Monday, April 13, 2015

Keeping a Budget on Maui (AKA The Price of Paradise)

Maui’s a terrible place to live on a tight budget. So is the rest of Hawaii. The cost of living is sky high if you are a normal person. 

Photo Credit: 401kcalculator.org via Flickr (with modifications).
If you’re a dwarf from Middle Earth and can live in a cave far from the police and other signs of civilization, maybe you don’t need much money. Years ago, I met a Maui woman who lived in a cave. And you thought I was pulling your leg. Did you hear about the old Maui woman who lived in a shoe? (Just kidding.)

If you’re bad at managing your money, living on Maui makes it worse. If you’re even a bit negligent, Maui will slap you upside the head, chew you up and spit you out in a relative’s cold basement, far from Hawaii.

Here is a breakdown of common household budget items:

Things on Maui That Cost More Than Other Places:
  • Housing – Land is expensive since it’s desirable and in limited supply, so rents and mortgages are high too.
  • Electricity – Maui supposedly has the highest cost per Kilowatt hour in the country.
  • Gas – I’ve been told the County of Maui charges a 50 cent tax on each gallon of gas.
  • Medical & Dental Care – Health insurance isn’t too bad compared to other places but procedures like braces can run $2000+ more on Maui than on the mainland.
  • Groceries – Sometimes the supermarkets list their “sale” prices in the weekly sales flyer and I just roll my eyes.
  • School – If you don’t like your kids in public school, private school is a whopper.
  • Restaurants – Expect to pay more for everything.
  • Cars and Car Repairs – Read the post about Cars on Maui.
  • Household and Other Miscellaneous Items – Shipping is expensive so stores do not carry a huge inventory of most items. Also, there is a nasty thing called HAZMAT fees, fees for hazardous materials that have to be specially shipped. Certain types of paint, solvents, sprays fall in this category. For the DIY-er, this can suck when the item is not found on Maui and must be shipped. The shipping could be $50 for a $10 item.
  • Entertainment – any activity that caters to tourists is usually expensive.
  • State Taxes – I will return to this topic in a couple of weeks.

Things on Maui That Cost Less Than Other Places:
  • Heating or Cooling Bills – Many houses don’t have AC since they are open to the trade winds. Hawaii is not cold enough to require central heat, unless your home is at a high elevation, though space heaters are useful to keep areas dry or if it gets cold (meaning 60 degrees for us wimps).
  • Beach – All beaches are public and free! No beach usage or membership fees, unlike other states.
  • Entertainment – Can be inexpensive if you don’t mind free hula shows, school plays or the daily sunset. Also, Maui offers many free festivals and events throughout the year. Take a look at April's event listings.
Because Hawaii is expensive, this can cause at least four types of consumer behaviors:
1.      The Costco addiction. Since almost everyone here has a Costco membership, if there is something at Costco, regardless of whether one needs that solar-powered itune-playing salad spinner there is a zombie-like compulsion to buy it. In addition, some people will start stockpiling groceries. Peanut butter on sale in 2 gallon jars! So what if you only eat peanut butter once a year? Some Maui garages and houses are filled with a stockpile of groceries and supplies, worsened by fears of the Zombie Apocalypse
2.      Becoming pake. Pake means cheap in Hawaiian pidgin. It sounds like Parkay, without the “r.” The pake person will comparison shop, review grocery flyers and compulsively go to garage sales. I don’t know anyone like that.
3.      Amazon Prime membership. People here are very fond of Amazon Prime because there is free shipping, even to Hawaii. I think that Hawaii is keeping the US Post Office afloat with all the shipping.
4.      “The Close Your Eyes” Effect. One becomes used to the high prices and buys whatever it is without waiting for the price to come down or doing any comparison shopping, regardless of what the price is.

There is also the kama'aina (pronounced like "kah-mah-EYE-nah") discount, which is essentially a resident's discount. Some stores, restaurants and entertainment activities offer this discount which can be 10-20% or more off of the normal tourist price. But there is no kama'aina discount for groceries or normal household expenses.


Here's a shortcut to the archives for the A to Z Challenge and other blog posts.

The theme of this year’s A to Z Challenge is Living on Maui: A Beginner’s Survival Guide. While I can’t include everything in only 26 short blog posts, this is my foolish attempt.

If you are participating in the A to Z Challenge, please use either Disqus or Facebook to comment below. Please include your link so that I can visit you back, but it might be as late as May!

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