10 Reasons Why Living In Maui Is Cheaper Than You Think

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?


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.

Maui on a budget – tacos, trailers, and cheap cars

Staying in a trailer, driving a 2003 Nissan Sentra, and eating tacos from a roadside truck may not be the first visual that comes to mind when you think “Maui vacation,” but budget travel does exist on this expensive island. Most would-be visitors think the words “Maui” and “budget” are somewhat of an oxymoron, and for the most part, they’re right. But in this land of expensive lunches and overpriced trinkets there are buried bargains to be discovered. The island is a haven for rich retirees, and this culture drives the cost of just about everything with a price tag. If it’s expensive dining, golf, and shopping you want, Maui will surely please. But for those who can barely afford the plane ticket from the mainland, here are a few tips that might make your Maui dream vacation seem a little more like an affordable mainland getaway.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user adam*b)

Cheap eats

Each of the main towns has its own affordable eateries that can keep you on track with your food budget. Hawaiian tourists know that there is phenomenal cuisine to be had on the islands, but sometimes you just need a quick bite while on the go that won’t bite back at your wallet. Fast food staples like Taco Bell, Subway, and McDonald’s can be found in all the more populated areas. Prices are close to that of the mainland and these less-than-par culinary stops can save you, since a typical lunch at a local cafe could run you $15-$20 per person.

If fast food isn’t your style there are local joints that offer alternatives to cardboard burgers and mass-produced tacos. In south Maui, try Cinnamon Roll Fair in Kihei. A cup of joe and a gargantuan sticky cinnamon roll will only set you back a matter of dollars and start your day off right. For lunch, swing down to the Big Beach area and look for the food trucks. The Jawz Tacos van will satisfy your Mexican food fix, and they even serve alcohol if you’re in the mood for a mid-day cocktail. If you’re in west Maui head to Star Noodle in Lahaina. Grab a bowl of Udon for just seven bucks and get your belly filled for the entire afternoon.Dining in – Costco

As soon as you sit down to your first meal on Maui you realize that eating can be one of the most expensive things you do here. An age-old budget strategy is to load up on groceries and eat in the room when on vacation. While this is certainly the way to go for saving you some coin, groceries on the island will cost more than elsewhere in the U.S. The thing to remember is that most everything needs to be imported from the mainland, whether that be Asia or North America. A long ocean journey means that you pay a premium so things can be transported to the islands.

Costco saves the day when it comes to budget grub. The wholesale grocer somehow gets things to the island with minimal up-charge. They also buy local when possible so seafood is not only affordable but of amazing quality and taste. If stocking up for a two week stay, or a family to eat on, this warehouse of food can save a bundle. When leaving the airport in Kahului, Costco will be on your left as you exit.


Maui, and Hawaii in general, are expensive places to live. But not everyone who plants their flag on this remote island chain drives a Land Rover and eats lobster every night. Much of the population is made up of transplants from the mainland U.S. and other countries around the pacific rim. These people are the ones who make this island tick by working in the restaurants, guiding the tourists, and harvesting the sugar cane. Where do these people go out to dinner if they don’t have a platinum Diners Club card?

Many restaurants offer two-for-one deals that are quite popular. Some restaurants run these specials on certain nights of the week and pack the place with locals and tourists alike hunting for an affordable meal. Some hotels even pass out coupon booklets to guests that feature the local two-for-ones. There are also twofers that go unadvertised. Residents ask for them by name. If you find yourself in a restaurant, have already been seated, and are smacked with sticker shock when you open the menu, simply ask what their two-for-one special is. If they have one, you’ll be glad you inquired.

Economy car rentals

Put simply, taxis are not economical on Maui, and public transit buses offer little flexibility. When visiting the island for more than a day, just rent a car. Shopping around for online coupons is one way to cut your rental expense, but if you aren’t picky about what you drive there are other ways. Local renters like Kihei Rent A Car, for instance, will rent an older model car for less than $150 a week. If you don’t mind rolling in a 2003 Nissan Sentra, you can save some serious cash.

