- Aloha Nui!
- Wow! A year
has certainly flown by quickly. My apologies for not keeping
up the Updates during that year, but it has taken me that long
to actually collect my thoughts about the big picture.
- We've fallen
into step with our new California lifestyle. Sort of. Maybe one
reason that is has been fairly easy after 19 years in Hawaii
is that both of us are native Californians and spent much of
our lives living in and around the Bay Area. Where we live now
is about 60 miles north of the actual Bay Area, but doesn't resemble
that area much at all. Where we live now seems far from any town
or city. We're deep in the redwood forest, with streams and rivers
here and there, and small villages of cabin-like homes scattered
along the length of the Russian River from where we are out the
15 miles to the ocean. It's really quite beautiful, and at this
time of the year, most of those little homes have a twist of
wood smoke coming from their chimneys.
- But all this
serenity morphs into city life quickly when we make the 15-minute
drive to our nearest city, Santa Rosa. With a population of 170,000,
some would say, City? That's not a city! To us, anything
bigger than Hilo is a city. There are more people in Santa Rosa
than on the entire Big Island!
- Santa Rosa,
as cities go, is actually a very pleasant one, with a lovingly
restored Old Town, and of course everything we could
ever need is right there. It's the drive back home that I always
enjoy: Two minutes after leaving town, we drive through about
7 or 8 miles of beautiful vineyards (this is California's famous
wine country) and then in an instant, we're in the forest. The
forest gets thicker and taller and then we get to our twisty
little road that takes us to the top of our hill. For California,
- We got lucky
in finding this area. This is, to us, one of the most beautiful
parts of California, and yet the housing prices here are comparable
with the Big Island. At this writing, however, the prices are
going up and the inventory is practically non-existent. Fact
is, though, you can still buy a small house needing repairs for
under $100,000. Just like on the BI, you can buy a pretty nice
one needing no repairs for twice that amount.
- Which brings
us to my next subject, the one about which Affordable Paradise
was written. Is Hawaii still affordable compared to the mainland,
or is it more like what so many keep telling us, at least 30%
higher cost of living, across the board?
- When we found
our little community here, we were sure that our cost of living
would be lower here, what with cheaper gas, groceries, same cost
of housing, etc.
- Well, after
a year back on the mainland, I can say with authority that our
cost of living in Hilo was substantially lower than it is here.
Some examples? How about property taxes? On a $250,000 home in
Hawaii, with our over-sixty exemption, our property taxes were
about $200 per year. On our home here, we pay a whopping $4200.
That comes to $350 per month just for property taxes.
- In Hawaii, we
were paying HELCO anywhere from $150 250 a month for electricity.
Here, our electric bill averages $100, but we pay over $300 per
month half the year for heating gas. During the warm months the
gas bill pretty much goes away, but our total cost for those
utilities is still higher than it was in Hawaii. Also, we got
a real shock on our first winter electric bill here. The cost
per KWH was the same as we were paying HELCO! The way that works
is that if you use very little electricity, the cost per KWH
is about a third of HELCO's charge. Then when your consumption
goes up, there's a break when the cost doubles, than another
break when it triples. We went over that break with some electric
heaters we were using when we found out how much gas our furnace
was gumping. We don't do that anymore. Now we keep our house
at 65 degrees and wear warm clothes indoors. This is the part
where we really miss Hawaii!
- Our auto insurance,
same company, went up by about 30% because we're in California
where everybody drives like they're in the last race to nowhere.
Even our Kaiser Permanente co-pays doubled.
- How about auto
expenses? Gas prices in Hilo are $4.05 right now, and $3.60 here.
But when we lived on the BI, we drove about 10,000 miles a year,
combined mileage for our car and pickup. Here it's doubled. Granted,
much of that is Camille's several trips a week to help out with
two of our grandkids, but that is the reason we moved back here,
so it is a part of our lives and the cost has to be accounted
for. Bottom line, we're paying nearly twice as much for gasoline
now, not to mention the other costs of driving more: tires, oil
changes, maintenance and repairs, etc.
- Let's move on
to groceries. Oh how envious we used to be when our Bay Area
friends would talk about grocery shopping at Trader Joe's! I
just perused the online today's specials at the Hilo Safeway
and didn't see anything more expensive there than our own Safeway
store here. Oh yeah, milk. But not by much. But then, a can of
Spam costs $5 here, about twice as much as in Hawaii.
