Live Well for Less

Want to beat the high cost of living in the Islands? Move to Minneapolis. Barring that, you can read this story, which has ideas on how to stretch your dollar.

You won’t find any Tightwad Gazette-style advice here—we’re not going to make a lamp out of an empty soda can and a worn-out sock. Nor will we suggest you beat the high cost of living in the Islands by relocating to Minneapolis. But if you’re interested in stretching your entertainment dollars so that you can have a big night out on the town for less than $50, you’ve come to the right place. We also looked at which home renovations are worth investing in, and how to get more money for your home when you’re selling. We researched where to get an inexpensive massage, as well as how to save gas money driving to the appointment. In this story, you’ll also find the savviest ways to book a vacation, and best splurges and steals for fall fashion. Because living well for less is not about living cheaply, but rather about leading a luxurious life within your means.


The Real Price of Paradise

We all know that Hawaii is one of the PRICIEST places in the country. But you have a good job—so why do you still feel pinched for cash? Consider:

A study by Coldwell Banker compares homes in middle-management neighborhoods around the United States, looking at the cost of a 2,200-square-foot house with four bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms. Such a house in Honolulu would fetch $858,750, compared with $658,000 in Bellevue, Wash., $356,619 in Denver and $288,278 in Dallas.

Check out the cost-of-living calculator at or, where you’ll learn that you if you earn $70,000 annually, you could move to Portland, take a 30 percent pay cut and still maintain the same standard of living as you did in Honolulu. Or that if you relocated to Vegas, you’d pay 35 percent less for groceries.

Hawaii has the sixth highest state and county tax burden, according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation. Taxes consume 12.4 percent of our incomes. Nationwide, the average rate is 11 percent.

Hawaii has the highest average retail price of electricity in the country, with residents paying about 22 cents per kilowatt-hour, more than double the national average, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

You’re not imagining it—it’s getting even more expensive to live here. Real personal income in Hawaii grew by more than 6 percent last year, but that was barely enough to keep up with inflation. In 2006, the inflation rate in Honolulu jumped to 5.8 percent, more than double the national average, according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization. The largest increases? Housing and fuel.

>> Entertainment

Thirty-dollar entrees and $10 cocktails don’t shock us anymore. But there are still many great deals on food and entertainment in Honolulu, if you know where to look. Here are a few itineraries for inspiration. —Ronna Bolante


Big Night Out with Your Spouse

Dinner at Little Village, $30
This Chinatown darling’s popularity hasn’t affected its affordable menu prices. We recommend the spicy garlic shrimp ($14.95), dried string beans ($8.50) and, of course, two bowls of rice ($1.75 each). It’s also BYOB, meaning you can finally break out that nice bottle of Riesling you’ve been saving. There’s no corkage fee, only a $1.50 charge per glass used. 1113 Smith St., 545-3008.

photo by Cory Lum

The Dragon Upstairs

A Show at Hawaii Theatre, $50
Stroll two blocks over to Honolulu’s grandest performing arts venue, where a hula h-alau and the Honolulu Symphony are two of the attractions scheduled over the next two months. Discounts vary by production, so check with the box office; there’s almost always a special for people ages 62 and over. 1130 Bethel St., 528-0506.

Nightcap at The Dragon Upstairs, $16
Why rush home? There are no rowdy bar-hoppers at this intimate jazz lounge, which only charges a cover on Mondays. Savor your romantic evening with a top-shelf cocktail and the smooth sounds of some of the best musicians in town, including Ginai and Abe Lagrimas. 1038 Nuuanu Ave., 526-1411.


First Date

The Listening Party at the Hanohano Room, $10
Show your date you know what’s hip in Honolulu and save yourself a few bucks, too, thanks to the no-cover policy (and free valet parking) at this weekly Wednesday event. The two of you can sip $5 martinis and discover together what an “urban jazz-electronica dance band” sounds like when DeShannon Higa and his band take the stage. Sheraton Waikiki, 2255 Kalakaua Ave.

photo by Olivier Koning

Hanohano Room

Dinner at Mac 24-7, $40

With the large portions at this Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio restaurant, the two of you can split a salad, an entree and a dessert—and still leave with a doggie bag. Try the tomato-Maui onion salad with creamy Maytag blue cheese ($9), the lobster pot pie ($25) and classic carrot cake with cream cheese buttercream ($6). The venue itself—with its space-age interior (and what about those waiters, are they supposed to be scientists or Shaolin monks?)—will give you plenty to talk about. Free valet parking with validation. 2500 Kuhio Ave., 921-5506.

