If you’ve ever vacationed on the island of Maui, surely you think I jest.
As someone who has lived on Maui for 23 years, I deal with tourists on a daily basis who all have the same view of the Hawaiian Island:
“This place is absolutely incredible, but there’s simply no way I could ever live here … it’s just too expensive. How do you afford it?”
Having had this conversation a few times before, my default answer is always twofold: There are a lot of costs associated with living on the Mainland, which simply don’t exist here, and you learn to give up a lot of things, which you think you need.
Before I launch into explaining why living in Maui is cheaper than you think, I want to make a disclaimer which is vital to the integrity of this article:
*This list is a generalization, which covers the majority of the middle-class, working population of Maui. Obviously there are going to be outliers, but as a whole, this list typifies the daily existence of most island residents.*
So, without further adieu, here are ten reasons why living in Maui is cheaper than you might think.1. Sure, gas is expensive, but you don’t drive that far
As of this writing a gallon of unleaded fuel on the island of Maui is going for $4.19/gallon. It’s a nice departure from the $4.95 we were seeing earlier this summer, but it’s still well above the national average of $3.48.
So yes, gas is expensive, but here’s the equalizer: you don’t drive very far when you live in Maui. In fact, the average amount of miles you put on a car here hovers around only 10,000 miles/year. I recently spent time in California with a man who had already put 215,000 miles on his 2007 Chevy Suburban. That’s 40,000 miles/year! So the gas may be expensive, but when you only fill up twice per month it takes some of the sting away.
Driving fewer miles also means fewer oil changes, fewer maintenance expenses, and fewer repairs.
That being said, I know a large number of people who don’t even own a car. In towns like Lahaina or Kihei, many people simply bike to work or ride a moped.
2. Owning property is insanely expensive, but rents are still reasonable
Ahh … “the price of living in paradise.” That’s what we always hear when it comes to Maui County home prices. Yes, owning a home on Maui is expensive – very expensive. It’s one of the biggest problems facing island residents today.
Expensive, however, is a relative term, so I decided to run some statistics to break the problem down for you.
According to this recently published article from the Maui News, the median single-family home price on Maui for the first five months of 2012 was $435,000. Compare this to the national average of $158,000 for the same time period, and yes, the cost seems pretty darn high.
Compounding the problem is that there is a fundamental gap between Maui wages and Maui home prices, which renders home ownership a fantasy for many island residents.
For the most part, there are only three categories of people who are currently able to own a home on Maui: those who have had family land for generations, those who have made their money elsewhere and then moved to the island, or those middle-class individuals who squirrel away money for a decade in hopes of seeking out something they’re moderately happy with.
Let’s just use the basic numbers provided to illustrate the issue.
Take the median home price of $435,000 and divide it by the median household income of $64,000 as reported by the last census. We get a ratio of 6.79 years of work to pay for a home (this, of course, doesn’t count interest, property taxes, or homeowner dues, thereby making the ratio much higher).
Compare this to the national average over the same time period and divide the $158,000 median home price by the $52,000 median household income, and you are left with a much more reasonable ratio of 3.03.
I’m no stock trader or economist, but that seems like a bit of a skewed picture to me.
Bottom line, many Maui residents can’t afford to own a home. So what’s the answer to living here?
DON’T OWN A HOME!
Yep, the majority of people who live on Maui rent, and most likely will do so for the rest of their time living here. The good news is that when compared to major US urban centers, however, the cost of renting on Maui is quite reasonable.
How reasonable? Here are some average rates:
A bedroom in a four-bedroom house across the street from the beach, $500-$800/mo
One-bedroom apartment or ohana (detached cottage), $900-1400/mo
Three-bedroom house, $1500-$2300/mo
Sure, this still seems expensive compared to many national averages, but when compared to cities such as New York, Chicago, DC, or San Francisco, these numbers are pretty much par for the course.
3. You don’t have to pay for health insurance
Ok, this isn’t entirely true, but for many employees here this is actually the case. In accordance with the Hawaii Prepaid Healthcare Act, which was enacted in 1974, Hawaii employers are required to provide health benefits for all employees who work over 20 hours/week for four consecutive weeks.
Granted, this doesn’t apply to benefits for spouses, families, or independent contractors, but a high percentage of Maui’s residents have health care coverage provided through their employer.
Then again, not many people in Maui may care about what their copay or premiums are. In a recent survey performed by Gallup, results indicated that Hawaii led the nation in overall health as well as physical and mental well-being. Surveyors contribute this to a combination of healthy behavior, positive eating and exercise habits, and lower smoking rates, a fact which correlates perfectly with reason number four …
4. No need for a gym membership
Granted, there are still gyms in Maui for those looking to move around some heavy weight or be professionally instructed in a Pilates class, but for someone trying to trim the budget the ability to stay healthy in a place like Maui can cost virtually nothing.
The fact that Maui is warm year round leads to an increased amount of outdoor activity where the gym is replaced by the general outdoors.
Who needs a treadmill when you can run on the beach? Who needs a pool membership when the ocean is ten minutes away? Island residents can surf, paddle, hike, bike, or swim their way to being fit and happy, all with minimal impact on the pocket book.
