High Cost of Living – it’s a State of Mind


Avocados: Free

This Hawaii place has quite a reputation to outsiders. You can’t get halfway through the word without people’s eyes fogging up as they start to dream about beaches and scenery and sunshine. And much of it is true – even on my third visit, the magic of this place remains.

For me it’s the temperature, which varies so little from day to night and from season to season, that the only climate control you ever need is deciding whether or not you need a shirt to go with your shorts and bare feet.  Even when you’re inside, the windows and doors are always open, so really you are always outside.

But Hawaii also carries a reputation for very high costs. Tourists will lament, “The hotels are three hundred dollars there and the drinks are fourteen, plus gas is five dollars a gallon!”. If you talk about actually living in Hawaii, you’ll get a report like “Houses are a million dollars there! The milk is ten dollars a gallon and electricity is three times the price it is on the mainland!”.

While all of these things are technically true at times, somehow I have managed to live here for almost three weeks so far while spending a grand total of $37.00. And even that was purely optional: a six-pack of gourmet Maui Coconut Porter beer, two pounds of grilled fish and vegetables at an exorbitant late-night Whole Foods buffet, and a flowery lei at the airport to give to Junior ‘Stash as he got off the plane.

“But Mr. Money Mustache, you’re cheating because of the special arrangement you made for your vacation!”, might be the final attempt from an exasperated complainypants.

And indeed, you are right that I made a special arrangement.. but the reason I did it wasn’t to cheat. It wasn’t even to save me a few thousand dollars on accommodations. It was to remind all of us that no matter what you do in life, there are always special arrangements that can be made, given the right Mustachian Mindset. In fact, our entire monetary system, society as a whole, and even our very existence on this Earth, are all what you could call special arrangements. Once you realize that, you can open the door to specialness in all of your activities.

It is quite apt that I ended up in the home of this couple we’re calling John and Jane Aloha* for they are quite possibly the Head Mustachians of O’ahu.

After beginning their adult lives in the standard fashion with student loan debts and financed cars, they started a transformation that began with the beginner personal finance advice of Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman. That helped them shed some of the worst monetary habits, and apparently Mr. Money Mustache took over the advisory role once they were ready.

So when I showed up here, I found two old 4-cylinder cars in the driveway, two phones running on $15 per month phone plans, amazing home cooking, low energy consumption, and all the other characteristics of an efficient household. On top of that, I’ve noticed that almost every visitor to the house seems to be an MMM reader as well – the Alohas have apparently handled their duty of spreading The Word quite admirably.

When you circulate in a crowd like this, you see a different side of Hawaii. In any “high cost-of-living” area, you will find a few people who are able to beat the system and live a good life more affordably. The basic principles of this are the same in every place, even while the details vary:

Consume less of what is expensive, and replace it with what is cheap and plentiful locally.

For example, Housing is expensive in Hawaii. Back in Colorado, it’s pretty cheap. So if I moved here, I wouldn’t get another 2600 square foot house – we’d be fine with a third of that.

High-cost areas are also usually a good place to be a renter, and a less good place to be a property owner or landlord. So don’t buy an $800,000 house just because everyone else is doing it. If you can rent the same one for only $3000 per month, go for it. Or if you do buy, find a way to rent out space to offset the cost. Just be sure your area will never be subject to a 50% price haircut, leaving you with negative equity (hint: if the prices have gone up significantly in the past 10 years or are affected by oil booms, history shows that your home could be a bubble rather than a permanent store of value).

Similarly, electricity and gasoline cost more – so you might choose to do less burning of those things.

Meanwhile, climate control is free – you never need heat, air conditioning, or high-tech clothing. So you make the most of it – even having most of your living space outside. Bike transportation remains free, and the weather allows it every day of the year. Avocados (322 perfect calories or 1/6 of a day’s food each) and bananas are free, since they grow on trees in your back yard, so you make those a bigger part of your diet.  Beach vacations are free, so you consume them daily, while never needing to buy plane tickets.

The thing is, most mainland US residents who move here just attempt to replicate the mainland lifestyle here. SUVs driving pointless laps around the city, air conditioning, and imported food. And they pay accordingly, creating the famous “high cost of living” for themselves.

I find it hilarious to watch all of the tragic caged humans here bumbling around in their smelly traffic jams, unaware that they are on a fucking beautiful little tropical island!!! There shouldn’t even be any personal motor vehicles in this whole damned place – the streets should just be happily lined with bikes.

When you do have to shop, figure out how to do it well.

life_ripoffIn my own informal research, I have found that while it is possible to pay $8.19 for a crappy little box of Life cereal, it is also possible to get a lovely tray of fish for grilling for five bucks. And using the little iPhone app that Safeway provides (also available through their website), I was able to find mainland-level pricing on most of the family’s key groceries. Also, the Costco stores in this area seem to set their food prices at almost the same level as they do everywhere else – making that store even more useful than usual.

Use the plentiful wealth that made the area so expensive in the first place, to your advantage.

Why did your high-cost area become so expensive in the first place? Because many high-income people have moved there, and housing construction did not keep up with demand.

What do high-income people do? They buy lots of stuff. Products and services. Then they sell or throw out their almost-new stuff and repeat the process.

This means the Craigslist in such an area is well-stocked with nearly new items at low prices – and that is of course where you will get all your stuff. And the market for fancy services at high prices is very strong – if you do part-time work in any of the service industries (from private yoga lessons to plumbing), you will be paid well.  There is even a house sitting scene in this area, where rich people allow responsible non-rich people to stay in their houses for free, during the months they are away enjoying their homes on other continents.

In the end, the decision of where to live does not have to be made with cost as the deciding factor. Even the most frugal of early retirees can carve out a great life in an expensive city with proper innovation, as Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme proved by living on $7000 per year in the San Francisco Bay area. Of course, if moneymaking itself is your primary skill, you can also attack a high-cost area by simply spraying money in every direction. It’s just not my idea of a satisfying way to solve a challenge like this.

I’ve already run through the scenario of what it would be like for the Mustache family to move to Hawaii. We could spend more and continue the same lifestyle, or we could shrink our lifestyle and spend the same amount or less than we do now. Since a simpler lifestyle would in no way compromise our happiness, that would probably be the choice we’d make. It only seems right out of respect to an island paradise, to live lightly upon its surface. And indeed on a broader scale, we all live on an island.