Choosing a rental car that gets good mpg will also help you stretch your island dollar even further. Gas on Maui is expensive and pump prices are often $1-$2 higher per gallon than they are on the mainland. Choosing an economy or compact car will keep you on track with your budget, not to mention give you an advantage with parking since the island is filled with compact spaces.

When renting a car on Maui, the rental agency will most likely try to scare the living crap out of you. We endured a five minute lecture on how our first-born child would be confiscated if we brought the car back with dings or scratches. Your best strategy here is to listen politely and then scan the car for all existing damage. Use the crude automobile sketch the company provides and make sure you find a scratch on all sides of the car. This will prove priceless when you bring the car back and the person who checks you in finds a gash in the fender that wasn’t recorded by previous attendants.


Condos and resorts dominate the lodging landscape of Maui. But don’t reel too hard at the sticker shock you’ll experience at these high-end hotels. Consider mainland staples like the Days Inn. Directly on the beach in Kihei and convenient to shopping and eating, this clean hotel is a hidden gem. Catching a room for $100 a night is not unheard of here.

If you want to go even cheaper and create a unique experience for yourself, check out Maui Bamboo Beach Cabanas. It may be a mouthful but it will save you a pocketful. These trailer-like beach huts are tucked into a private setting near Makena Beach. You won’t be beach side or have an on site masseuse, but you will be looking at $65 per night, which is as cheap as it gets on Maui.

When planning your Maui vacation, budget travel is not impossible. Spending a few hours delving into the web for bargains and taking the time to research your local restaurant options could keep you from breaking the bank. Reading through travel guides like Maui Revealed and website like AndHawaii.com will help you prepare for your budget trip to Maui ahead of time and allow you to avoid some of the expensive spending pitfalls to be had on the island.

Five must-do adventures on Maui

Any trip to Maui from the mainland incurs a bit of jet lag. Once that subsides, and the Mai Tais have been sipped, its time to get out and discover all the adventure the island has to offer. Maui has over 120 miles of coastline and offers endless opportunities for water sports such as kayaking, diving, snorkeling, surfing, paddle boarding, and kite surfing. Land-based adventures usually involve hiking or cycling. The island is incredibly bike-friendly with bike paths found on most major thoroughfares. Some visitors even take to the air in small aircraft to see the island from above.

Helicopter tour of Maui and Molokai

No trip to Hawaii is complete without a helicopter tour. Magnum P.I.’s TC was the king of the island choppers back in the day, but now it’s Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Blue Hawaiian is the only operator serving all four major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. The tours of Maui are unparalleled, and for those who have never had the experience of flying in a helicopter, the eco-star and a-star class choppers offer a smooth ride. Watch the weather forecast (almost always the same) and ensure there isn’t a strong rain forecast.

If it’s jaw-dropping scenery you want, use Maui as your jumping off point and tour west Maui and Molokai by air. The waterfalls of Molokai drop over 3,000 feet to the ocean and have been used by Hollywood in such blockbusters as the Jurassic Park series. This tour lasts nearly an hour and takes the flier over west Maui and to the sparsely populated island of Molokai. Once there, the pilot will hover over immense waterfalls, slide up into the crater, and follow an ancient river meandering from the summits. Remnants of the huge man-made fishing ponds used for centuries by the locals can be seen from the air. Tour prices start at $138.95 per person.

Bike down Haleakala

By far one of the most popular adventure excursions on Maui is the bike ride down the 10,000 foot-high Haleakala. This is the larger of the two volcanoes on Maui and certainly the most visited. The upper portion of the mountain is protected as part of Haleakala National Park.

Starting early in the morning, and I mean 3 AM early, descenders are picked up by the tour companies and hauled up the slope in vans. Those who try this need to remember that the summit is near 10,000 feet above sea level. Early morning temps can drop into the 30s. Dress appropriately by wearing layers and don’t forget the sunscreen. Once the riders descend through the cloud layer they’ll find themselves humming down the twisty roads at high speeds in the blazing sun.

