Living on Less in Hawai’i

My favorite Kaua’i activity is less than five minutes from our house and it’s free!

It’s great when a 20 something says ya, move to the islands its a great place to live, but when your talking kids, spouses and a mid-level standard of living, it becomes a different kettle of fish. Yes, if you refuse to buy new clothes, quit eating meat, forgo medical/dental care or insurance, walk instead of drive, sit in the dark instead of using electricity, no worries. But really, do you want to live like that? Your kids will NEVER need braces? Never break an arm? Never want a car? College? I think the islands are a great place to live. But I would never have relocated with children in school unless I had the means to place them in private school. (Which we did not). Better to delay that gratification than to subborn your childrens future.

The cost of living is high in Hawai’i – there’s no denying it. But, you don’t have to be wealthy to live the good life here. The above is the “advice” I received from an anonymous poster when I wrote to a Hawai’i forum in 2013, a full year before we moved to Hawai’i, asking whether our proposed budget for living on Kaua’i was realistic or not.

Most of the answers I received to my question on the forum were thoughtful, full of good advice and encouraging. For most budget items I was told I had actually estimated too high, which was a good place to be. But, even with our budget outlined, and with the explanation that we were retired military with healthcare provided, and with a low tax burden because of our income sources, this person predicted nothing but gloom and doom for us. She was backed up by another frequent contributor to the forum. According to them, with an income of less than $100,000 (after taxes) we were sure to find ourselves in dire straits sooner rather than later.

None of her predictions have come true, nor are they likely to happen either. And, our income is nowhere near $100,000 per year.

We primarily use a “solar dryer” on laundry day

There are three reasons I believe that we have been able to live well here on a smaller income. And, not only live well but have money left over to save for travel and other activities:

  1. We have no consumer debt.
  2. We live within our means, which in our case means renting right now instead of buying, owning only one car, and sticking to our monthly budget.
  3. We practice everyday frugality – we didn’t change our frugal habits just because we moved to Hawai’i.

Without any one of these three things in place there would be more of a possibility that our income might not be sufficient, and we might be living closer to the life predicted by the poster. Many people move to Hawaii’i convinced their income will be enough, but make no adjustments to their lifestyle to accommodate the higher cost of living, and end up leaving in a year or less, poorer but hopefully wiser.

No food waste around here: Brett had the last of some guacamole, hummus, feta cheese and rice for lunch one day

We are not minimalists by any stretch, and live a very rich, full life in my opinion. But, we live a simple life. We take advantage of the benefits we have earned. We are thoughtful about our purchases and the choices we make, but we don’t deny ourselves anything. Kaua’i offers abundant recreation for free (beaches, hiking, etc.) and there are discounts offered to residents. Our children stay very busy thanks to school clubs and sports, and work hard to earn scholarships to pay for college. The amounts I budgeted back in 2013 did turn out to be much higher than we actually spend, meaning more has been available to put away for travel and other extras. Less has really meant more here.

I may just write back to the forum one of these days to let them know that we are still here, that we’re living the good life in paradise and not sitting in the dark wondering where we went wrong. We eat what we want including occasionally going out to eat, and we don’t worry about turning on the lights. We’ve got college covered so far.

I wonder if that “helpful” poster is still reading?