*I guess I should I should say trio now, as they had their baby girl this week; happy birthday Baby Aloha!


  • Lucas December 16, 2012, 12:18 am

    I definitely second the adjust your expectations with housing in Hawaii. Buy on the mainland, rent, and move to Hawaii to rent here :-). We rented a 4 bedroom 1300 square foot house in Hawaii for $1725/month (started lower, but they raised rent recently(. We rented out our townhouse in DC to offset costs, it isn’t quite paid off yet, but when it is it would come very close to offsetting our rent in HI (helped a lot even as is). Our trade offs in Hawaii included living in the flight path for the airport, in a slightly off the path place (somewhat of an advantage, but also farther to get anywhere), and dealing with old military construction (single wall construction, fairly spartan, etc. . ). With 3 kids it worked great though.

    Not having a pre-concieved notion of who your neighbors need to be goes a long way of helping you find cheaper housing as well. Our ethnicity makes up only about 5-10% in the area we are living, but everyone has been very freindly to us, and we have learned some new things about other cultures as well.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 16, 2012, 12:13 pm

      Great points, Lucas. The rent differential is definitely a nice way to make a situation like Hawaii work. Here, I could spend $750,000 on a 1400 SF house. Or I could rent a similar house for $3,000 or so, and leave my $750k behind in the mainland to buy four houses of similar size in my city in Colorado, and collect $5,000 in rent after expenses (or get an 8-plex for even higher income).

      The difference of $24,000 per year would more than pay for ALL of the remaining living expenses for our family to live here.. meaning I would probably not buy a house here, at least if money were an issue at all, or if I felt that renovating and re-selling occasionally for a profit would be worthwhile.

      • Captian and Mrs Slow December 18, 2012, 12:05 pm

        Thanks, I was wondering myself about he high cost f rent

  • Gooki December 16, 2012, 12:27 am

    Great article thanks. Rarotonga is my Hawaii, now how to convince the wife to move there permenantely?

  • Captain and Mrs Slow December 16, 2012, 12:37 am

    Great article but I want to raise a point of why frugality has such a bad name, it’s not so much because people like Jacob no heat in winter, but because we see so many people who are forced into frugality due to terrible money management. I’ve had many discussions with my sister in law about her spending and she keeps coming back to the same point

    “I want to enjoy life”

    And it’s hard to argue her point as her 80 year old parents (my in-laws) are facing the real possibility of being forced to sell their home due to poor financial decisions. Yet there is nobody more tighter with a dollar than them. Our first Christmas home in 12 years and they opted out of gift giving because they couldn’t swing 30 dollars. I won’t go into my brother in law, he’s even worse off.

    I think this is one of the reasons why I like your blog, frugality is a means to an end not the end means


  • Mortgage Mutilator December 16, 2012, 1:58 am

    “(hint: if the prices have gone up significantly in the past 10 years or are affected by oil booms, history shows that your home could be a bubble rather than a permanent store of value)”

    haha when I read this I smiled. Even though I’m sure you know little to nothing about the Australian Property Bubble we’re having down here, you basically nailed it in one sentence lol

    Prices have gone bonkers over the last 10 years increasing to about 8+ times the average wage. Something tells me it’s not a permanent store of value!

    • When? December 16, 2012, 10:09 am

      I’ve been expecting the Aussie marker to go down for the last 4 years. It has yet to happen. Same with Norway and Sweden. They are still going up. Perhaps plateauing. In Norway the prices are clearly supported by oil. In Sweden, lack of construction (or expensive0. Still it is so hard to know when you are in a bubble. It’s much easier when you’re looking back.

      • eemusings December 21, 2012, 2:12 pm

        Similar in NZ – huge property market that shows no signs of bursting (even during the GFC prices didn’t fall THAT much) and an ongoing housing shortage. Sigh.

  • Caraibes December 16, 2012, 3:48 am

    Good read. Why don’t you come visit us in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic?

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 16, 2012, 12:05 pm

      Hmm.. that idea sounds like it has potential! I’d just need to see a description of the project that needs doing, and a menu ;-)

    • Holly December 18, 2012, 9:48 am

      I am coming to the Dominican for the first time this upcoming February. I cannot wait! It looks like such a beautiful country. I am so excited to explore.

  • Mrs. Pop December 16, 2012, 5:25 am

    “Why did your high-cost area become so expensive in the first place? Because many high-income people have moved there, and housing construction did not keep up with demand.”

    The coast of FL (where we live) isn’t quite as extreme as Hawaii (there is just a greater supply of coast available!), but these same characteristics apply here as well. As a result, some of the most successful “retired” people I know are those that run small businesses that cater to part-time residents and wealthy property owners.

    One of my favorites is our friend, K. When we were first introduced to our friend, K, it was as “and this is my cleaning lady, K!” Turns out, K really only cleans one house, our friend’s. The rest she outsources to others, and has a lovely cleaning business that generates a nice supplemental income to their retirement.

    Her husband is a handyman, so together they manage dozens of beach front properties for owners who live off-site and are use the properties as seasonal rental properties. They love their work and staying active into their 60’s, and definitely aren’t in it for the money. Over the years they’ve built up their own little real estate empire with properties all over the area as well that they rent out.

    I think they’ve been so successful with their retired lives down here because they didn’t try and spend to fit in, but just did things their way and let others spend on their services.

  • Pauline December 16, 2012, 7:00 am

    You hit the nail on the head, one shouldn’t try to replicate the same standard of living everywhere, it is like trying to bring the snow from Colorado! Why did they leave in the first place if they don’t want to embrace the local way of life? Grilled fish for $5, let’s go!

  • Craig December 16, 2012, 7:43 am

    I may be reading too much between the lines, but it sounds like you have fallen in love with your next home state. We gave it serious consideration a few years ago but ended up in Colorado instead. Still not sure it was the right decision! Any serious thoughts of relocating there?

