Retiring in Hawaii: Pros & Cons (Part 5)

Year-round growing weather means an abundance of fresh, local, and affordable produce at farmers’ markets and farm stands in Hawaii.

Back when we were still in Portland, when I would mention to anyone that we were planning to retire in Hawai’i, many would sigh and talk about paradise in one breath, and then turn right around and talk about how expensive Hawai’i is. Then they would sigh once more and mention paradise and the weather again.

Weather was the number one item on our list when it came to choosing a retirement location. It made no sense for us to move from the cold, dreary and wet winters of Portland to an area with even colder winters just to enjoy a lower cost of living. However, cost of living was still a major factor in deciding just where we could actually afford to live. Paradise is wonderful, but if you can’t afford to pay the rent or get out and enjoy it, then there’s really no point in living there.

The next two points about retiring in the middle of this series of pros and cons of retiring in Hawai’i (or not) are here for a reason. After working your way through the first four, the pros and cons at in this post can and should cause one to pause and maybe even reevaluate whether or not to move all over again.

PRO: The warm weather and tropical climate of Hawai’i is very kind to aging bodies and bones, and conditions like arthritis. Temperatures average between 75°-85° on most parts of all the islands during the day, and rarely fall below 65° at night. Both Brett and I definitely notice a difference in how our bodies and bones feel here. I have arthritis in one knee (from a bad fracture years ago) and the Brett has mild arthritis in some of his joints. We have absolutely no symptoms at all while we we’re here; in fact, we forgot we even had arthritis until we started traveling back in 2018. Anecdotally, I know of elderly who have been able to reduce their use of medication that was necessary back on the mainland, and who are in better health than ever. The tropical climate also means there is quite a bit of humidity, which can drive me nuts, but it’s honestly nowhere near as bad as what we experienced living in the eastern U.S. and Japan (the humidity here is child’s play compared to those places). Year-round warm weather also means a year-round growing season, so (affordable) locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables are always available, and it also means you can stay active year round as well.

CON: We call it the “paradise tax,” but everything costs more in Hawai’i. Everything (except maybe a trip to the beach). Although we save on income taxes, housing is more expensive than on the mainland, as are utilities (Kaua’i costs for electricity are the highest in the nation). Gasoline costs more. Food and medical costs are both expensive and also taxed (4%, although prescriptions are exempt) as Hawaii imposes a general excise tax versus a sales tax. All living expenses should be carefully investigated and evaluated before deciding whether a move to Hawai’i is feasible. The best means of keeping costs down in Hawaii is to not expect to live like on the mainland, but to learn to live like a local. That can mean changing habits, learning to eat new foods (and giving up old favorites), and practicing frugality at every turn.

I think the biggest reason Brett and I have succeeded here is because we w-a-y over-budgeted before we ever arrived. We researched rental costs for nearly a year to see what we could get for how much and where. We kept up with gasoline prices on the island, and food prices as well, and did our best to understand how much utilities would be. We made choices on where to live based on how a location would affect our budget. Once here, we learned over time where to shop and how to shop like a local (Costco, Walmart, Big Save, farmers’ markets and farm stands). We stuck with an economical small car and kept/keep our gasoline costs down. Our determination to live under our means in spite of the high cost of living here has provided us with a quality, healthy life using only our retirement income, and has allowed us to save, help our girls get through college, and enjoy travel out of the state and overseas. Living in Hawaii is expensive, but it can be doable.

4 thoughts on “Retiring in Hawaii: Pros & Cons (Part 5)

  1. Surprisingly, your gas prices are about the same as ours. We are paying $3.70 in town and 4.50 near the lake. Flights to the East are 400. now, but were 600. last summer. All expenses are relative, right? We are in abundance of fruits and veggies now, but that will end with the first snow. I remember eating so much better in Manoa. Finding housing that fits the budget seems to be key, doesn’t it? We built, but we have rented for many years and are good with both. Since you (like me) don’t tie your value to a house, home can be anywhere. Having a firm fixed income helps.
    Stretching out, walking and enjoying a book were tops on our list. In the end, unless we could have lived in the same neighborhood as our kids, we decided what makes us get up every day and smile is “it” at 64/71.
    So far, I haven’t read any real cons for you. 😉
    I wish you well in establishing a good community to return to in between travels. It seems you are more then capable 😀

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    1. I agree, everything is relative and where you choose to settle is always going to be a matter of trade-offs. We are lucky to have a reliable income, good benefits, and our good health.

      Housing costs are what ground our choices. We couldn’t have done better this time if we tried as the space is perfect for us, we love the location, and we don’t have to pay utilities. There are still loads of cons for us when it comes to living in Hawaii, the the pros outweigh them, and we’ve learned to deal with them or get around them as needed.

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  2. Did you ship a car over when you moved there? Or buy one there? Having never been there, my mental picture is probably WAY off, but it’s strange to picture there being used car lots in paradise! What will you do about your car when you leave?

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