Living in Hawaii Pros and Cons

So you have made the decision to live in Hawaii! It is a paradise, the weather is beautiful, the beaches are known around the world. There could be no downside to living in Hawaii could there? Sadly to say there can be, but what is a negative for one person could be a positive for another. So how do you decide that Hawaii is right for you, and what are the good and bad aspects of living in the land of rainbows?

As a former resident of the state one of the greatest things to me was the weather. I lived in Lahaina located on Maui’s west coast where rain was almost as rare as snow in Florida. In fact it was such an odd occurrence, the first time I actually noticed it was raining was when I saw people frolicking about in it exclaiming “It’s raining in Lahaina!” They looked at the raindrops as if manna was falling from heaven. There is always a nice cool breeze, the humidity is negligible, and the prime tanning hours are plentiful. The obvious potential downside is hurricane season, however with the Joint Typhoon Warning Center and Pacific Warning Center located on Oahu you have plenty of heads up should mother nature rear her ugly head. Hurricanes really are not that great of a concern anyway as only two have made landfall in about fifty years.

If you are a lover of the water Hawaii is hard to beat with its world class waves and astounding coral reefs which make diving and snorkeling an almost religious experience. Along with this comes an incredible bounty of fresh fish for your dining pleasure, whale watching, boat excursions, para-sailing, and almost anything you can imagine. I can’t find any downside to all this beauty being so readily available.

Hawaii is more than just water, it has incredible state parks, more hiking than you can shake a stick at which fails to ever pale even when repeated, and a rich cultural and historical history to explore. For sports fans there are excellent college sports to take in, Ka’anapali on Maui is home of the Senior PGA, the NFL pro Bowl, and there is always the Hawaiian winter baseball league which features great up and coming professionals, most recently Yankee phenom Joba Chamberlain. Whether you want to watch or participate Hawaii can handle your needs.

Enough of the peripheral stuff, you want to know about the meat and potato’s of Hawaii! Housing is what you make of it. Like anywhere else if you want to be in the center of things it is going to be expensive. A small one bedroom condo on the west coast of Maui for example can easily run $950.00 per month with nothing included. If you like the outskirts you can always get more for less. There is no housing shortage to speak of however “Posh” housing is always tough to find at a good rate and it must be noted if you plan on buying land and are a non Native Hawaiian you can forget it. You can take a ninety nine year lease on the land and build on it, just be aware you will not own it. The national average of the markets is about four hundred thousand dollars.

The 2005 average sales price for the most expensive Hawaii housing was about seven hundred and forty five thousand in Kihei on Maui. The most affordable average was around seven hundred and thirty five thousand dollars in Honolulu on Oahu, which is well over the national average on the U.S. mainland. These numbers are based on a twenty two hundred square foot single family dwelling with four bedrooms, two and a half baths, family room, and a two car garage in a middle income neighborhood. Obviously if you need less, the prices are lower. It must also be noted that “Rural” areas were omitted when compiling the statewide average.

Employment is plentiful, especially in anything that deals with the tourist industry. The wages are well in line and the prevalence of unions keeps employees well taken care of. In the professional fields there is need for everything there as anywhere else. After all living in paradise doesn’t mean there is no need for mechanics, construction workers, the financial and medical fields, and so on. In 2005, Hawaii’s total personal income grew by eight percent which was the largest increase since 1990 and the third largest increase in the nation. However Hawaii’s 2004 per capita personal income of thirty two thousand dollars ranked twentieth in the United States.

What goes hand in hand with employment is education and the schools are in my opinion excellent. From primary school to the university level opportunities are abundant. The student teacher ratio of sixteen to one is excellent. While Hawaii is nationally ranked in the lowest twenty percent of the nation, over the past fifteen years educational reform has improved across the board in all areas with the exception of writing (down two percent) and science which is down seven percent. However as of 2007 each was trending back up towards previous highs. The downside is if you plan to put a child through private school it will be more expensive here than commensurate schools on the mainland.

When it comes to stretching your dollar initially it can seem overwhelming. There are certain staple items you will simply be unable to escape paying more for like milk. Before long however you will realize there is the tourist price and the “Kamaaina” rates which basically mean you live here and deserve a break. Where we lived we even had a card to present for discounts that gave us a break everywhere from the grocery store, to restaurants and retail outlets. Even with this magic card that provided discounts that at times ranged to upwards of twenty five percent off, it is going to be expensive to live there and even with good wages it is likely you will need to be a bit more budget conscious. However outlets like Costco and Super Wal-Mart are slowly becoming more regular providing slightly lower food prices. It is believed that as they expand over the next several years this will help reduce the overall cost of consumer shopping.

Most families are dual income with either both halves working one or jobs, or one person working full and pert-time. In the end it all balances out, as a job sacking groceries often starts at around eight to eight and a half dollars per hour with overtime, Sunday mandatory time and a half, and medical benefits. In fact Hawaii’s rate of uninsured persons is a full ten percentage points below the national average and will expand even further to cover about another twenty nine thousand people through 2011 thanks to it’s strong union presence. While a job sacking groceries will not support your family, it is a demonstration of the going rate for unskilled non intensive labor. In fact many people take these jobs on a part-time basis simply for the health plans.

Before deciding Hawaii is perfect and you are ready to go, take a look at some statistics to understand the picture a little more clearly. In 2006 a family of four needed to earn about fifty five percent more (Around one hundred and twelve thousand dollars) to match the lifestyle of a family earning about seventy two thousand dollars on the mainland. In 2003 Hawaii’s median family income was about seventy one thousand dollars versus around sixty five thousand on the mainland U.S. This demonstrates money is there to be made, however you may have to scale your lifestyle down a bit.

Furthermore shopping in some areas is limited. While some view not having a Wal-Mart on every corner as a downside, to me it was a blessing. I enjoyed shopping with local merchants and the service they provided, however there were times when making what was for us an hour long trip to the K-Mart for specific items necessary and irritating. Again, this is something that is highly subjective as to how you view it as a pro or con.

Another thing that sometimes gets to people is “Island fever” which simply means they feel locked in. For some this can be alleviated with trips to the other islands to change scenery, for others it takes a trip to a continent to get over it. Fortunately inter island travel is simple and is not terribly expensive. It was not at all unusual for us to fly over to Oahu for an afternoon visiting friends with a return trip in the evening. Then the worst case scenario is some folks never do kick island fever, as happened with my partner. You have to remember as spacious as the islands are, they are islands and you are not going to drive off them which is unsettling for some people. A final issue some people have is that they get sick of tourists which is understandable, however it is the main industry and it is not going to go away.

All in all Hawaii is like anyplace else in the world. It has it’s good and it’s bad. What I may find disagreeable you may revel in and vise versa. Life on the islands is not for everyone but hopefully a small taste of the good and bad can help you see that while it is paradise, for some a lifetime of paradise is too much. In spite of it’s potential drawbacks Hawaii is rich in cultural diversity and has some of the friendliest people in the world in my opinion. Life on the islands is what you make of it. Only you can decide if it is the life for you.