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 16, 2012, 12:00 pm

      Nah.. I do love the Hawaiian land and the friendly people, but for me it is wrecked by the car-culture that has (temporarily) destroyed most of O’ahu. Cycling is so rare here, even in this teeny little town that is just a few square miles, and the roads are so full of unnecessary drivers, that my Mustache burns in anger every time I encounter a road.

      I’d rather sacrifice some climate perfection in favor of more advanced bike culture. But then again, I’ve only seen a few parts of three of these islands. There might be more suitable areas somewhere.

      • lurker December 16, 2012, 12:34 pm

        with gas at $5 a gallon??? that is a bad car culture indeed….as it lowers the standard of living so quickly. Lots of bikes here in Brooklyn and seem to be more every day I am happy to say…

      • Amicable Skeptic December 16, 2012, 3:58 pm

        MMM you must take a short trip to the Big Island while you’re there. It is much more bike friendly (heck they do the Iron Man in Kona) and property prices are wayyy lower. The only real draw back I can see is that its volcano is still active so you get occasional vog (volcanic fog) that forces you to shut your house up and a very low chance of having your property destroyed by lava (it sounds scary but do the math and you’ll see it is a very rare event). I’ve also heard good things about Kauai, and it doesn’t have an active volcano so it may be an even better choice, but I never went there so I don’t know. I can confirm that the Big Island is legit though, I’m still pushing my wife that we should early retire there, but so far not getting much traction.

        • dahlink1 December 16, 2012, 6:35 pm

          Also, stop by the kona brewing company and get some barleywine beer…it was awesome.

        • Mr. Money Mustache December 16, 2012, 8:24 pm

          Thanks Skeptic, I appreciate the recommendation and I did like the Big Island during the few days I spent there in 2001. But the three of us have no plans to fly to other islands during the month we’re here – we’re ‘stay put and keep it simple’ travelers.

          Today we hiked a couple of miles into the rainforest and jumped off of a waterfall. That was a beautiful experience, right near the house. I’m already impressed by the fact that we plan to eventually make the 1-hour drive to the North Shore.. after a week or two of settling in :-)

          • getoutoftheratrace December 17, 2012, 1:55 pm

            the north shore will change your mind of Oahu if nothing else does. I can speak for Kauai and tell you it is Oahu 40 years ago. The north shore is paradise. What do you think of vacation properties and possibly renting in the area. We stayed in a rental, a very non MMM vacation this August in Haena, Kauai and the four of us loved it. Right on the beach. These rentals are income properties and I dont see demand going down anytime soon. Even in this bad economy the owner was telling me that they are booked up for months

          • susabo December 17, 2012, 7:43 pm

            The Bus is a great way to get around Oahu as well. I thought it would take way too much time to travel around on it but it turned out to be surprisingly easy and timely. With some pre-planning and a 4 day pass, I got to all the places I wanted in about the same time it would take to drive a car through in all the traffic and find parking. It was so nice to sit back and watch the scenery go by or chat with the other bus riders. Plus the drivers will know every transfer needed to get where you want to go. One driver even walked to the back of the bus to let us know when it was our stop

        • Marcia December 22, 2012, 9:05 am

          I love the Big Island and Kauai. But alas, with four plane tickets to pay for now, I think it’s going to be more of a “special occasion” trip than ever.

          • JMK February 17, 2013, 9:50 am

            And conversely leaving the island becomes a special trip. Not good in my mind. Loved Maui on my one trip there ~15yrs ago, but I’d never retire to a remote island. Travelling extensively is a huge part of my retirement plan and starting every trip with a pricy flight just to get anywhere else wouldn’t work. It’s beautiful, but I’d feel trapped in paradise! I would consider an extended rental stay of a few months to really see the place but that would be it, there are so many other places I want to experience that are much cheaper to reach from the mainland.

      • Alan December 18, 2012, 10:31 am

        Honolulu is building a heavy rail line that promises to put a huge chunk of the city within a mile of a train station:

        An anti-rail candidate promising to derail the project just lost the mayoral election, and the first phase is scheduled to open in 2015.

      • LuLessa8 July 25, 2013, 2:50 am

        On the big island the car situation is not as crowded, but it is sillier because a lot of the locals around here have pickup trucks. Plenty of 4WD Tundras and Titans, F-150, F-250s and the like. Ask them why. “I gotta carry my (surf)boards” or “I wanna go to [remote beach off-road they only visit once a year or less].” 13-16 mpg at $4.60/gal + high registration + higher insurance + $250 per tire every few years = truck devouring your finances.

    • 205guy December 16, 2012, 4:54 pm

      The big deal-breaker for many looking to live in Hawaii is the education situation (very low quality or very expensive). For people with kids, it takes some planning and some luck to get a good situation. Also, they have trouble finding decent jobs, if they aren’t self-supporting (‘stash or internet work).

      I just wanted to add that a non-negligeable part of the Hawaiian economy (OK, a few %), is catering to relocated people. They come with savings, rent for a while, buy stuff, and after a year or two, realize education is a problem, or it’s far from friends and family so they leave, selling all their stuff at a discount on CL.

      • Mr. Money Mustache December 16, 2012, 8:16 pm

        There is a public school across the street from where I am staying that is apparently the best in the state. I hear it is one of the factors driving up the local prices.

        In general, I always recommend semi-ignoring the “reputation” or test scores of a school and figuring things out for yourself with research. My own son’s school still has a low rating according to the math scores but I could not be happier with the place. There is an awful lot of snobbery that goes into school decisions in this country, which is a new situation to me. It seems pretty unproductive.

  • nicoleandmaggie December 16, 2012, 7:49 am

    Congrats to the newly formed trio!

  • stellamarina December 16, 2012, 11:24 am

    Bravo….well said! One of my favorite books for living frugal in Hawaii is a book that came out in the 70s. The baby boomers will recognize the author. “Beachcomber’s Handbook” by Euell Gibbons

  • rjack December 16, 2012, 11:26 am

    “In fact, our entire monetary system, society as a whole, and even our very existence on this Earth, are all what you could call special arrangements. Once you realize that, you can open the door to specialness in all of your activities.”

    That zapped me right between the eyes. I appreciate your perspective.

