How to Afford Living in the Most Expensive U.S. State and Still Have Money to Travel

According to USA Today, Hawaii is the #1 most expensive U.S. state to live in. Based on this article, to live comfortably here you would need a salary over $122,000. Further, the relative value of $100 as compared by state is the second lowest here in Hawaii, trailing only the nation’s capitol by $0.93.

$100 Map-state-01


I will be the first to tell you that I am making no salary over $122,000. Further, I do not make a salary, yet work for an hourly wage + tips as a sea kayak guide and SUP instructor. Even so, I have both the money and the time to travel to (almost) all of the other offshore islands (Molokai – you’re still on our list!) And last week, we booked a couple of plane tickets for October. We are going to Indonesia!!

A stunning day at the office.

Here’s how we do it – and how you can, too.

Find affordable accommodation.

This is easily one of the more tricky parts to the equation, as accommodation is one of the most expensive aspects of living in Hawaii. There’s a lot of talk of being “priced out of paradise”, referring to the shortage of affordable housing. With almost 1M people living on almost 600 sq miles of lava rock, spaces tend to be small for the price, and in general, expensive.

To combat this problem, a lot of people choose to go the route of roommates. Living in a shared house is a more affordable option, and with the right roommates it can be a fun, communal, and enjoyable living situation. Other people choose to pay for the small, not always overwhelmingly nice, accommodation. Insert: us.

Home Sweet Home

Looking for housing in Kailua was a full-time job for a week and a half. Finally, my partner at the time and I had the choice between a $1500 monthly studio complete with washer/dryer, wi-fi, a/c, and cable. (It was nice, and at the time I really wanted to live here.) For $1000, we found another studio apartment in an older building in a more central location to town. Lacking all of the bells and whistles, but at a much more affordable price, we agreed on option B and succeeded in finding one of the cheapest, most private, and centrally located units in the great little town of Kailua.

We never set up cable, we didn’t purchase an internet plan. We moved to Hawaii to spend time outside surfing, hiking, and jogging the beautiful coastline that is Kailua. Our variable expenses consist of our electric bill, ranging from $40 – $120 depending on how desperate we are for our window A/C unit in a given month.

Contrary to the USA Today article, somewhat more affordable housing options are out there – you just have to be willing to hunt for them and accept the trade-offs that ensue.

No cable? No problem. How about we go for a little jaunt?

Skip the bars and going out downtown.

Going out can be expensive anywhere, and it is especially so in Hawaii. Conveniently enough, our quaint little beach town has one fatal flaw: no nightlife. It is easy to forgo nights out raking up $50 and $100 bar tabs. After living here over a year we still have not “gone out” in Waikiki. I’m a sunrise person, and not a big drinker, but most importantly, I make the conscious decision to save my money for travel.

An alternative? Grab a bottle of wine and head to the beach in time for sunset. Enjoy cooking pupus and hanging out at your friends’ for a night of fun.


Cook at home. Shop the sales.

Okay, this sounds painfully obvious. You know those little newspaper like pamphlets that advertise the items on sale at the local grocery store? Use those! Just this week I bought pasta on sale for $0.88 per pack in comparison to the +$2 that they usually cost. And as a rule: never buy full-priced $7 boxes of cereal in Hawaii.

Target, while anything but local, is another affordable option for buying groceries. Checkout their Cartwheel app for additional savings.

And when you can, visit a farmer’s market to get the local food at a great price.

This will help you save beaucoup de beaucoup of money.

Enjoy free fun!

The best kind of fun, in my opinion. After work, before work, and on days off we grab our surf boards, go on a stroll and enjoy one of Oahu’s many and fabulous hikes, go out sailing with our nautical friends, and more.


So where does this leave us?

With the ability to travel! We’ve enjoyed six inter-island trips over the course of a long weekend or even a week. And we are thrilled to be making it across the pond that is the Pacific to Asia next month.

Can Hawaii be an unbearably costly place to live? Yes. But it doesn’t have to be.


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