Explore the Waikiki Beach Walk, $0
The postprandial promenade gives you the perfect opportunity to walk off a few calories and wind down what’s hopefully the first, of many, wallet-friendly dates together.



Girls’ Day Out

Mani-Pedi at the Honolulu Nail Bar, $50
There’s always a good excuse to play hooky with your best gal pals—a bad breakup, a visit from an out-of-town friend or, our favorite, “It’s Thursday!” Stop in at the Honolulu Nail Bar, a clean, comfortable salon that caters to small groups. In addition to a professional manicure ($20) and pedicure ($30), the shop will also provide a complimentary glass of wine. Aloha Tower, 523-3456.

Lunch at Chai’s Island Bistro, $30
It’s a weekday, and that means this Hale Aina Award-winning restaurant is open for lunch, when entrees—such as fresh mahimahi with red curry sauce and grilled beef tenderloin—are priced about $10 less than the dinner menu. Save room for the decadent chocolate pyramid dessert ($8), rich enough for three or four people to enjoy. Aloha Tower, 585-0011.

photo by Olivier Koning

Movie at Restaurant Row, 50¢
Finally see that sappy Kate Hudson flick your husband refused to watch at the Restaurant Row Theatres, which charges moviegoers only $1 (50 cents for matinees) to watch second-run films. Restaurant Row, 545-8365.

Wine at the Honolulu Design Center, $25
From 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. every Thursday, it’s Ladies’ Night at The Honolulu Design Center’s Amuse wine bar. Purchase a $25 Amuse debit card for the automated, self-service wine bar, and get an extra $25 credit. 1250 Kapiolani Blvd., 956-1250.

Guys’ Day Out

Breakfast at Boots & Kimo’s Homestyle Kitchen, $11.50
Call up the boys early, and make sure they’re on time for breakfast at Boots & Kimo’s Homestyle Kitchen, a Kailua institution where customers don’t mind waiting a half-hour for tables. The omelets are good, but you know what you’re really there for—an order of fluffy pancakes submersed in its famous macadamia-nut sauce ($6.75 for two). Order a side of Portuguese sausage ($4.75). You’ll need the protein. 131 Hekili St., 263-7929.

photo by Alex Viarnes

Work (and Chill) Out at Kailua Beach, $0
What fancy equipment? All you and the guys need are a volleyball or Frisbee to get some serious cardio at Kailua Beach. Cool off with a quick afternoon swim.

Lunch at Zia’s Caffe, $10
Head over to Zia’s, with its enticing menu of sandwiches and pastas. Have some delicious bruschetta ($5.95) and the hearty penne pasta pesto bake ($9.95), with layers of penne pasta, four kinds of pesto and a creamy Alfredo sauce—you know, the kind of thing the wife would never let you eat. 201 Hamakua Drive, 262-7168.

A Beer at Tiare’s Sports Bar & Grill, $6.50
You’re just in time for happy hour at Tiare’s, which runs from 2 to 7 p.m. daily. Settle in for a leisurely game of darts or catch the tail-end of the game, while nursing a couple of ice-cold Heinekens ($3.25 each). Stick around long enough, and you may see live music from Kapena or another one of the bar’s regular acts. 120 Hekili St., 230-8911.

Cheap Booze

Free Wine Tastings
You’re bound to find something you love, so wine tastings are rarely truly “free.” Still, it won’t cost you a penny to sample some offerings and pick up a few ideas.

– HASR Wine Co. (31 N. Pauahi St., 535-9463): 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday and Friday.
– The People’s Wine Shop (1136 S. King St., 593-7887): 5 to 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday.
– Simply Grape (Davies Pacific Center, 841 Bishop St., 447-9000): 4 to 7 p.m., Wednesday and First Friday.
– SWAM (Shiroma’s Wine and More) (Waimalu Plaza, 98-1277 Kaahumanu, 487-7926) 5 to 8 p.m., Thursday.
– Wine Stop (1809 South King St., Honolulu, 946-3707): 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday.