  • Eric Hansen December 16, 2012, 12:32 pm

    I think you nailed it with the concept of bringing your lifestyle with you. I live in a very expensive place – Jackson Hole, WY. But being here for 9 years now, I’ve figured out how to do it inexpensively and now that I’m thinking about moving, I’m fearing having to go through that entire process again.

    Reminds me of a commercial shoot I was on in the Arctic last May. The plane tickets from Ottawa up were half of the average annual income for the residents of community we were in. Basically a poor Inuit fishing village. a 12 pack of Diet Coke was $62. It was also a dry community. You don’t realize the vices you have until you’re put in such an environment. Most everyone up there hunted for food. So anything we could hunt was insanely cheap compared to what was flown in. Some of the producers on our trip were from Italy and got sick of all the meat we were eating. so one night they made a bunch of different pasta dishes. it was the most expensive meal we ate, because none of it was local. I think adapting to your environment can be one of the most frugal things you can do.

    • mike crosby December 16, 2012, 1:10 pm

      Thanks Eric for that. You really nail down what MMM was saying.

      Makes me wonder what is local in SoCal I can take advantage of. For me, without a doubt, it’s the sun, warm weather, and so many different cultures.

      • Eric December 16, 2012, 1:20 pm

        Probably free avocados, surfing, hiking and camping (depending on where you are), cheap train ride to wine country, over-concentration of microbrews and brewpubs in San Diego, skateboarding, fish tacos, cost competitive yoga studios. like anything else, you gotta make your own fun and free/cheap options are out there.

        Did I mention avocados? I’m seriously jealous of MMM for the free avocados and bananas.

        • Freeyourchains December 17, 2012, 11:52 am

          I visited a Hawaiian backyard with 23 different fruit trees native to O’ahu. One fruit tasted like ginger, it was delicious. The couple had more fruit then they knew what to do with.

      • mary w December 16, 2012, 1:45 pm

        Not just avocados. You can garden year round. At the moment my 100 sq ft garden supplies me with all the pak choi, aregula, chard, radishes, kale and mustard greens I can eat. Soon to ripen broccoli. Every house in my neighborhood as at least one citrus tree (lemon, lime, orange). My neighbor gives my tons of guavas and pomegranates, otherwise they would rot.

        Decent biking city. Most things you’d need for a vacation can be a day trip or at most two (surfing, skiing, tanning), etc. Cheap ethnic food of all types – both restaurants and grocery stores.

        Real estate is a bit pricey (although not as much as a few years ago) but there are bargains out there. Expensive utilities are somewhat off set by temperate climate. Rip out the lawn and use grey water for what’s left.

      • Marcia December 22, 2012, 9:07 am

        Oranges, lemons, avocados and anything else you can grow…

  • Justin December 16, 2012, 3:32 pm

    I think your fish/avocado and banana examples perfectly illustrates how much cheaper it can be to buy local. Many of the foods on Hawaii have a longer journey by sea or air than the continental U.S. so these costs are also incorporated into the prices of the food.
    However, you can get fish and grow your own tropical fruits and veggies for little to no cost. In the colder climates we pay a premium for these foods. Avocados run about a buck each around here.

    • David Wendelken December 16, 2012, 6:22 pm

      I lived in Hawa’ii for three years as a kid back in the late ’60s. I had to take a national achievement test for school. Turns out that every single kid in Hawa’ii answered the exact same question “wrong”.

      What state do we get sugar from?

      The Hawa’iian kids all answered California but the “correct” answer was Hawa’ii. The Hawa’iian kids were actually correct. Sugar was grown in Hawa’ii, but it was shipped to California, processed into refined white sugar, and shipped back to Hawa’ii. They actually did buy their sugar from California!

    • Jamesqf December 16, 2012, 8:23 pm

      Sure, you can get tropical fruit at low cost in tropical places (surprise!), but I can’t help but wonder about the prices of cherries, peaches, pears, and apples – all of which I got free off my trees this year, in such abundance that I was practically twisting people’s arms to take them. Or pine nuts: they’ll run about $10/lb or more in stores (if you can find them), yet I got 10 lbs or so for nothing more than the effort of picking them.

      • Gerard December 17, 2012, 1:58 pm

        Well, there you go then… eat that stuff where you are! And when/if you visit people in the tropics, bring your exotic apples as a special treat for them!

        • IAmNotABartender July 8, 2015, 7:31 pm

          Don’t actually bring fresh fruit to Hawaii – that could be dangerous for the local ecosystem, and we have signs in the airport telling you to toss fresh fruit before exiting. A nice thought, though.

  • Jen G December 16, 2012, 4:13 pm

    Thanks, MMM. I totally needed this post. We are getting ready to move from the DC area to Seattle. While Seattle will be a slightly less expensive cost of living and I LOVE the PacNW, Seattle is not a cheap place to live. We are taking a small pay cut as well in the name of a HUGE increase to our quality of life. I’ve been stressing a bit as we have been great savers, but this was a great reminder how to make a new place work to our advantage. And it will. And we’ll have a great life there!

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 16, 2012, 8:17 pm

      Great Choice Jen! I too am a fan of Seattle and the other coffee/beard/bike locales.

    • stellamarina December 17, 2012, 12:50 am

      Free Blackberries for the picking all over Seattle area.

      • Sister X December 17, 2012, 10:35 am

        And apples! And cherry and pear trees! My parents live in the Seattle area and for my mom’s last birthday I bought her a cherry tree. It matches her apple tree quite well and provides a nutritious barrier so that the neighbors can’t see straight into the living room. :)

    • superbien December 28, 2015, 11:51 am

      That’s so funny, when job searching, Seattle cost of living was so much cheaper compared to DC and Boston, if I was willing to live in a less fashionable area (which had been my approach for both of those cities). But I mean, the views are amazing everywhere I looked (admittedly by Google Earth)! Of course, both DC and Boston are ceazy expensive, maybe only NYC really compares.

      • superbien December 28, 2015, 11:53 am

        Oops, meant NYC tops DC and Boston.

