cost so high, in fact, that it can be a deterrent for many folks. According to Expatistan as of 2019, Honolulu is the 9th most expensive city in the United States and North America, and also the 20th most expensive in the world⁠!

Here is everything you need to know about the cost of living in Hawaii, along with firsthand stories and opinions from local individuals and families.

INCOME

In order to live comfortably in Hawaii, studies show that you’ll need a whopping salary of over $122,000. (Of course, standards of living vary according to each person and it all depends on your level of “comfort.”) Yet, despite Hawaii’s cost of living being one of the highest in the United States, many professionals actually make less in Hawaii for many careers compared to the average wages in the continental U.S.

According to Payscale, the average salary in the island's capital, Honolulu, is $60,328, but the state has one of the highest tax rates in the country, at 5.3 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. salary, as of 2017, is $44,148. In another analysis by Indeed.com, annual Honolulu salaries were about $70,000 on average but when adjusted for cost of living, that salary drops down by $14,000 to $56,100. But, for many people, Honolulu’s appealing qualities balance out the potentially lower wages.

EXPENSES

Renting in Hawaii is much more expensive than most places on the mainland – and it all depends on location. For example, a studio on Oahu can range from $800 to more than $1,200 per month and that’s not including utilities. A one-bedroom apartment or home can range from about $800 to more than $1,200 per month and a two-bedroom apartment or a house will start at $1,800 per month. Looking at a luxurious, new one-bedroom condo? Expect to fork out at least $3,000 a month.

You can always opt to live outside of Honolulu’s center or even consider the outer islands – the Big Island’s Hilo is nearly 49 to 56 percent lower than Honolulu, plus offers a laidback and relaxing small-town vibe that may be appealing than the hustle and bustle of the city.

If you’re looking to buy, the median sales price of a single-family home is $835,000 – a new record high, as of 2019. The median sales price for a condo on Oahu is $461,500. Despite the high prices though, Oahu continues to see a growth in home and condo sales.

When it comes to utilities, Hawaii’s residents pay the most when it comes to monthly energy bills in the nation. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, you can expect to receive the energy bill at an average of $168.13 per month. That’s $50.48 more expensive than the national average of $117.65.

Transportation

Let’s say you do choose to live outside of the busy Honolulu or downtown area – you’ll then need to consider the cost of owning and driving a vehicle. Gas prices as of 2019 is about $2.635 per gallon. Taking the bus or, in Oahu, TheBus, may be a more affordable method of transportation, at $2.50 per ticket, although it may not be an appealing daily commute of choice.

If you work in downtown Honolulu or Waikiki, you’ll most likely need to rent a parking spot in the case your company doesn’t provide one. Parking ranges typically from $100 to $200. Those who live in a condo may also need to rent a stall at around the same price, although it depends on association rules.

Groceries and Dining Out

Food is delicious in paradise, especially with an abundance of tropical fruits, vegetables and locally grown coffee. But Hawaii is the most expensive place to buy groceries in the nation, especially because products are shipped from the mainland. According to a 2019 report by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Hawaii’s groceries are incredibly steep. The study used a national index of 100 and Hawaii ranked at 160.8, while comparatively California ranked at 117.9, Washington at 108.1 and Oregon at 114.7.

For example, a gallon of whole milk on Oahu can be $8.99 – the cheapest at Costco for $4.99 a gallon. Broccoli is at $3.79 a pound, bulk carrots at $1.59 a pound. And yes, while buying local is encouraged, the cost of Hawaii grown mangos are at about $6.99 a pound. Four rolls of toilet paper will be about $6.

Eating out will add up quickly. The average cost of breakfast in Hawaii is $4 to $7, lunch at about $5 to $10 and dinner will cost $12 to $30 (or more). There’s a huge price range though, so many people will buy a plate lunch (white rice, mac salad, and meat entrée like loco moco or teriyaki beef) and save it for lunch and dinner, or split with a friend.