Happy Hours
A listing of some of Honolulu’s best pau hana spots.

– Bar 35 (35 N. Hotel St., 537-3535): 4 to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, all 12-ounce bottles of beer are $3.50.
– Indigo Eurasian Cuisine and Restaurant (1121 Nuuanu Ave., 521-2900): 4 to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, $3.50 martinis.
– Kincaid’s (Ward Warehouse, 591-2005): 4 to 7 p.m. daily, half-price pupu and $2.99 beer, wine and mojitos.
– Ocean Club (Restaurant Row, 531-8444): 4:30 to 8 p.m., daily except Saturday, half-priced pupu. Drinks specials vary.
– Panya Bistro: 4 to 6 p.m., daily fresh-juice martini and cocktail specials and discounted pupu.


>> Travel

Living in one of the world’s most popular destinations, Hawaii residents have a tougher time than most planning budget-friendly trips. Here are some money-saving tips to help you on your way. —Ronna Bolante


1. Timing is everything.

Travel when most people won’t. Go between mid-January through May and late August to mid-December, avoiding holidays and school breaks, advises Corene Tsang of Panda Travel. “Spring and fall have excellent bargains as well as good weather.”

Book your trip one to two months in advance. “The rule of thumb is if you’re booking for the [high season], the longer you book ahead, the better,” says Paul Kramer, co-owner of Hawaiian Travel Club. It’s a bit of a gamble, but if it’s for the off season, you could wait for last-minute deals from airlines and hotels.

Save money by flying on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. The same goes for hotels, especially in leisure cities like Anaheim, Orlando, Reno and Las Vegas, where weekend room rates are sometimes double the weekday rates.


2.  Do your research.

There’s no shortage of Web sites that can help you with your search for airfare and hotels, including some of our favorites: One of the Web’s most successful travel providers. A travel search engine that scours more than 100 sites for the best airfares. Visitors set their own prices for hotels and travel packages, and companies bid for business. Compares rental car prices in most major cities.

When you think you’ve found the best online deal, call your favorite local travel agency to see if it can offer competitive fares. If you don’t have the time (or interest) to do the legwork yourself, a travel agent will do it for you and avoid common booking errors, like flying into the wrong airport.

Call hotels directly for deals that aren’t advertised or available online.

Stay alert. Subscribe to e-newsletters from travel sites, airlines and hotels for last-minute specials, which need to be booked ASAP.



3.  Get what you deserve.

Ask for discounts (AAA, military, etc.), especially kamaaina rates on the Neighbor Islands or even here on Oahu. “It’s not just hotels that offer them; ask for kamaaina rates for area attractions,” says Mike Brown of Panda Travel. Inquire about other specials—free breakfasts, meal credits, room upgrades or spa and golf packages.

Act like a tourist. Grab the visitor coupon books available at airports and hotels, which can save you money on food, shopping and activities.

Open a frequent flyer account with every airline you fly. Many airlines have mile-swapping arrangements, such as Continental and Hawaiian, and United and Aloha airlines.

QUICK TIP: Get away right here on Oahu. A luxurious suite in Waikiki, a cozy bed-and-breakfast on the Windward Side or a North Shore retreat can provide a much-needed change of scenery, without the hassle of airports or rental cars.




>> Life’s Necessities

Some things, you just can’t live without. Here’s how to be as money-savvy about them as possible. —Kathryn Drury Wagner


“The best single way to save money is switch to solar water heating,” says Peter Rosegg, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Electric Co. “With rebates, state and federal tax credits, a typical $5,250 solar system costs only $1,500. A solar roof saves $10 per person per month on electricity.” Haven’t switched to solar? Don’t dilly-dally in the shower; even taking two minutes off the length of your shower can save you $215 per year in energy costs.

Properly maintained central air conditioning can save up you up to 20 percent a year on cooling costs. Also, try using a fan instead of air conditioning. According to HECO estimates, running two fans, rather than an 8,000 BTUH room air conditioner, will save more than $161 per year.