  • Jane Savers December 16, 2012, 5:57 pm

    I live in a small Canadian city and I can’t believe what people will spend to be seen shopping in the right places. A major Canadian grocery store chain owns two stores in my town. One at the top of a hill and one at the bottom of the hill. These stores are less than a 1 minute car ride apart but many customers at the fancy overpriced hilltop store have never stepped foot in the lower priced down the hill store. The fancy store does have the olive bar and a full florist and premium ice cream but other than that the brands are the same. Only the prices and the cars in the parking lot are different.

    I shop at the bottom of the hill and only park next to all the big SUVs at the top of the hill when the Haagen Daz is half price.

    Not badass but trying to get there. Not mustached and as a woman in my forties I would really like to avoid anything to do with mustaches.

    • Kenoryn December 18, 2012, 11:43 am

      My problem with the less expensive grocery stores is their pathetic selection of organic foods. Sigh. Since I buy all my food organic these days I rarely set foot in a Price Chopper or No Frills anymore.

  • Zach December 16, 2012, 6:04 pm

    Well said Mr. $ Less = more.

  • David Wendelken December 16, 2012, 6:24 pm

    “Consume less of what is expensive, and replace it with what is cheap and plentiful locally.”

    No! No! I thought we were REALLY supposed to expect the world to conform to our pre-concieved notions and blame other people for our woes when it doesn’t. Isn’t that the American Way(TM) nowadays?

  • jlcollinsnh December 16, 2012, 9:22 pm

    Mr. MM…

    I have long been impressed with your ability to cut thru the assumptions, expectations, conventional thinking and, well, just pure crap surrounding what it costs, or should cost, to live a happy and fulfilling life.

    During my trip to Ecuador a few weeks back I met lots of expats from the USA. The largest number were, oddly it seemed, from Hawaii. While they all loved living in Ecuador, every single one said they’d still be in Hawaii but for the cost.

    Hawaii is certainly more expensive, and Ecuador is a wonderful place to live too. But is seems a little tragic to live in your second choice because you haven’t learned how to live in your first.

    And that’s the lesson you teach so very well.

    • M52 December 17, 2012, 10:56 am

      Having been to Ecuador several times, I admit it is a beautiful country. However, personal safety is a huge issue. Guards, guns and barbed wire are everywhere. I cannot imagine living like that. Using a credit card anywhere is a no-no. Our credit card number was stolen at the Hilton in Quito. That was the only place where I had used my card.

      When you combine the fear for personal safety with the political instability, Hawaii is looking pretty good. Currently, I believe Ecuador is very good friends with Venezuela, so it may not be the best place for Americans.

      Having said that, our visit to the country was lovely. I just cannot imagine having to be so on guard all the time. Maybe it just becomes second nature?

      • jlcollinsnh December 18, 2012, 6:55 am

        Depends on where in Ecuador you are, kinda like the USA.

        Quito and Guayaquil are both large cities and, like any large city you’ll want to be careful. You’ll also want to learn what part to avoid.

        In both you’ll see a large armed police presence. It is important to appreciate the difference in law enforcement attitudes.

        In the USA it is largely about apprehension and punishment.

        In Ecuador, and most Latin American countries I’ve traveled, they are not very good at apprehension. The focus in on deterrence. And that’s what you see and it can be a shock to American sensibilities.

        This was a question raised in the comments here: http://jlcollinsnh.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/rent-v-owning-in-ecuador/
        and I address it in some detail. In case anyone here is interested and not to further bore those who are not. :)

        As to the friendship with Venezuela, Ecuador is a socialist country and that’s a very good reason to keep your investments in the USA. But it is also very friendly and welcoming to Norte Americanos. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  • EngGirl December 17, 2012, 5:55 am

    This is exactly what we have been telling people…

    After reading the MMM article on living where you want to live, my husband and I started planning our move to the Scottish highlands. Since then we have come across a few haters: “Good luck surviving there! The average income is so much lower!”. I guess that’s because people are expecting to move into a house the size of their Canadian house (which would cost you a fortune in the UK) and drive an SUV like they do in Canada (which would cost even more in the UK). But renting is cheaper, groceries are way less expensive than in Toronto (about $1 for 2L of milk, $2 for a large box of cereal, cheaper produce), and cities are much closer together (biking distance).

    It’s all about quitting complaining and finding a way to make your dreams your reality!

    • partgypsy December 17, 2012, 8:33 am

      The Scottish highlands are utterly beautiful. Only thing to keep in mind, is not alot of sun. I don’t think I have SAD (I’m originally from Chicago) but even for a northerner the lack of sunniness did get to me.

      • Samantha December 17, 2012, 11:42 am

        My husband is from there, and I have lived there for a few months at a time here and there while we were doing the whole long distance thing. The dark months can be tough, but on the bright side it makes the longer summer days even better! It never gets “properly” dark on the longest days of the year… just looks like dusk for a few hours.Thanks for the heads up though. And I will have to obtain a rain jacket.

  • Brian December 17, 2012, 7:10 am

    This is a great way to put it. I think the sports analogy would be to take what the defense gives you.

    Reading a good book about victim mentality, or as you put it, complainypants. I’m thinking that this is 80% of the component of success. Either take ownership of the outcome and accept pros/cons or be the victim. The nice thing about taking ownership is that it comes with a feeling of empowerment, where the victim only feels good for a minute and then is miserable.

  • JA December 17, 2012, 8:21 am

    I lived on Oahu for two years, taught in a public school, and I found that the quality of education in public schools was absolutely awful…violence, drugs, high teacher turnover, and extremely low expectations of students. I found that the average ninth grader had the same skills as the average 7th grader on the mainland. If you have kids, home school them or send them to private schools on Oahu.

  • partgypsy December 17, 2012, 8:31 am

    mmm fish and rice for breakfast, along with some tropical fruit, sounds good. It has been a dream to visit Hawaii, but I always think of it being cost-prohibitive to visit. Maybe I need to think outside the box (expensive hotel rooms, tourist places) to make it happen.

    Where we live (NC) many people have fig and persimmon trees, and our last rental had a thin shell pecan tree that was quite productive. Peppers of all kind grow very well (and okra if you like it). But if the apocalypse happened I think I’d be eating alot of squirrel.

