How much is a cow?
It's no secret that Hawaii is expensive. According to one cost of living index, Hawaii has an overall ranking of 185 with the national average being 100. In the housing category, Hawaii earns itself a 294. You can spend a million dollars and get yourself a shack. Most people would argue that it's worth it for the privilege of living in paradise, but there is no denying that cost is a factor.
When you first arrive, you go to the grocery store to buy the basics and feel like you might stop breathing. A loaf of bread costs around $5. Although for $5 it's probably going to have high fructose corn syrup in it. A gallon of regular milk is $7, which is not so much more than you're used to paying except that you're used to buying organic. It's at this point that you acknowledge the bright side of having a child with a dairy allergy and subscribe fully to his GI specialist's thinking that everyone, regardless of allergy, should avoid dairy. Yes, you think, dairy is over-rated. You consider what it would mean to be vegan, or perhaps Paleo, until you remember that dairy-free substitutes are even more expensive and that it is largely chai latte that runs through your veins. Surely it would just be cheaper to buy the cow (you know, if that was a normal thing to do outside of New Zealand).
So you do the obvious thing and go to Whole Foods, where you're used to higher prices. Whole Foods Kailua is every bit as lovely as any mainland store, but with an added twist of tourist. You know you're no longer on the mainland when you have to bypass several live chickens to get into the store. As you enter, there are shelves of reusable canvas and organic cotton bags screen-printed with Hawaiian graphics. You quickly realise that, like with any place that attracts tourists, prices are naturally higher. That is, higher than Whole Foods high.
Having spent $45 on six items, you leave feeling like you'd better stop eating since having a child with various food allergies and dietary restrictions makes Whole Foods basically essential, at least for sanity's sake. You skip Starbucks that day feeling slightly Hawaii-broke.
The next day you go to Target, and as you walk in the familiarity of fluorescent lights shining down on you feels like the retail gods are on your side. While the grocery store prices were significantly higher than what you're used to, groceries in Target are closer to normal mainland prices (sure, "normal" DC-area prices, which are probably higher than the national average, but still, within the realm of normalcy). A box of cereal at Safeway is $6.99 and at Target it is $3.49. You breathe a sigh of relief, and realise your best bet in Hawaii is going to be a hybrid approach to shopping.
The cost of electricity is also much higher. We spent our first month here sweltering in the summer humidity, afraid to crank the air conditioning too high in case we racked up an astronomical power bill and unsustainable levels of comfort. Our energy bill, while still crazy high based on our minimal usage, was better than we thought. Thankfully it has been a hotter-than-normal summer, and the humidity higher. On this side of the island we can rely on the trades (winds), so hopefully soon enough the heat will be nothing a few open windows can't fix. It's nice to be optimistic.
At some point you accept that everything in Hawaii just costs more. Well, sort of. I'll never think paying $6.99 for a box of Tazo chai mix is acceptable. I don't need tea that much. On balance, though, you get what you pay for. The strawberries here don't taste better just because they cost more, although on any given day you could take them down to one of the most incredible beaches in the world and eat them there ... so that probably makes them worth a bit more.
It's not that any item is truly worth it. You could make the argument that almost everything in Hawaii costs too much, avoid it all and never enjoy anything. But in real estate location is everything. So you ignore the price of the $8.99 packet of dairy-free chocolate chips as they pass the scanner on their way to your organic hessian bag, and remind yourself that you live in paradise. I find it helps if you close your eyes. Just don't trip over a chicken.