Another easy money saver: Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. They’re more expensive to buy, but they last four to five times longer, and, according to Rosegg, the cost savings are $15 a year—per bulb.


The average Honoluluan pays about $210 to park a car each month, according to the 2007 Parking Rate Survey by Colliers International. At least we’re not in midtown Manhattan, where fees can run to $925. To save on parking, think through your routine: Can you walk a bit farther to a cheaper garage? Carpool with a friend?

And then there’s the cost of fuel. Hawaii gas prices have historically been among the highest in the United States, and are currently more than $3 a gallon. But here are some cost-saving tips, provided by AAA Hawaii office:

If you have more than one vehicle in your driveway, take the most fuel-efficient one whenever possible. Once you’re out, consolidate errands so you drive less.

If you’re buying a new truck, van or SUV, pay attention to the different model sizes and configurations that the model comes in. Vehicles with a slightly shorter truck bed or smaller cargo area are lighter and tend to need less fuel.

Save on the air-conditioning load on the engine by choosing a light window tint to keep the car cooler, or switch to the “recirculation” setting on the air conditioner.


Life has to have some pleasures. Kailua’s Hawaii Healing Arts College has a nicely appointed offshoot, Massage Professionals, where intern therapists give one-hour treatments for $30. “Our facilities have really nice, individual treatment rooms,” says clinic manager Jaydie Asuncion. All massages are an hour long—there’s no option for a half-hour session, or double booking for a two-hour version. Asuncion suggests booking your massage about two weeks in advance. It’s cash or check only, and by appointment only; call 266-2468. Another bonus: when you pay for 10 massages, you get one free.

Daily Bread

Five bucks here, $8 there—it’s easy to ignore the drain that small, regular expenses have on your wallet. Do the math, though, and you may be inspired to make a few small changes.


$ A daily tall drip coffee ($1.65) at Starbucks on Bishop Street, five days a week, 52 weeks a year = $429.
smart swap Brew at home. One pound per month of Maui Coffee Co. Kona coffee, at $10.99 each for a half-pound package = $264.


$ A basic pedicure ($20, plus tip, about $25) at Smiley Nails in Kaimuki, every two weeks = $650.
smart swap Do your own toes—Nail Kit ($51) and Bliss Foot Patrol cream ($26), from Sephora, plus three L’Oreal nail polishes ($15), emery board ($2.99 at Longs Drugs) = $95.


$ Buying lunch, such as a furikake mahi half-plate with vegetables and rice ($7.29) and a soda ($1.49) at Dreamers CafŽ on Fort Street Mall, five days a week, all year = $2,283.
smart swap Bring a sandwich, spending $25 a week on groceries = $1,300.


>> Home
Your home is likely to be your biggest asset, but maximizing that asset means different things to different people. For some homeowners, it’s increasing the enjoyment of the house while still living in it—adding a home office, remodeling the kitchen or creating an outdoor area for entertaining friends and family. For others, it means preparing to sell the home for the maximum return on investment. Here are ways to squeeze the most rewards—both financial and lifestyle—out of your house. By Aimee Harris

Staging Your Home to Sell

“The goal of staging is to get your home into shape so that home buyers can visualize themselves moving into your place,” says Bonnie Coen, a realtor and associate partner with Prudential Locations. “The first phase is a must. The second phase is a nice-to-have.”


Clean: Pull out your spring-cleaning to-do list and actually do it. Wash the windows and screens, dust overhead fans, trim the hedges, etc. Or, hire a cleaning crew, first to do a thorough spring cleaning, then to help you keep it up. There is probably no better investment.

Declutter: Take out as much as you can from each room. Start packing—you’re going to be moving anyway. Neatly stack boxes in one corner of the garage, or put belongings into a storage unit.

Fix It: Tighten loose door handles, fix the running toilet, replace burned-out light bulbs.

photo by istock


Replace: Buy some nice, new bathroom linen and kitchen towels. Lay down some plush bathroom rugs. Update drapery. Set out fresh toiletries and new candles.

Refinish: Paint the home’s interior and exterior with neutral colors. “Paint gives the biggest bang for freshness,” says Coen. Next would be to refinish the flooring or install new wood, carpet and tile.

