How Much Money Do Honolulu, Hawaii Residents Make?

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I would have guessed that the average income for families in Hawaii was higher. It does make sense why everyone is griping about how expensive everything is – when the average is pretty low in comparison with the prices for everything.

It’s safe to say, at these income levels – you need A+ credit to buy a home in Hawaii – well, anywhere but Big Island where they are actually still affordable!

From Census data, Honolulu Magazine ( made some lovely charts full of interesting demographic information about how people in Hawaii live, and who they are.

Now, what they didn’t say was exactly how the US Census takers qualified these totals. Household income – loosely defined, could be taken to mean everyone’s income in a house. We all know that mother, father, adult kids, and grandkids live in the same house often times because housing is just so expensive. If the chart above was just husband and wife and included singles as well – that would make sense, but if it includes everyone – more than 2 adults at the most – that’s really saying something.

$75K per year for two people is $37,500 each. Twelve thousand of that goes to taxes from each – which leaves $25K each, $50K total for two people. That isn’t so great at all.

Fully 1/4th of all households are pulling less than $35,000 per year in income. That’s plain unlivable.

I really think that anything over $50K per person is ‘enough’ to live in Hawaii  – any island. If you’re making any less than that you’re going to be too stressed that you aren’t making enough. My most recent stay in Hawaii had me racking up $800 in food bills per month, and that didn’t include nights out drinking – just food!

Even if you’re staying in a studio in Waikiki, you’ll be paying $1,000-$1,400 per month (as of 2016) just for that. Want 1 bedroom? Pay $1,200-$2,300. Keep in mind that the low-end of these prices are for “bottom of the barrel” type quality. You’ll want something in the middle. Want a roof-top pool and barbecue area in your building? We had this on Hobron Lane – 400 Hobron, if you want to look it up – amazing rooftop pool area. But it will cost you dearly as those kinds of amenities demand the highest ranges of rents.

Every time we went to the grocery behind Ala Moana shopping center we shelled out $200+ for our groceries. In Pennsylvania, where I grew up, you could fill the back of a truck for that! In Hawaii? You might get 5-6 bags if you’re lucky. I remember going to the fresh fish shop on Maui in Honokowai and paying $50-70 per trip there for some tuna, swordfish, and shrimp. It’s THAT bad – really! Who can go without fresh fish though? You gotta pay the price!

Car insurance, car payment, health insurance payment, kids’ private school costs, personal taxes, emergency costs, going out costs… all of these add up to eat up your entire paycheck if you’re making under $50,000 per year.

Life is what you make it – and life in Hawaii can be done at less than $50,000 per year in personal income, but I wouldn’t really recommend it unless you are ready to live VERY frugally and without some of the perks that others have. There are people that can do it on even $30,000 income per year. I’ve seen them do it. They don’t eat well, and they don’t do anything at night. Some are happy that way, and others tolerate it for a while before they move back to the mainland and raise their standard of living back up to what they are comfortable with.

Your standard of living is kind of built into you. You were raised in a certain standard – and that usually becomes someone’s minimum they are willing to go down to.  If you made $70,000 back in the mainland – in a town like Gibson City, Illinois – you could have whatever you wanted. Move to Hawaii and it’s like you’re making $40,000. You have about the same amount of spending power.

Think hard about moving to Hawaii – can you live on less so you actually have some savings at the end of the month? Should you spend the next year before you move to Hawaii so you can learn skills that will help you get a better job? Should you start an internet business that provides residual income in addition to what you make at a regular job, working 8 hours per day? Should you sell your car and get a bike in Hawaii?

There are so many questions… so many ways to make it work if you really want to make it work. Don’t take your move to the Hawaiian islands lightly. Consider money very carefully, especially if you have a family relying on you.

Best of luck and life!




About the Author:

I’ve lived Hawaii since the mid ‘80s when I moved here at the age of 21. I arrived site-unseen in Honolulu with zero contacts and about $5k in savings. I worked from nearly zero and today Hawaii has given me the greatest gifts in the world in all aspects: spiritually, financially, romantically (married since early ‘90s w/ 2 children), and most important, peace. My goal with this site is to share the magic of this Land of Aloha and help others who are on a similar quest.


