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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.


(page 4 of 5)

Gary Fontaine is looking forward to exploring new hiking trails and skin-diving spots when he relocates to the Philippines, where he and his wife  have a home. It doesn’t hurt that it’s much cheaper there, too.

photo: mark arbeit

“Boracay is an extremely nice, very international destination,” he says. “It’s a very vibrant community, probably one of the more international, vibrant communities on Earth.” For him, that means better hiking trails and skin-diving spots than he’s found here. “I hike and skin dive here, but it’s better in Boracay.”

At a Glance:


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2011

It doesn’t hurt that the currency exchange is in his favor, too—one U.S. dollar is nearly 43 Philippine pesos. In fact, that’s one reason his wife opened her restaurant there. “She found it financially too difficult to do here, and governmentally, in terms of all the requirements,” he says, adding that she was able to open Bridge of Paradise for around $10,000. “At some point she more or less decided she wasn’t going to make it happen here.” The Fontaines were able to save money for the startup costs needed for the eatery and, while opening a restaurant is always risky, he says so far things have been going well.

Fontaine’s daughter and two sons still live here, but he says he thinks they will probably head to the Mainland or abroad within the next couple of years as well. “Hawaii was a good place in many respects for them to grow up,” he says. “We have a multicultural family and this environment was better for them then some other places on the Mainland.” He adds it was also a smooth transition for Lorna, who grew up in the Philippines.

When Fontaine eventually stops working altogether, he says his UH pension will go further in the Philippines, and allow him to travel more easily throughout Asia. “I have a noncontributory plan, so I didn’t accrue as much money, but I didn’t have to pay in, so we used that money to build a house in the Philippines.” Fontaine adds that he knows a few people who retired there because it’s cheaper.

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When he leaves, Fontaine says he’ll miss his friends, but he adds that he has close friendships in the Philippines as well. “I’m happy I made the decision to come to Hawaii, and I’ll be happy when I leave.”

Happy to be Home

Moving to a new place is something to which Vanessa Katz can relate. Born and raised in Wahiawa, a Leilehua grad, the 29-year-old left for the Big Apple after graduating from Hawaii Pacific University and landing one of 70 spots in the national Multicultural Advertising Intern Program. After three months in the city, Katz was determined to find a job there. Flash forward a few years and she had become an art director at Saatchi & Saatchi, a prestigious, international ad agency.

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“It opened so many doors to have gone away to New York,” she says. “People look at my portfolio and you can’t get those brands in Hawaii to work on.” Katz took classes at the reputable School of Visual Arts and, after climbing her way up the corporate ladder, she was working on half-a-million-dollar ad campaigns for Olay, Iams and more.

In addition to a great job and bringing home $63,000 a year, Katz says the city was a great place to live; there were things going on everywhere she turned, even if it cost her (there’s a sales and use tax in the city of almost 9 percent). She met her best friends during her internship. Katz even managed to score a studio in the West Village for $1,350 a month—she says normally studios in the area start at around $1,700. She would know: During the seven years she spent in New York, she moved every year, to Tribeca, Chelsea, Midtown, Brooklyn and the lower east side. “I was completely happy,” says Katz.


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Honolulu Magazine May 2019
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