Several companies offer these trips and most offer very similar services. Shopping around will win you the best price. Many bikers end their trip in Paia a funky little town on the coast with a decidedly bohemian feel. Celebrate your accomplishment with a brew at one of the local haunts and get some hippie-watching in.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user gabriel amadeus)

Learn to stand-up paddle board

It’s easy to get the fever to be on a board once you’ve driven any stretch of coast in the Hawaiian Islands. Watching surfers catch a wave and ride its crashing edge in to the shoreline will have you asking yourself, “Could I do that?” Surfing takes quite a bit of dedication and practice, however, and a much quicker way for the land lubber to sprout sea legs and get up on a board is to try the sport of stand-up paddle boarding.

The sport is true to its name in that it requires a board, similar in shape to a surfboard, and a paddle. The paddle has a crooked end and is used to steer the rider – no fancy footwork needed. Decent balance is a must though. Finding your body’s center over the board and getting the paddle in the water as soon as you get up are the keys to this sport. Lessons are offered at Makena Beach and Golf Resort in Wailea. The lessons are given by staff members who adore the sport and have the patience of a saint. A one-hour lesson will cost $60 and will have even the most uncoordinated up and paddling by the end.

Take a boat to Molokini for world-class snorkeling

Snorkeling off the coast of Maui is a popular activity. There are many places to rent snorkel gear around the island and locals are willing to share some of the hot spots. “Turteltowns” are the name given to areas near the shore where turtles come to feed on plant life growing on the rocks. Be forewarned, snorkelers must keep a distance of at least ten feet from sea turtles at all times or they risk a fine of $10,000!

To get the most out of your snorkeling experience on Maui though, it is best to take a snorkel tour to the small island off the coast, Molokini. There are several companies offering this service. Or if someone in your group has boating experience the best way to go is to rent your own boat. There is only one company that rents boats to tourists on Maui and that is Sea Escape Boat Rental. They rent a Glacier Bay 2240sx which can accommodate 6-7 people. It helps to share the $140/hour price for rental. The snorkeling off Molokini is phenomenal. Huge schools containing hundreds and even thousands of fish team around its rocky shores each day. Sea turtles frequent the island and so do snorkelers. Arrive early to avoid the choppy waters that tend to flare up in the afternoon. Expect a crowd but spend most of your time on the right and left side of the crescent-shaped part of the island. This is where the fish like to hang out and do their thing. With Sea Escape you pay for your own fuel and snorkel gear is an extra $10 for each set.

Hike the hidden waterfalls on the road to Hana

Driving the road to Hana is a rite-of-passage for anyone living on or visiting the island. On the eastern side of the island, Hana gets much more rain than the western side and stays lush and green for most of the year. It is also on the steeper side of Haleakala which means dramatic dropping landscapes full of waterfalls. Hana is known for being remote — so remote, in fact, that getting there takes the better part of a day. There are serious restaurants, and Oprah decided to buy a home there. When you have to get away from the misery of being a gazillionaire you might as well do it in paradise.

The road to Hana is a twisted roller coaster ride along a rough coastline. There are several places where the road narrows to one lane and traffic has to yield in order for everyone to get through peacefully. If you get car sick easily, stay away. If you don’t have trouble with car sickness, and you want to see sweeping panoramas of undeveloped tropical coastline, hit the road. During the course of the drive you’ll find that there are several spots to stop and pull over. Many of these pull-outs have trail heads that lead to magnificent overlooks and to tucked-away waterfalls. Some are well marked, and some are not marked at all. The guidebook Maui Revealed devotes a section to the Hana Highway and uses mile markers to guide the driver to each of the sweet spots.

Maui isn’t a place that can be seen in a matter of a few days. It takes at least a week to adjust to the time difference and to the slow pace of island time itself. To really get the feel for Maui get out on the water, roads, trails, and into the skies to see what lies beyond the fences of the resorts. You’ll have plenty to talk about in the hot tub that night for sure.