    • Trudy December 18, 2012, 8:35 am

      If the apocolypse happens we’d ALL better eat a lot of squirrel! My grandmother ate it regularly, and so did most of the poor of this country. Loved that comment partgypsy – but note: if we keep trashing the earth w/ carbon, life below the 40th parallel will be difficult to impossible –

      • TunaFishTuesdays April 23, 2020, 9:19 am

        I read awhile ago that a researcher got interested in what people were eating before Herbert Hoover supposedly ran on the famous “a chicken in every pot” promise. Turns out people were eating a lot of squirrel! He found many references to it in cookbooks of the time.

  • Kaytee December 17, 2012, 8:32 am

    “Maui Coconut Porter beer”

    Was this as good as it sounds? I love porters. (the beer, not the job)

    • 205guy December 18, 2012, 6:33 pm

      Yes, it has a toasted coconut flavor (natural, I think) that is very tasty. Kona Brewing company also has a Porter with Kona coffee (not bad either), and a wheat beer with lilikoi (passion fruit) juice–my favorite.

  • Mandy December 17, 2012, 8:51 am

    You make some fantastic points about saving while you travel. The high costs come in when you’re looking to recreate your previous life in a new place. While I was living in Ghana West Africa buying “American” food was 8X the cost of eating Ghanian food. Not only were ‘America in Ghana’ travelers spending a lot of extra cash they were missing out of some pretty cool experiences and new tastes.
    Happy to hear about the safe arrival of baby Aloha!

  • Headed Home December 17, 2012, 8:53 am

    Sounds like a great lifestyle to eat cheap fish and fresh fruits/veggies! I guess you can pay more for food since the energy part of a budget is much lower, housing aside. Good point about mainlanders bringing their version of life to compare costs.

  • Johnny December 17, 2012, 9:14 am

    This rocks my entire universe. And I think I like it.

    We lived well within our means in NYC and Boston. But for whatever reason, a Hawaii or equally exotic destination has always seemed completely unreasonable and out-of-reach for budget-minded folks like us. So I thank you for ripping the heart out of that weak mindset.

    It might time to revisit the “where should we live” discussion with the Mrs.

  • Joe December 17, 2012, 10:25 am

    Happy Birthday Baby Aloha! I have been to Hawaii a few times and I would love to move there. Once Mrs. RB40 retire, we’ll see if we can make the move. The cost of living is very high, but I think we can probably do it. We’ll see though. I don’t mind eating local, but the high housing price might not be affordable to us. I’m thinking the Big Island might be the way to go.

  • brkr12002 December 17, 2012, 10:48 am

    I’ll be in O’ahu next week for vacation. Can’t wait to go surfing, biking, and renting a moped to putter around one day. Last time I was there I loved seeing so many people on mopeds riding around. I wish I saw more of that on the mainland.

  • anotherengineer December 17, 2012, 1:18 pm

    Nice post. Much of this is applicable up here in Alaska with a few modifications: substitute salmon and moose for the bananas and avocados and 100+ degree yearly temperature variation and huge heating bills for open widows.

    I will be joining the rest of Alaska in Hawaii next month due to special arrangements.My wife and her colleague have a conference there, so the apartment and car and her airfare are covered and the boys are free to play all day.

  • Jen December 17, 2012, 6:35 pm

    Yeah, we just got back from a vacation in Maui, and while the airfare was spendy, the vacation itself was not! Our condo was only about $800 for the week, and it was perfectly adequate and on the beach, and we weren’t exactly mustachian, purchasing luau tickets and a snorkeling cruise, I can see that it’s quite easy to be frugal in Hawaii. Like you said, the beaches are free, and I think it’s fun just to walk around and look in shops at the different foods and trinkets. I also like hiking.

    I didn’t find the food to be as highly priced as everyone told me it was going to be either. We brought some snacks from home, and had breakfast in the condo, foods from the deli around the corner for lunch (my son loved spam musubi) and our dinners out were totally reasonable, as long as we stayed away from gourmet places. Hawaii is awesome, I want to go back!

  • Daisy December 17, 2012, 8:43 pm

    It is a state of mind, but there are certain things you just can’t escape. I live in Vancouver and my rent for the dumpiest apartment in the world is roughly double of that of some of the cities across the US (and that’s for a HOUSE, not even an apartment). But a high cost of living doesn’t have to be a bad thing – if you value the place that you live and can afford it, then why not?

  • Al December 17, 2012, 11:53 pm

    Great article, MMM. BTW, are you still considering another beach meetup later this month? I’m heading to Hawaii from Japan (not MMM-esque but it’s for a special reason), and would love to meet you!

  • Mike December 18, 2012, 9:18 am

    We loved the short time we spent in Hawaii before I deployed to Afghanistan. It is great to be reminded that living there is achievable with the right mindset!

  • Eschewing Debt December 18, 2012, 10:48 am

    We actually contemplated moving to HI for a job transfer, but opted out as soon as we saw the cost of housing. With three kids, we could technically do a 2-bedroom apt., but even that was more than our mortgage here. Not worth it to us in the end. But, a vacation there sure would be nice:)

  • Caraibes December 19, 2012, 3:24 am

    Interesting… I have been living in the Caribbean since 1992, and I feel like I am a Mustachian by instinct, as we have to, in order to survive ;-)

  • David December 19, 2012, 8:15 am

    Very interesting read – Thanks.
    As a person who has been to Hawaii a few times [for work/conferences, i.e. hopefully a MMM-approved way to see new places :-)], loved it, and would like to retire to either Kauai or the Big Island, if possible, I was particularly intrigued to hear about the house-sitting scene…
    Any advice re. how to find those opportunities, if one doesn’t happen to know folks who own property in Hawaii?
    Cheers, /David

  • Ralph Corderoy December 23, 2012, 8:35 am

    My part of the world doesn’t use square footage when describing a house’s size; how’s it calculated? Sum the size of the rooms’ floor space? Do I include hallways, landings, fitted wardrobes, ..? Or take the outer dimensions of the building and multiply by the number of floors? I’d like to be able to translate 2600sqft-speak into English. :-)

    • Plastic Kiwi April 1, 2016, 5:30 am

      Ralph and others I’m assuming are in the UK …2600sqft would be roughly 240sqm (=lose a zero, less a bit), or about the size of a large detached 4 bed/2 bath + study house in the UK.