We have a Huli
Chicken guy near here on weekends. He gets $10 for a chicken!
I believe they're still around $6 in Hilo, and they're way better,
- Here's another
interesting thing to ponder. We are pretty frugal folks, but
we still find ourselves tossing more spoiled groceries here than
we ever did in Hawaii. We've tried to figure it out, and the
only thing we can think of is that it is so easy to buy the packaged
everything at Trader Joes, like even vegetables come in a little
plastic tray covered with plastic wrap, and when we do that we
always seem to have to buy more than we need. (Gee, ya think
they planned it that way?) And the rest spoils. Also, when we
lived in Hilo, we routinely shopped the Farmer's Market. They
are everywhere in Hawaii, all year long. Here, we have them too,
but they are of course seasonal.
- Another thing
we find here and it is disturbing to me, is that we accumulate
two trash cans of recyclable plastic every week, when I recall
maybe on can per month in Hawaii. Everything comes in plastic
containers of some sort. Even tomatoes, which even in summer
are imported from Mexico. By the way, papayas here are awful
and when available, sell for around $5 each.
- We also ate
a lot better in Hawaii. Fresh veggies were somehow so easy and
natural there. Here, we find ourselves heating up a frozen pizza
or some other packaged, processed thing. It's just so California.
Except for our little local theater group, we can't afford any.
Tickets to even who's that? performers are routinely
$40 and up. If it's somebody you've heard of, you'll pay a lot
more. $75 to $90 is not uncommon. We just can't afford that kind
of money for an evening of entertainment. Our kids, who earn
six-figure incomes, think nothing of it, and I guess that's why
the prices are what they are.
- In Hawaii, we
had year 'round wonderful events that were always very reasonable,
and often the charge to get in went to a worthwhile cultural
venture so we even felt good about paying it. Besides, there
were always parties at any of our many local beaches, and oh
how we miss those beaches! I especially miss my frequent visits
to the sweet, gorgeous beach parks along Hilo's Four Mile stretch.
- Even clothes
will cost you more here, mostly just because you'll need more
of them! Right now, I'm wearing Levis, warm boot socks, and a
t-shirt under a sweat shirt and I'm not anywhere near
dressed to go outside where it's 40 degrees! That will take at
least some warm shoes and a thick jacket. How I miss wearing
nothing but shorts, tanks and rubber slippahs. Every day of the
week. A least I can still do it in the summer, and our local
river beach is only three minutes from the house. There's a perk.
- Sales tax. Hawaii's
use tax is 4%. Here, it's around 9%. Around, because
in California everything needs to be complicated, so every town
in the State has it's unique sales tax.
- There are lots
of other costs, too, but the overall picture is that my original
premise, the one that inspired the First Edition of Affordable
Paradise, was and still is valid: The notion that the average
person with an average income cannot afford to live in Hawaii
is a myth.
- Of course, I
have to qualify that by saying that an average income will not
support you if your idea of living in Hawaii is Honolulu. Or
Maui. I've received lots of flak about that in Amazon Reviews.
People write a nasty review saying that my title is misleading
because the book doesn't say how one can have an affordable life
on Oahu or Maui. Well, had I written a book on Affordable
California, it would certainly not have been about Beverly
Hills or San Francisco. Rather, it would have given the reader
all of the best places in California that are still affordable.
The Big Island (a.k.a. Hawaii) is the only part of
the State of Hawaii that is affordable. And in the humble opinion
of this writer (an opinion shared by many), if I had the opportunity
to live on any of the Hawaiian Islands again and even if cost
was no object, I would return to the Big Island. It has everything
I want Hawaii to be, and the best part is that you can actually
live a peaceful, pleasant life there without tripping over tourists
at every turn. I like that!
- I have no issue
with tourists; Hawaii needs them, and I even love to visit the
tourist spots from time to time and absorb some of that exciting
energy. But for daily life, I'd so rather share it with the everybody's
a minority ambiance of the folks who live, love and work
- Guess I better
quit this rambling volume for now! I've got to go figure out
how to earn a living here now that our retirement savings are
disappearing faster than we figured on.
With abundant aloha always,
Skip & Camille
- We wish
you all the best, and never forget to
Thomsen & Ohana