Remodel: The most popular rooms to remodel are kitchens and baths, as they give home buyers the feeling that they can have a fresh start in their new house. If you remodel the kitchen, don’t neglect the bathrooms. The inequality between the rooms will remind potential buyers of the home’s age and use.

* Bonus Staging Tricks

Put a mirror in the entryway so the first thing the buyers see is themselves in the home.
• Hide the piles of paper, the to-do lists and unfinished projects. Don’t remind the buyer of stressful tasks and the routine of everyday life.
• First impressions are important. Provide an inviting entrance and street appeal, including landscaping, porch lighting and tidy doorsteps. Set out trash cans as late as possible and bring them in immediately.
• Keeping the right balance of personal effects can be tricky. While too many portraits, trophies and heirlooms can keep buyers from seeing the home as their own, it’s important to personalize rooms with art, accessories and plants.
• Don’t forget to make the beds properly, so the sheets aren’t showing and the bedrooms look fantastic.

Sell High, Buy Low

“The Oahu housing market achieved new records in June, with the median price paid for a single-family home at $685,000, and condominium prices at $334,000,” according to Berton Hamamoto, president of the Honolulu Board of Realtors. As Oahu’s residential market continues to push the price envelope, it sets sellers and buyers in strong opposition: Sellers want to take advantage of the market’s demand and sell high, but, as home prices continue to exceed affordability (house payment as percent of income), home buyers are doing all they can to find low prices.

Sell High

Get your home into tip-top condition so buyers won’t have any serious aesthetic or physical objections. Plus, if the realtor sees a pulled together home, he/she will list it for more money and work harder for you.

Find out who is buying in your area. For example, to attract young professionals, make one of the bedrooms into a home office.

Watch out for the nonstop negotiator, who insists on coming back to the home, usually with a pretense of measuring the rooms for furniture or carpets. They are looking for real or imagined defects in the property so that they can renegotiate the price.

Lead with your strength. If the house has a great location, talk about location. If the location is lousy, talk about the home’s spaciousness, upgrades or other qualities.

Buy Low

Do not purchase a house until it has been examined by a home inspector that you’ve selected. You can use the inspection report and appraisal information as a bargaining chip, asking the seller to either repair problems or reduce the price of the house.

Research historical sales prices. The data provides a baseline of selling prices rather than asking prices.

Avoid an auction situation. As at a formal auction, bidders often get carried away by “auction fever” and end up paying too much.

Look for weaknesses. Buzz words and phrases—owner desperate, all offers considered, priced to sell pre-foreclosure sale, loan being called—indicate that the seller is eager.



Remodeling: Smart Add-Ons

Bathrooms: Ideally, there will be at least two bathrooms in a house, preferably two and a half. According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association, enlarged bathrooms are the most popular attraction for new home buyers. Other additions, such as sunken whirlpool baths and showers, are popular with younger buyers. But be sure to install modest, solid amenities. It’s easy to over-spend on bathroom fixtures.

Bedrooms: Real estate agents say that most buyers ask for three- and four-bedroom houses, so staying within that range you will have more potential buyers when it comes time to resell.

Closets: Walk-ins, especially those with built-in wardrobe shelving, are desirable for the master bedroom. For the rest of the house, just be sure there is plenty of closet space, including room for linens and towels.

Floors and walls: Replacing worn carpet, tiles or wood floors, as well as outdated paint on the walls, can give your home an immediate advantage over similar properties in the area.

Kitchens: Newly redone cooking spaces and cabinets attract more buyers and may command a slightly higher price for the home. Sellers used to always get back what they invested in a full kitchen remodel, but with today’s midrange kitchen remodel easily costing more than $50,000, the chances of recouping all the money are slim.

Windows: New windows show that the house has been upgraded and suggest energy efficiency, along with lower energy bills.


DON’T Don’t go overboard: Just concentrate on improving two or three deficiencies in your home.

DO Protect your home’s character: Nothing sticks out more than a new addition that is in a completely different architectural style. Stay true to your home’s character.

DO Keep it simple: Basic repairs that are made to last will bring you the biggest returns upon sale. In some cases, owners are more likely to get back what they put in by simply sprucing up rooms with a new coat of paint.