      Your average two up two down terrace is probably about 140sqm, or around 1500sqft.

      Your average rabbit hutch ‘starter home’ might be >80sqm.

      In the same vein, one American street ‘block’ is about the same distance between BetFred shops in your average high street. Or the walk from Boots to M&S… ;o) haha.

      Source: personal experience living in UK, USA & NZ.

      Hope that helps.

    • Plastic Kiwi April 1, 2016, 6:27 am

      And yes, it’s the whole building’s floor surface x floors. So if you have a 120sqm footprint on two storeys you have a 240sqm home. I believe it’s calculated using internal measurements, but don’t quote me.

      Mostly (here in NZ at least) the garage is excluded, unless it’s internal access, in which case it’s usually but not always included. Just to complicate matters.

  • InACents December 28, 2012, 2:48 pm

    I could not agree more on the commodities aspect. Before we went to Hawaii this past summer, everyone was trying to warn us about the cost of milk, or how expensive everything was. However, with a little bit of planning, and staying out of the touristy areas, affordable accommodations and commodities could easily be had.

  • Lisa December 31, 2012, 9:18 pm

    I just moved to San Francisco from a lower cost of living area. I left my car behind (parking is $300/month, insurance $150/month). I’m sharing a small apartment with a roommate (saving $1000/month vs renting a 1 bdrm by myself). I’m making adjustments, even though I could afford not to. I need to be in San Francisco because of the tech industry, but I feel that most people who don’t have to be here would have a much better qualify of life if they simply moved to a cheaper area. Sometimes sacrifices are unnecessary.

  • LAL June 1, 2013, 10:01 pm

    I don’t know how you can say hawaii is cheap. I guess it’s all relative. Born and raised and not one relative still living there would say it’s cheap. How did you only spend $37 in 3 weeks? Did you buy zero groceries? No milk? No fruits or veggies or anything?

    Electricity is not cheap nor is gas. I find public transit takes a long time unless you live in town. And the cost of groceries is a lot more expensive than most places in the mainland.

    I’ll see what I spend next time I am home which is soon. It will be a lot even shopping with coupons, just buying groceries and stuff.

  • SC281 June 11, 2013, 7:29 am

    If you’re single and looking for the low expense experience, you could rent a room out in Hawaii.

    Just did a 30 second search on Craiglist Hawaii and found a bunch under $500/m.


    Thanks MMM. I haven’t given any real thought to Hawaii as a place for early retirement until reading your post.

  • Tom August 22, 2013, 3:31 pm

    You hit the nail straight on the head in terms of adjusting your living costs in a very expensive place. I used to live in Bermuda and everyone who ever went on vacation there said it was an extremely expensive island. I was starting to get nervous because even with a pay raise and only 4% in taxes I thought I would come out on the losing end. A funny thing happen though: even though at the time I was FAR from being a mustachian, as a matter of fact almost anti-mustachian (a $200 friday night was practically the norm), in the year I lived there I still saved $15k without trying. The reason is because the island put things so out of reach financially, like owning a car, it never even crossed my mind to buy one. I got a scooter which saved on gas, insurance, and of course I was able to buy it cash for a couple of grand. Even at the grocery store, we had a joke that no matter what you grabbed off the shelf you can safely assume it was $5, so I started eating more spaghetti because a box of that was only $2. There are more examples but the point is, it is easy to adjust and I just laugh to myself when people complain about a place being too expensive.

    • Jason July 24, 2016, 12:44 pm

      Tom, I can second this as well. I moved to Bermuda three years ago and it’s definitely a forge for making one much more Mustachian! You will learn to cook, you will hang you clothes out to dry, and the beaches and amazing free entertainment with friends! Bermuda is an amazing place that does have the highest cost of living in the world but if your a bad-ass you’ll soon be saving more here with the low taxes and higher salary!

  • JT (Sarge) December 20, 2014, 11:14 pm

    Gotta love the ‘random’ button on this site, it keeps me coming back to articles that I loved the first time around. The line ‘there are always arrangements that can be made’ is incredible. It really is about changing your mindset. Recently I read a separate article talking about how almost anything can be negotiated. The guy even negotiated the price of batteries at a gas station! Just goes to show that a little creativity can go a long way. Never hurts to ask right?

  • Marcia April 16, 2015, 8:01 pm

    My husband and I live most of the year in rural Massachusetts and own vacation rental property on Maui, where we spend the winters and will probably retire soon.

    I’ve done the math, and our cost of living is MUCH lower in Maui than in Massachusetts. Here are a few reasons why:

    * Clothes-wise, there is only one season here and you can get by wearing only Tshirts and shorts all year. I get 4 nice Hawaii-themed Tshirts for $20 at a shop down the road from us. I need to replace my bathing suit and running shoes once or twice a year, and there’s little else needed.

    * Electricity is more expensive here, but since you don’t need heat in winter, our overall energy cost in Hawaii is considerably lower than in Massachusetts.

    * Since it’s a small island, a good used car will last forever here. We fill up once a month at Costco. In Massachusetts, getting by with one car is a bit of a challenge, especially when we need car repairs, because we live in a town of 900 people 15 miles from a town of 30,000 people, with no public transportation between the two. In Maui we only use our car once or twice a week, mainly for shopping.

    * Entertainment costs us almost nothing in Maui. We swim in the ocean for about an hour every day it’s swimmable, and run or walk every day as well. The gorgeous sunsets cost nothing to watch.

    * Food does cost more in Maui than back home, but only about 20% more because we get nearly all our food at Costco or at the local drug store, which carries low-cost local vegetables.

    We bought a foreclosed, fully furnished condo that is zoned for vacation rentals, and the rentals when we are not using it completely cover all our housing expenses except for upgrades and repairs.