  1. Hendrik 12/28/2017 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Well said Vern!!

  2. Remey Rune 09/17/2017 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    Hello Vern, thanks for the great article. I have a family of 4, wife, two kids 7 and 4, and have a job offer in Honolulu. The salary will be $95K and my wife stays home with the kids. Currently I’m in Seattle, high living prices here but decent schools and groceries, bills etc are reasonable. I live comfortably but frugally, by choice; it was the way I was raised. I’d live with a smallish place and not going out that much, just going to the beach would be fine by me. The thing I’m worried about is the kids, from all I hear private school is the way to go in Hawaii. Would I be able to find a place for my family, and put both kids in a private school at my salary? I’d probably only be able to afford one car too, is that doable in your opinion? Thanks

    • Peter Kay 09/18/2017 at 6:52 pm - Reply

      That’s going to be rough. Have you taken the quiz? What does it say?

      • Remey Rune 10/07/2017 at 11:22 am - Reply

        Sorry for so late with my reply, it usually says “It’s going to be very hard, but if you really want it, go for it” I guess if I put my kids in public schools it would be easier, I don’t know if that would risk their future though, that’s my main concern, the kids. Hawaii is a paradise but at what cost?

        • Peter Kay 10/07/2017 at 5:24 pm

          If your kids are going to private school now or a really good school district and you have to put your kids through public school in Hawaii be prepared for a very very big culture shock and a lot of additional educational assistance on your part. It will not be easy.

  3. LatinaTraveler 09/11/2017 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    Hi Vern,

    I just ran into your awesome blog and it’s very helpful. I just got an offer to work in Honolulu Hawaii for 78K plus 12K for housing… making it 90K overall. I currently make 80.5K in Seattle. I’m not married and don’t have children, only a dog. Will this be a good opportunity to take or will I be having a hard time making it financially?

    I’m told that I at least need 150K a year to get by because Hawaii is very expensive. I’m not planning to buy a house, just rent. Hope to hear from you soon!.

    • Peter Kay 09/11/2017 at 5:54 pm - Reply

      90k should be financially OK but know that your lifestyle of 80.5k in Seattle will be take a hit for 90k in Hawaii. But it’s not just the money. Take the quiz to find out if you have a good fit, long term.

  4. Shawna 06/26/2016 at 11:46 am - Reply

    Hey Vern and/or Peter Kay!

    So I’m contemplating on whether or not I should take the new position my company has in Honolulu. I make about 54k right now living in Phoenix AZ and seem to do ok for myself. Now I know my company would up my salary and would be between 65-70k a year. I do have a 3 year old son so not quite school age but he will need child care while I’m at work. I do have a car that I would bring with. I’m just nervous about the whole thing… And I’m like you, I like good food. Do you think I’d be ok in or around Honolulu with rent, car payment, insurance, child care, cell phone, and other misc bills? Or will I just be scraping by? Do you have any recommendations as to where I should look? It would be nice to find a place already furnished since I wouldn’t be there but maybe a year or so… I should also mention I’m a single mom with no outside support so for that reason I wouldn’t live in an unsafe area.
    Thanks for your time!

    • Peter Kay 06/26/2016 at 6:18 pm - Reply

      IMO it’s going to be close, financially. But as a single mom, I would think your real issue will be having a support group. How solid is your support group where you live now? That may be a big shock for you when you get here as Hawaii is very “clickish” until people get to know you, which takes a while.

  5. Arthur 06/02/2016 at 9:09 am - Reply

    I have been looking over room shares on Craigslist. It totally looks possible to get a share situation almost any island for $500 to $800. I lived in NYC for years. Real estate in Honolulu even doesn’t seem all that. I think your posh standards make Hawaii look achievable. I’ve lived in closets in NYC and had to have a total winter wardrobe to boot.

    • Peter Kay 06/02/2016 at 12:13 pm - Reply

      If you’re coming from NYC, I’ll venture to say our real estate prices will seem reasonable if not cheap. Where we fall off the cliff, though, will be comparable salaries.

  6. Owen 05/09/2016 at 10:11 am - Reply

    how old is this article? MODEST studios in Wakiki and downtown Honolulu cost $1,400 -$1,800 per month in 2016. The prices are only growing higher. That means that you would need to earn at least $56,000 per year to live paycheck to paycheck to live in one of these places (given the 30% rule for rent).

