How to survive on Maui

Living on Maui is very different from visiting. The key to surviving on an island known for high cost of living, few jobs, and low wages is to be able to live within one’s means. Another is to have income independent of the local economy.

All my training in living frugally has come in handy. I grew up in a family conscious of costs and mindful of waste. My father taught me to save from a very young age.

Think of living frugally as a process of optimization, a fundamental principle in a discipline known as Operations Research or OR for short. You optimize your return on what you spend by minimizing your costs and maximizing what you can get with as little as possible. Stretch your budget. Practise the four R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle.

The field of operations research (OR) grew out of the industrial revolution — efficiency in manufacturing had a direct impact on competitiveness. Later OR was adopted in the military (logistics), hospitals (queueing theory), and air transportation (optimal routing).


What does this mean in practice? First you need to develop an awareness of costs and improve your ability to control your spending and saving. Here are a few tips.

  1. Freebies can’t get any cheaper. Go to free events, free concerts, free tastings. Costco gives free tastings in its store. Visit when you are hungry and have no money on you. You do need to be a Costco member. Be on the lookout for freebies — free outdoor movie nights at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, free live music at Queen Ka’ahumanu Mall and First Fridays. Swim at the beach or at public swimming pools, if you don’t have access to hotel pools or have one yourself.
  2. Only shop if you need to. Otherwise, don’t.
  3. Barter. Example: trade your home-grown papayas for apple bananas someone else grows at home.
  4. Don’t waste. Always buy only what you need and consume ALL of it.
  5. If you have to shop, do it wisely. Choose optimally — where, when, how often, and how much. Become a smart shopper. Know where to get the cheapest price for your item. Example: tofu is cheapest at Cash and Carry in Kahului. It’s about $1 cheaper than at Safeway or Foodland.
  6. Use your credit card instead of cash, cheque, or debit card as much as you can. Always pay off your credit card in full.
  7. Buy in bulk to get quantity discount and then divide the bulk with your family, neighbors, friends, colleagues, etc. Example: shop at Costco
  8. Buy second-hand. Shop at garage sales, Ross Dress for Less, Savers and other thrift stores (especially when they have SALES!)
  9. Shop online. Check Craigslist. Check Amazon. Compare prices.
  10. Control your energy use. Electricity tariffs in the state are the highest in the USA and twice that of the next highest (New York) and three times that of average in the USA.
  11. Because we have the highest gasoline prices in the country, it really does not make sense to drive far. Live close to where you need to be most of the time. In other words, be able to walk to work, school, shops, etc. If you do need a car, get an efficient one — not a gas guzzler.  Consider carpooling. Consider riding a bicycle. Walking is the best exercise though.
  12. Get Costco gasoline. It’s cheaper than any other petrol station. Honest.
  13. Switch off your hot water breaker switch when you are away for a minimum of 24 hours….. unless you have solar water heater.
  14. House sit. Homeowners with pets and plants who travel or go off island from time to time need help caring for their pets and plants.
  15. Always ask if there’s a “kama’aina rate” — in other words, on production of a Hawaii state identification card or a Hawaii state driver’s license, in certain off-peak seasons, restaurants and hotels offer special rates to local residents.

Some of the above tips are useful anywhere. If you can think of others to share, please comment in the REPLY BOX below.


About BLOGmaiden

As one of the earliest bloggers (since 1999), I enjoy meeting people who embrace "out-of-the-box" thinking and fear not the unknown. I believe in collaboration for sustainability because it increases stakeholder value.
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