    I would never have believed Maui could be affordable if I had not experienced it myself…

  • anonymo January 21, 2016, 4:57 pm

    having tried this myself for hawaii in years, living in honolulu with only one, ten-year-old economy car for my family, surviving off of home meals made from costco ingredients, renting a one bedroom apartment close to work, enjoying beach only vacations and biking to work everyday, i was perpetually “poor.” $1500-$1800 in rent for 600 sq ft (you can get cheaper if you go smaller) was simply not feasible on a 40k income (jobs pay half of what they do on the mainland, literally). from kailua, you’d have to drive to work at least 30 minutes in traffic to honolulu. also, avocados and bananas did not grow on trees for me because i couldn’t afford to rent a house (unless i wanted to go back to living like i was in college, with random roommates). in fact, avocados cost around $2 each, and local apple bananas weren’t much cheaper. i like your blog, but i think you’re doing your readers a bit of a disservice with this dishonesty of this post. it might work for the lucky few that move to hawaii with a fair amount of money and can work outside honolulu (where most jobs are).

    that said, i love hawaii and would move back in a heartbeat if i could pay for it without working :)

    • Kelly June 4, 2016, 5:46 pm

      I agree. We live in Oahu and on two salaries it’s incredibly expensive. We go to Costco, price compare, drive a small, gas efficient vehicle and I still spend approx. $200 per week in food and toiletries for 2 people (no kids or pets). I can only imagine what those with kids would pay. We pay close to $2000 per month for a 500 sq. ft. rental apartment and approx. $100 per month in electric and $100 in cable/internet. Car insurance is higher here too and we pay close to $200 per month for a small 2009 used car (it’s 2016 as of this writing). We’re very frugal people and take advantage of hiking, going to the beach etc. Recently we ordered take out Thai food and it was almost 20$ for 1 meal that we split (portions were measly!). Oahu is very expensive, no matter what any blogger or website will tell you. It’s beautiful but at what price? Think very carefully before moving here!

  • Ayanna Costa April 4, 2016, 1:15 pm

    I’m going to be honest I think this list will not go an extreme long way. I agree that it is a start. Before I will completely give up on ever being able to own my own home and actually live alone, I will try these options first. Streamline I guess you can say is the same thing.But this is a great start.

  • Alexandra Taylor June 19, 2016, 1:29 am

    I moved to Kailua in 2003, lived there until 2013, and then bought a condo in metro Honolulu, where I still live. I think I can address some of the points MMM brings up here.

    I biked almost everywhere in Kailua and hardly ever drove my car for three years (I was a teacher at the public intermediate school in Kailua). However, MMM is correct that Oahu is NOT a bike-friendly place. Now that I live in Honolulu, I rarely bike anywhere. Because we bought an 850 square foot condo, we were able to afford a place with a very short commute, but biking isn’t really an option.

    Schools on Oahu are fairly bad. I now work at a private school that is quite good, but also very expensive. When it comes to educating my own children (they are under 5 at the moment) I’m not sure what I’ll do. The private school is very expensive even with my employee discount. We’ll see. The public schools in our neighborhood are ok relative to public schools on Oahu.

    Renting became so expensive it was a better idea to buy a small condo in an unsexy but safe neighborhood. We plan on staying at least five more years and were able to amass a 10% down payment on the condo and are now paying it off at a furious pace. Hopefully housing isn’t in a bubble here. I tend to be very conservative and paranoid about things like that, but we made the best decision we could under our kind of weird circumstances.

    Groceries are very expensive. They just are. And free avocados and mangos from people’s yards are not available year-round. Also not everyone (actually, very few people) has a mango/avacado tree in their backyard. We are big time Costco users and quite adept cooks but we still spend $700/month on groceries for a family of two adults/two small children.

    We do not use air conditioning and don’t have to heat our home, obviously. We still average about $90/month for electricity (we do use our clothes dryer). Gas is currently $2.60/gallon and costs us around $120/month (we’re running a 99 Corolla and a 03 Matrix).

    Where Hawaii really wins is how little we pay for any kind of consumer sucka activities/shopping. There is no pressure to buy expensive clothes, cars, or engage in expensive activities. We don’t have to buy much stuff. There are many fun, amazingly beautiful things to do for free.

    Where it really loses is how far we have to travel to see our families. Why do we stick around? Well, we both (independently of each other) put little thought into moving out here long ago, and have both developed our entire professional careers out here. All of our best friends live here. Our social circle is now enormous and very, very valuable to us. Uprooting and establishing all those things all over again…it just doesn’t seem worth it.

    Bottom line: I would never tell 22 year old me to make the same decision. However, the 36 year old me is pretty happy out here, and still able to sock away quite a bit of money. I probably could have saved a lot more money if I had been smarter about where I landed after college. But I’ve never felt poor in Hawaii. And it HAS been a ton of fun to live out here.

  • Mealoha September 18, 2016, 7:48 pm

    I agree with those comments who have actually LIVED here. I was born and raised on Kauai and have lived here for almost 40 years. My parents were very frugal – dad had a full-time job and mom owned a business. We grew all of our produce in our garden, our next door neighbor was a fisherman so we got free fish whenever he caught any which is NOT all the time – more like once a week when the fishes ran. Like the previous post, fruit tree are seasonal 3-4 months out of the year. We raised chickens and pigs as our source of meat and we also sold them for extra income. Mom hand washed and line-dried our clothing. We always ate at home except if we were at a party. The first time I stepped into a fast food restaurant was when I was 9 years old! Our clothing were hand-me-downs or bought at a thrift store. We were VERY frugal yet we were STILL poor. BUT, we did live a carefree and secure life as children. My parents on the other hand were under stress making ends meet.

    Wages in Hawaii, is WAY less than the mainland. Most people here have 2 or 3 jobs and/or live with parents/in-laws to make ends meet. We aren’t talking about fancy housing or expensive cars – just to pay basic bills and live decently. It IS a beautiful place to live at but life at the beach won’t exactly put food on the table.

  • Nick September 28, 2016, 5:30 pm

    Has anyone tried the Airvoice service in Hawaii? How’s coverage? Trying to get rid of my $55/month plan…the monthly punches to my face are getting old…

    • Amy November 6, 2016, 10:55 am

      Hi Nick,

      Airvoice uses AT&T’s network, so if you’re in an area with good AT&T coverage you should be fine. I went with Page Plus several years ago because they use Verizon’s network. Verizon has better coverage on the east side of the Big Island, including coverage up at KMC and in Volcano, and if you have 4G, lower Puna.

      But if you’re in an area where AT&T gets good coverage, Airvoice should be fine.


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