DON’T Don’t take a dive: Swimming pools can be a poor investment; it’s rare that a pool’s cost will be recovered in a home sale. It can also be a negative feature for buyers with young children.

DO Switch perspectives: Look at your home as though you were the buyer. Chances are that if you find the upstairs bedroom could be brightened by a larger window, others will feel the same.

DO Hire a licensed contractor: Licensed contractors are evaluated by the state of Hawaii Contractor’s License Board, which ensures that they have the necessary training, experience and qualifications to do the job right. Plus, they are able to obtain and sign correct building permits.

DON’T Don’t get building permits: Do not obtain an owner-builder permit if you are planning to sell soon. Structures cannot be sold or leased until at least one year after completing your improvements and a valid notice of completion has been filed.

>>  Love the One You’re With

You love the home or neighborhood you’re in, but need more space. Here’s how to maximize what you’ve got. By Aimee Harris

Build Up

Julie Meier expanded her living space by investing in “the mack daddy of all grills” to create an outdoor kitchen/entertainment area.

If your home is a single-story one, could you add another story? According to Hanley Wood’s Cost vs. Value Report, it’s among the best returns on remodeling investments in Hawaii. A second story is estimated to cost $122,085, but the value added to your home— $123,969—more than recoups the cost. Other best investments include adding a lanai ($16,297 cost estimated, and the value of the home goes up $14,846), and remodeling your bathroom ($14,889, and the value goes up $15,631).

Consider swapping yard space for another “room,” by adding an outdoor kitchen and entertaining area.

For example, homeowner Julie Meier decided to invest in the “mack daddy of all grills”: a Viking 41-inch Ultra-Premium Grill. She and her husband also replaced their careworn lawn with a modest, lagoon-like pool, with waterfall and tropical landscaping. The home’s large sliding doors create an indoor-outdoor transition to the backyard.

“We are outdoors more now than we have ever been before,” Meier says. “We look forward to coming home. At least twice a week we’re outside cooking.” Meier notes that the cost of extending her living space to the outdoors was far less than the value it added to the home, both financially and in terms of the couple’s enjoyment of their home.


Build In

You can live well for less, by having built-ins installed. Built-in furniture has recently seen a resurgence in Hawaii’s building and remodeling industry, because they: 1) maximize space and function 2) add a rich, classic look, and 3) custom fit storage into odd spaces, such as alcoves, unusual corners and recessed walls.

While a well-crafted built-in will make your house more enjoyable to live in, it can also increase your home’s value. “Built-in bookshelves, closets and pantries are all perks,” says Cedric Choi, realtor associate and managing director of Choi International. “It makes the property more attractive.” Experts say that potential buyers view built-ins, such as entertainment centers, art niches and wall units, as “free furniture.” But they have to be done right, Choi warns. “If you’re wrong on that yellow-and-paisley plastic kitchen chair, people can take it out,” he says. “But, if you install a schlocky built-in, it’s only going to hurt you.”

Rick Cowan, president of design firm Archipelago Refined Island Interiors, agrees that built-ins should be well thought out. “Since a built-in is a permanent part of the home’s structure,” he says, “it should blend into the home’s architecture and add to its character.”

Every custom touch brings you one step closer to your ideal living space. The downfall? You can’t pack it up and take it with you when it’s time to move on.

QUICK TIP: to prevent sagging shelves or separating drawers, make certain the installer uses substantial materials and does quality work.

(left) photo: Augie Salbosa/courtesy of Archipelago (center) Even a small place can be turned into a chic office area. photo: Augie Salbosa/courtesy of Archipelago (right) Expand your culinary repertoire–and your cabinets.


Home Improvement: DIY vs. Professional Help

When is it cheaper to do a home-improvement project yourself? When is it smarter to hire a professional? Frank Suster of City Mill offers the following rule of thumb: If you’re replacing or repairing a preexisting part, consider it a DIY project. If you’re installing something new, think about professional help.

“Homeowners can attempt a replacement project like a light switch, because many times installing a new one is just a matter of reversing the steps you took to remove it. It’s pretty simple.” On the other hand, he says, to install a switch where one doesn’t exist, the average homeowner should call a professional electrician.

