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Is Hawaii Worth It?

Four local families talk about the price of paradise—and whether they’re willing to pay it any longer. Also, check out some eye-opening stats on the cost of living in the Islands.


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But the couple soon realized Dallas wasn’t where they wanted to raise their daughter. On par with their move-every-two-years track record, the family moved back to Honolulu in 2011. Jacinto says he wanted Gabbie to grow up in the same environment he did, a place that embraced Filipino culture and traditions, a place where children learn to swim in the ocean, a place where aloha is a way of life. “People spend thousands of dollars to get a tiny bit of that, I have it 24/7,” he says.

Bringing Home the Bacon

Median Household Income

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010

Coming back to the Islands the second time was more difficult. “We had to be 100 percent sure that we’d be able to make it work when we made the move.” Jacinto says it ultimately took a year of saving money and six of months of active job hunting before they came back.

Hoping to sell their Dallas house when the market improves, they currently rent it out to cover their $1,500 mortgage payment each month. They want to buy a home here. “It’s a challenge to buy a house here, it’s a bigger commitment,” he says, adding that moving back meant taking a pay cut.

“There’s ways that you don’t have to spend as much money living here if you’re smart about it,” says Jacinto. “On the Mainland, you don’t have to try so hard.” To cut back in the Islands, the Jacintos eat out less, shop less and cancelled their Netflix and the premium cable-channel subscriptions.

“To offset that, I step out of the house and go to the beach; it’s priceless,” he says. “That’s the reason you get those things in Dallas, because you don’t have as much there.”

Gabbie goes to Star of the Sea, where Jacinto went as a child. He says he’s committed to “do what it takes,” to keep her in the private, Catholic school, even if it means more financial sacrifices ahead.

And, this time, he says with all confidence, they plan on staying. “This is it. I don’t see myself growing old anywhere else.”

Making the Jump

Susanna Ok will always think of Hawaii as home, but, says the 31-year-old, “I’m one of those people that doesn’t need to live at home. I always knew I was leaving … I always knew I was not meant to stay and live in Hawaii.” Born and raised in Kaneohe and Makakilo, Ok left the Islands after graduating from St. Andrew’s Priory. (She applied to UH as her “just in case school.”) After studying abroad in Argentina and a stint in the Peace Corps after graduating from Ohio’s Kenyon College, Ok discovered that a career in psychology wasn’t for her, after all.

“I realized I needed a career and I got a job at a restaurant and really liked it,” she says, although she never thought she’d be a cook. Despite her lack of culinary training, Ok’s talent took her to Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room; she later was part of Ed Kenney’s original Downtown crew, eventually becoming the restaurant’s chef de cuisine.

But she was restless. So, despite the booming organic, farm-to-table scene in which she had immersed herself, Ok left Hawaii in April 2010. “When you’re home you have security, you don’t open yourself up to see what’s out there and meet other people,” she says. “Especially in Hawaii, because it’s an island, we’re so isolated.”

Ok took her time finding a new backdrop for her fast-paced life. After paying off her student loans, her strict saving regime allowed her one-way tickets to San Francisco, Boston, New York City, Pennsylvania, even Panama City, all cities in which she thought she could see herself living. “I had two suitcases packed with everything I needed to settle down,” she says.

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Honolulu Magazine February 2018
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