5. Minimal entertainment expense
Similar to the previous reason, when compared to major metropolitan areas, Maui has an incredibly minimal entertainment expense. Again, the beach is free, hiking is free, and if you’re going to go surf it can be as easy as a one-off fee of $500 for two used boards and you’re set for two years. The same can be said for stand-up paddling, windsurfing, canoeing, fishing, or whatever it is that makes you happy.
When it comes to nightlife, you’re much more likely in Maui to find people down at the local beach park wearing board shorts and enjoying a 12-pack of Heineken at 4 p.m. than wearing expensive clothes in a nightclub drinking $12 cocktails. Sure there are bars, but they’re either full of tourists on vacation drinking overpriced tropical drinks or locals hunting down the $3 drink specials.
You want to meet someone? Skip the bar and go to the beach.
6. Deflated sense of consumerism
In Maui the concept of “keeping up with the Jones’” doesn’t really exist. A trait, which isn’t really attributable to any single reason, the closest one would probably be, well, no one really cares. Material apathy, if you will.
While this is largely a subjective opinion, for the most part there doesn’t exist the same level of a consumer culture, which can oftentimes grip the retail economy of the mainland. While this doesn’t bode well for shop owners (that’s what all the tourists are for), this frugality keeps a lot of money in the bank accounts and board short pockets of resident Maui locals.
7. Ways around high food costs
Another one I hear all the time is that the cost of food in Maui is just so darn expensive. How do we afford to eat?
Well, for one, when you live on Maui you don’t eat out every night in the same way you might when on vacation. During vacation you’re supposed to splurge; go out and get a nice piece of fish and a good bottle of wine. Go eat at that restaurant right on the beach with the amazing view of the sunset. Treat yourself.
Here’s a little thing about those same restaurants where you’re eating on your Maui vacation, however. When you live here, you’ll probably only end up eating there if it’s a birthday, an anniversary, or you’re REALLY trying to impress someone.
You can get a 1/3-pound slab of fish in an oceanfront restaurant in Lahaina and pay $29, or, you can walk one block away to the Foodland supermarket across the street and get it for $6.49 with a bowl of white rice. When you eat at an oceanfront restaurant on Maui, you aren’t paying for the food – you’re paying for the location, the ambiance and the view.
Also, seeing as the hospitality industry is one of the largest industries on the island, all the hard-working men and women in the service industry oftentimes live off of the food, which is provided by their activity company, hotel, restaurant or whatever the source may be.
Finally, if you live on Maui and don’t want to pay for the high cost of food, work on providing your own. Mango, banana, avocado, and citrus trees spring up from the yards of many Maui properties, and the fertile fields of Upcountry put out fresh vegetables, which end up in myriad local farmer’s markets.
8. No parking fees or private beach passes
Sure, there are parking lots all over Lahaina, which charge you a fee to park there, but guess what? Those lots are only for tourists who are used to paying for parking back home, and subsequently they don’t question doing it here.
Having driven a vehicle on Maui for 13 years I can honestly say that I have never paid for parking once. Ever. There are no meters on the roads, no overpriced garages, and no struggle as to where to put your car. Sure, you might have to walk three blocks, but there is always a free parking spot to be found either on the street or in a public parking lot, thereby rendering paying for parking an expensive non-necessity.
Also, under Hawaii law, all shoreline is public property and can be enjoyed by the general public. There are no such things as “beach tags” or members-only beaches. You don’t have to belong to a pool, a country club, or any other sort of organization, which carries an annual fee.
Everyone in Maui belongs to the same organization. It’s called the community, and it’s free.
9. Minimal heating and air conditioning costs
As someone who has also lived in Lake Tahoe, Alaska, Los Angeles, and Florida, this is a cost, which I know can add up. While a few places on the island have air conditioning units installed, oftentimes simply opening up the window and letting the trade winds cool the place down will suffice just fine.
On the flip side, even though the Upcountry areas can get cold at night in the winter (38-52 degrees), it’s never cold enough to freeze any pipes or warrant having a heater. Plus, down at sea level, a cold winter night is when it drops into the upper 50′s. For the most part, the “winter chill” in Maui isn’t anything a sweater, a warm blanket, a fireplace, and a cup of hot chocolate can’t fix.
10. No winter expenses
Again, this is an expense which can really add up. Think about how many expenses are associated with winter. Snow removal, snow tires, snow chains, and most importantly, winter clothing. When you live in Maui, there is no need for winter coats or gloves or thermal underwear or socks. It’s a pretty minimalist wardrobe, which is comfortable, airy and easy on the pocketbook.
In sum, the quick answer as to why it’s cheaper to live on Maui than you would think is that there are essentially two worlds existing on the same island: the tourist world and the resident world. Tourists don’t see much of the residents’ way of living when they stay in a resort, eat out every night for a week, and fill their days with exciting activities. Likewise, residents aren’t subjected to many of the tourist expenses by living at home, eating food from the grocery store, spending most of their days at work, and filling their free time with cheap and healthy activities.
Granted, island living certainly isn’t for everyone, but those who have ever been curious can rest assured that the sticker shock of living in paradise isn’t as harsh as you might have made it out to be.