Ask yourself the following five questions:

  1. Do you have the time and patience for a DIY project? “For example, painting can certainly be a DIY project, but the painting is the easy part,” Suster explains. “The hard part is cleaning, spackling and taping off the walls and windows. It’s not instant gratification.”
  2. Have you read up on it? Get online, buy a book or pick up a “Do It Yourself” pamphlet at any home center.
  3. Do you have the time to learn as you go? “When people go to the store, they want to buy everything they need to complete the project. But it’s almost impossible,” Suster says. “You’re going to forget something or end up needing something you didn’t expect.” Expect a trip or two back to the store.
  4. Do you have the tools you need to do the job right? If not, is the cost of new tools cheaper than hiring an expert? Are the tools ever going to be used again, or are they just for a one-time fix?
  5. Can you bring the broken item with you to the store? Suster explains, “Toilet seats are the No. 1 returned item at City Mill. And homeowners only really have two choices—round or elongated. It’s a 50/50 proposition, and they’re wrong half the time.”


>> Home-Maintenance Checklist:

Regardless of the age of your house, it needs a biannual check-up. Here’s a top-to-bottom checklist to keep your home in shape year round. —Aimee Harris

Air conditioner: Air-conditioning systems must be kept clean in order to cool a home efficiently. Grass, leaves, fuzz and dust can accumulate on the air conditioner’s coils, causing it to work harder and wear out sooner.

Bug check: Inspect exposed wood for signs of termites and rot.

Filters: Clean or replace filters once a month, or as needed. Check and clean dryer vent, air conditioner, stove hood and room fans. Keep cooling vents clean and free from furniture and draperies.

Garden: Cut back trees or branches touching the sides of the roof or house.

Gutters: Clean gutters and drain pipes so leaves don’t clog them. Make sure they drain away from the house.

Hot-water heater: Drain hot-water heater. Remove sediment from the bottom of the tank.

Refrigerator: Make sure the seals on the refrigerator and freezer are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a dollar bill. If you can pull the bill out easily, the latch may need to be adjusted or the seal may need to be replaced. In addition, if you have a coil-back refrigerator, vacuum the coils to make it run more efficiently.

Roof: Check roof, vents, skylights and chimneys for leaks. Repair as necessary.

Safety equipment: Ensure that all smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers are in good working order. Replace batteries as needed, or at least twice each year. The Honolulu Fire Department says that one out of every three smoke detectors in Hawaii does not work because the batteries are dead.

Siding and paint: Look for cracks and holes in house siding or paint. Replace caulk if necessary.

Water sources: Once a year, turn off every water source in the home, and then check your water meter outside. If you see the arrow moving, that means you have a leak. It may be a broken pipe underground or your toilet flapper may be dripping water. Turn the water back on and check for leaky faucets in the kitchen and bathroom(s). Replace washers as necessary.

Windows and doors: Seal drafty doors and windows. If you added up all of the small cracks where cooling escapes from a home, it would be the same as having a window open. Replace seals as needed. Take off the screens (if removable) and spray them down with a hose. Check and patch them, if necessary. Dust louvered blinds.

Cleaning your stove? Don’t wrap stovetop drip pans in foil. Instead, run them through the dishwasher to clean them, or replace them.


>> Fashion for All

Sometimes living well means splurging on an amazing handbag, which you’ll use for years. Other times, an economic take on style will suit you just fine. Either way, feast your fashion-loving eyes on fall’s hottest items. —Lori Anne Tomonari, photography by David Croxford

Tiffany Novo, (price upon request), Tiffany & Co.
photo: courtesy of Tiffany & Co.
Crystal ring, Juicy Couture
Suzanna pump, Jimmy Choo
Rio by Dolce Vita, Bamboo Sky
Gloss Unlimited by Shu Uemura, Neiman Marcus
Neutrogena Lip Soother, $7.29, Longs Drugs. Wet n Wild Mega Slicks, $1.99, Longs Drugs
Aimee dress, Fighting Eel
Turtleneck empire dress, Old Navy.
Reva ballet flat by Tory Burch, Neiman Marcus
Steph ballet flat, Nine West.
Muse bag, Yves Saint Laurent.
Somerset large satchel, Banana Republic.
Pressed eye shadow in Ebi by Shu Uemura, available at Neiman Marcus.
Maybelline eye shadow quad, Longs Drugs.

