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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 5 of 5)

Morning surf sessions? Vanessa Katz will take that any day over the cold winters she endured during her time in New York, even if it meant a shift in her career as an art director.

photo: mark arbeit

With a great job and a bustling social life in the city that never sleeps, why would she return to Hawaii? “I was freezing cold, I missed my family, I was just done,” she says. Katz says it hit her in November 2010, when the New York fall hovered around the low 40s (only to drop to between 25 to 30 degrees in the following months). “My sister called me and she put my niece—who, in my head was still a baby—on the phone and she said, ‘thank you for my gift, Auntie.’ I had a breakdown and thought, What am I doing here?

In April 2011, Katz left NYC and has never looked back. She says it came down to career versus personal. She realized she’d never have the same high-paying, high-profile job she’d had in New York, and yet, she missed her parents, her two older sisters and her niece and four nephews. And the weather. “I miss Saatchi & Saatchi and I miss the big brands, the big TV, print and radio production side, that’s where the sacrifice came in,” she says. “But I’m so happy to be home and be with my family. If I could have my job [that I had] there, here, things would be perfect.”

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010

Since returning home, Katz moved in with her grandma in Kaimuki. While she says there’s a stigma to living at home, she doesn’t completely mind. “I miss living by myself, but I don’t miss the New York rent,” she says. Katz is focusing more on Neon Republic, the freelance graphic design company she started. Katz works with clients such as Aloha United Way, Prudential Locations and M.A.D.D. Hawaii. She admits it’s been challenging to find clients and, because she does most of the work herself, she is usually limited to working with small to medium companies, often with smaller budgets. “I get to do what I love, but I don’t get to do it on a big scale,” she says. But, adds Katz, having a portfolio featuring nationally recognized companies helps. “New York gives you a lot of cred.”

Katz doesn’t equate her recent lifestyle changes with a diminished quality of life. “I have the seven years of cold ingrained in my memory,” she says. “I’ll go out to surf and tell my friends, ‘We’re in paradise!’ and everyone thinks I’m crazy because I say it all the time. I don’t take a minute of this amazing weather and my family for granted.” She even bought a Lonely Planet Oahu guide and says she wants to hit up all the surf spots, hikes and restaurants in the book.

And unlike in New York City, Honolulu is a place where Katz wants to someday get married and raise a family, giving her children the same upbringing she had, including the diverse culture, the laid-back lifestyle and weather that always allows you to wear short sleeves and slippers. “I’m done, I’m not going anywhere else,” she says. “I love to travel, but, as far as living, I want to stay here.”

Keeping the Lights on:

Electricity Costs

Source: u.s. bureau of labor statistics, december 2011

Traffic Jams

Average Number of Minutes It Takes to Get to Work

source: u.s. census bureau, 2010

Taxes Going Up: “Small increases have nickeled and dimed people,” says Lowell Kalapa, executive director of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. “There were [recently] increases in the motor vehicle registration, driver’s license fees, the increase in the rental car fee and the barrel tax went up $1.”


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