    • Peter Kay 05/09/2016 at 10:43 am - Reply

      Thanks for the comment. I just updated the rents for 2016, though the original numbers here weren’t too far off. “Modest” studios are in the $1,000-$1,400 range. This may vary on what one defines as “modest” but a quick check on rental websites will confirm this.

  7. marysanford 11/01/2015 at 9:08 am - Reply

    all is variable, check out LA, Chicago, New York….and those are not even paradise. Always more than one side to everyone’s perception of life and reality, which is 100% variable to each person’s opinion and experience. Every opinion is important, never base decisions on one study, do your homework and take the extra step of research.

  8. Teresa 07/10/2014 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    Gotta Love That ! I too like to eat well . Well Vern I am contemplating on whether or not to take a job located in Oahu . I have a thirteen year old daughter I support . My income will be around 70,000 yr. gross. I have worked in several states, so moving is not a shock to my being. I am a little worried rents are high ( and I have lived in the Bay Area ) rents seem to be higher on the islands. High schools seem to be …. well….not all that great. Nevertheless , I really feel it would be a good experience for my daughter. California is not what it used to be. Also I have had my daughter in private Catholic . Now she will be going to a public high school. Any advice ?

    • Vern 07/14/2014 at 9:45 am - Reply

      Hi Teresa,

      My advice would be, don’t take your daughter to live on Oahu if you aren’t prepared to put her into a decent private school. There are good public schools, but at their best, they don’t compare to a good private school. Don’t risk screwing up your daughter’s life – make the investment in a private school for her. Put a lot of time into helping her adjust. It’s easier for parents to adjust to moving away from ‘home’ and to a new place. MUCH easier. Give your daughter the best you can give her. :P Aloha, Vern

  9. Judy Anstess 01/09/2013 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    Hi Vern..It’s Judy again. I think I hit the wrong button and I am not sure if it went through or not. I am not going to go and re-type it all again. All in all, I lived prrtty darn good on only $135 a month after my rent was paid. That included my food and any extras. Even my doctor’s $20 co-pay. Thank God I got a yearly handicapped Bus pass for only $30 for the whole year. Got my food at Walmart and China town.and other extras at Ross’ and craigslist. I am going back for good this time, in May. Social Security’s “Ticket To Work” program is going to help me start my own business, just so they won’t have to support me any more. I drove a tour bus on Oahu for 8 years, so that is my business plan in order to support myself. They will buy me a used van (around a 2008-2010) Anyone wanting to go back to work or

  10. Judy Anstess 01/09/2013 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Hi Vern..Just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how I lived last January-March on less than $935 a month. Ihad saved up enough to pay for my airfare and enough to pay to rent a room which cost me $700 a month. I didn’t even have enough to pay the $700 deposit. She let me pay an extra $100 a month that was put towards the deposit. The Hawaiian of the kindest people.around. I didn’t even ask my landlady for the break..Just a great person. So out of the $135 I had left for the whole month to live on (which included food as well) I am handicapped
    so I was able to get a yearly “Bus” pass for only $30. I bought most of my food at Walmart, clothes and items like towels, sheets and a light blanket at Ross’. I don’t drink, but on occasion I would treat myself at “Happy Hour” at “Hula’s Bar & Grill” on the beach above “Dukes” in the Outrigger. I would order Polynesian Chavichi (probably spelled.wrong)

  11. jeff 08/14/2012 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    800$ a month on groceries? Are you insane? Ever hear of coupons.. getting groceries other then the tourist trap Honolulu? Wtf.. or maybe talk to the thousands of families who survive on 40,000 a year..

    • Vern 08/14/2012 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      Not insane Jeff, just prefer decent food. When I buy shrimp, I get big shrimp. When I buy Tuna, Swordfish, Wahoo, anything – it’s good stuff. It’s expensive. I buy the organically grown, pesticide free veggies and fruit when I can find it. I buy things I WANT. I don’t buy $1/lb shrimp or Ramen noodles… I eat expensive food. Some people prefer to spend money on their car – I don’t. Some prefer to spend it on their home – I don’t. Some spend it on jewelry – I don’t. I spend money on food. I figure I’m going to put the best food into me that I can buy. Maybe my body will thank me for it when I’m 70 and wondering how many years I’ve got left.

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