Afterthoughts: Homeward Bound

Scrimp a little, save a lot.


Katrina Valcourt

For this month’s story on living small, I stood in as the model living in a studio in ‘A‘ali‘i. For a few hours, I imagined what it would be like to actually live in such an adorable apartment, with so many great shops and restaurants only a short walk away. Hell yeah, I thought, looking around at some of my strategically placed personal belongings. I could definitely picture myself making a home there. So I looked up the price.


A studio costs half a million dollars.


I can’t afford a down payment on a home like that—not with my salary and lifestyle. I’ve already made all the sacrifices I’m comfortable making in order to save money, such as taking the bus instead of driving and choosing a gym whose membership is mostly covered by my health insurance. If I were to buy a home, I’d have to cut down on my other costs, such as luxurious weekend brunches at Piggy Smalls, First Fridays out with my friends, boxing classes, vacations to the Mainland and my pottery habit. I might even have to reduce my retirement contributions.


To me, it’s not worth it. I keep thinking I should have a list of things to accomplish by age 30 (thanks for incessantly reminding me, BuzzFeed), but buying a home isn’t one of them. I’m really lucky that I only pay a small portion of what my parents pay our landlord and I get to live in a house with people I actually get along with. There’s a stigma attached to being an adult who lives with their parents, but it’s pretty common in Hawai‘i. According to Business Insider, 33.7 percent of millennials here live at home; their average income is $39,000 a year, which is about $5,000 more than urban Honolulu’s living wage for a single adult, according to MIT’s living wage calculator.

  Homeward Bound


But living isn’t thriving—it’s getting by. I’ve lost track of how many friends moved away from the Islands to find higher wages and lower costs of living. When I look around the office and at my friends, almost everyone my age or younger lives with their parents, unless their parents don’t live here or they’re married. Of those who rent, many have second jobs or often turn down invitations to hit up Karaoke Hut because going out is just too expensive.


Only 21 percent of millennial homebuyers in the U.S. purchase a home on a single income—79 percent are couples, with 66 percent of them married, reported the National Association of Realtors in 2017. Plus, as of 2018, Hawai‘i has the lowest home affordability score in the nation.


I could rent somewhere else, but spending more money each month just to prove that I can cook myself dinner is pointless. Instead I put that money in a savings account to put toward my future home—somewhere that’s truly mine. I spent a few summers condo-sitting, and I loved the independence and how close it was to the office (a 10-minute walk instead of an hourlong bus ride), but a comparable apartment costs more than $2,000 a month to rent.


I’ve looked at lotteries for so-called affordable condos, but for some of them, you’re locked in as an owner-occupant for 10 years. So much can change in 10 years—even in the years it takes for the condo to finish being built before you can move in. And then what if the traffic noise is worse than you thought it’d be? What if you hate your neighbor? What if you
marry someone who also has a 10-year restriction? What if your parents get sick and need taking care of?


If you can’t tell, I tend to overthink things. And I can be very particular about what I want. So for now, I’m perfectly happy. Maybe in a few years, my priorities and circumstances will have changed. Until then, I’m going to keep writing this column from my parents’ brand-new sofa.


Read more about how five Island families live in small-kine spaces and some of their tips for making it work in the May issue of HONOLULU Magazine. Available on newsstands in May, or purchase the issue at Subscribe to the print and digital editions now.