Miscellaneous

Ready for some good news? Hawaii’s average property tax rate is 0.27 percent, one of the lowest rates in the nation. Income tax rates range from 1.4 percent to 11 percent.

For retirees, Hawaii can be fairly appealing as the state exempts Social Security retirement benefits and public pension income from state taxes. It fully taxes income from private pensions and retirement savings accounts.

According to a study by Commonwealth Fund, Hawaii residents who participate in employer-sponsored health coverage plans pay some of the nation’s lowest costs. Typically, insurance in Hawaii is provided through two main companies: Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. or the Hawaii Medical Service Association (HMSA). The potential cost according to this study to employees in Hawaii is about 36 percent of the national average at $4,664 (8 percent of median income) versus a national cost of $7,240 in the nation (12 percent of median income). Hawaii had the lowest employee costs for single coverage in the nation in 2017 at $675, which was less than half of the national average of $1,415. More good news: Hawaii is also the healthiest state in the nation and has been named healthiest nine times since 1990. Low obesity and smoking rates can be contributed to low levels of air pollution, less mental stress and a good number of available primary care physicians.

So, why the high cost?

The high cost of living in Hawaii has many reasons, but the short answer is the fact that we’re surrounded by water. Nearly everything we consume has to be shipped here or flown. Hawaii is also a desirable place for the rich to buy property, which continues to drive up housing costs. Another big factor: utility bills such as electricity is sky high, thanks to the warm climate. Like with many things in life, there is certainly a trade-off.

Is it worth it? Here’s what locals are saying…

“Mainland home prices are tempting, especially when we see prices rising here in Hawaii every year. But for me, Hawaii is home. It feels like family. I make it work by living in a condo instead of a home. I shop in bulk at Costco instead of other grocery stores because Costco has some of the cheapest grocery prices here. I also keep an eye out on sales…it’s just how things are,” says L.M.

“I’ve given thought to moving to the mainland where the cost of living is so much lower, but it’s hard to imagine moving and having to start all over. My roots are in Hawaii, and my family is here. I make it work by living with my parents, which saves a huge amount of money I would normally spend on rent,” says C.O.

“The cost of living in Honolulu is tough. My wife and I have talked about moving to the mainland but every time we have this discussion, we both just can’t imagine moving. Even though it can be difficult to make ends meet, we make it work. We buy in bulk and my wife watches our two kids at home, saving on daycare. She also works from home and every bit of income helps. We look for sales in stores like Costco and Target, and buy secondhand toys off Facebook Marketplace or E-bay. We don’t eat out much, we cook every day and keep a pretty strict budget every month,” says K.K.

“I moved to Los Angeles about six years ago for a new job and that wasn’t too much different from Hawaii in terms of cost of living. This year, I’m in Minnesota. There’s no tax on clothing or food and a four-bedroom home sells for $200,000. It’s just like that old saying – it’s just the cost of living in paradise. I was just offered a high-paying job in the summer, but even though it was a good salary, I would have to move back into an apartment and cut down significantly on my standard of living,” says J.G.

“I moved to San Francisco about five years ago. I’ve run into a lot of people from Hawaii out here and all of us have similar stories. We’ve come for jobs, school or opportunities. Aside from the housing which is on par with Hawaii, living expenses are cheaper. Jobs pay better and there’s more of them. And while we no longer live in paradise, I can now afford to visit whenever I want. I do miss Hawaii a lot, but right now it doesn’t make sense to move back,” says J.D.

OUR TAKE

While the cost of living in Hawaii may be daunting at first, it requires a bit of soul searching and close look at your lifestyle. If you’re used to a certain standard of living, you may need to make a few sacrifices when moving to Hawaii. But, it may not seem like a sacrifice to nix that luxury car or to eat out less, especially if living near the ocean, enjoying a warm climate and healthy island environment are important to you. It’s all about balancing your values and discovering what works for you and your family.

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