Whenever someone heard about my Spring break plans to go to Hawaii, the ubiquitous response from people has been “Hawaii is so expensive”. Being the optimist that I am, I took these comments with a grain of salt. Maybe they just went to expensive places? Maybe they don’t realize how expensive it is to live in the D.C. area. I’m sure they’re comparable, right?
After arriving, I decided to do some digging and keep my eyes on the price tags. To my dismay, prices were higher than my optimism anticipated. As you can see in the crumpled up receipt on the left, most grocery items are over $5. A box of strawberries was nearly $10, so I left it at the store. However, we did buy a pineapple that cost almost $6, pretzel chips, hummus, 2 oranges, 4 cliff bars, Advil and a few waters. This totaled $56.72.
For those of us who are on vacation and two margaritas deep, we might not look twice at this price. But for the people of Hawaii with an average household income of $73,486 (from the 2015 census), this can be quite steep. This income might seem high since it’s higher than the mainland’s annual household income by a little over 17k, but don’t be fooled. The cost of living here is astronomically more expensive. Consider housing. After speaking with some locals and doing research online, I’ve discovered that most people continue to live with their families well after the ripe age of flying the coop. This is because a teeny 300 square foot studio can cost you around $275k and up. A small one bedroom usually puts you out a half a million. Top this off with gas that costs $3 for a gallon and you’ve got yourself a recipe for debt.
There’s just no way one can sustain themselves with one low-paying job in such a costly place. But the Hawaiians pull off this feat every day. The irony of it all is that most of Oahu is rundown and neglected, except for little pockets of insanely rich locals and tourists. These people get to live in their own bubble of paradise with designer stores, while others have houses that seem to be crumbling down. In life, we know that these extremes exist. There are always the richer and the poorer, but it’s so much more exaggerated on this island than on the mainland. The disparity here seems to mirror that of a developing country. It becomes even worse when extremely wealthy people come and buy up all the property as their vacation homes. This drives up the cost of housing in those areas, leading to gentrification. If you speak to locals, they will voice their dissent for this.
So what’s the reasoning I’m bringing all of this to light? As a tourist on the island, I want to contribute to the economic health of the locals. Instead of staying at a megahotel, try staying at an AirBnb. Instead of eating at one of the many chains in downtown Waikiki, try eating at a local joint in town. Try to place your dollar in the hands of the locals as much as possible. Let’s circulate our money where it counts.