QUICK TIP: Shopping for cosmetics? Invest in excellent facial care, boar bristle hairbrushes and quality fragrances. You can go lower budget, though, on lip pencils, body lotions and razors.

For Men

Two classics—jeans and a good watch—at a price point for every wallet.

Tambour chronometer, Louis Vuitton
Automatic chronograph, Fossil
Meg by Taverniti So Jeans, Remix
Low-rise slim boot, American Eagle Outfitters


>> Shopping

Love fashion, but not the resulting credit card bills? Here’s how to get the best deals, without sacrificing style. —Kathryn Drury Wagner


Sample Sales

Look for a big fall sample sale on Sept. 29 and 30 at Fashionista’s Market. This quarterly sale has young women—and their moms—lining up to have a go at the racks in a ballroom at the Japanese Cultural Center. The sale is two days, but if you’re a smaller size, go on the first day, as those sizes sell out first.

photo courtesy of Fashionista’s Market

Two regular customers, Kristin and Kalei, scour Fashionista’s Market for deals. 

“We specialize in premium denim,” says Emi Hart, who founded the business two years ago with her equally stylish sister, Alyssa Fung. Jeans are at least half what they’d be in a store, and most prices overall are at about the wholesale level. In addition to the jeans, you’ll find hip, Los Angeles-style dresses, and designers such as Marc Jacobs and Diane Von Furstenberg.

“If you like something, grab it, because it won’t be there when you go back,” says Hart. We took her advice and shimmied away with a velvet Betsey Johnson (original tags said $250) for $79.

Notes: no large bags are allowed inside the sale, and the dressing room is communal. Cash, credit and debit cards, no checks. If you spend $250 at a sale, you get to be on a list that lets you in an hour early (at 9 a.m.) at the next sale. Admission is $3 for members, $7 for nonmembers. To sign up, go to 2454 S. Beretania St.

photo courtesy of The O Lounge

The O Lounge, a nightclub on Kapiolani Boulevard, also hosts sales for women’s and kids’ clothing. Local retailers and designers bring in their wares, offering prices that are up to 90 percent off what they’d be in a store. Owner Elizabeth Hata Watanabe combines the sales with community awareness—she designates a local charity, such as Dress for Success, to benefit from profits from the entrance fee, which is usually $5 to $10. Sometimes, entrance is free if you make a contribution to the charity. During kids’ clothing events, you can score items for children up to age 17; perks include kids’ meals, play areas and no alcohol served on the premises. During the women’s events, though, you can hit the bar, or check out a wine tasting. The next Women’s Closet event is slated for September or early October; e-mail for details at 1349 Kapiolani Blvd., 392-8099.


Get Carded

Sure, they add heft to your wallet, but if it’s a place you go regularly, it’s definitely worth getting the loyalty card. The hard part is remembering to use it when you’re at the cash register. These cards, usually free, are available at large chains (Regal Club at Dole Cannery’s movie theaters, for example, allows you to earn points for free popcorn and movie tickets), as well as smaller, local stores. For example, you can rack up enough stamps at Best Sellers book store, and get a 10-percent discount; once you’ve bought $500 worth of stuff at Crazy/Beautiful at Restaurant Row, you’ll receive 20 percent off; even Macky’s shrimp truck offers a buy-10/get-one-free card.

Don’t forget to check for added benefits, too. For example, buying a CreditBack card at Young Laundry ($15), which gives you 25 percent off on all your dry-cleaning (details at The same card will also get you 10- to 20-percent off regular and/or on-sale merchandise at fun spots like Adasa (2023 Young St.), Global Village (539 Kailua Road, in Kailua) and Off the Mat (1127 12th Ave.). Another of our favorites: The Sephora Beauty Insider card, which is free and allows you to choose an ample-size product sample every time you spend $100. The goodies are perfect for traveling.

Some “cards” come in other forms. For example, Ala Moana Center’s retail services director Kristin Kilburn recommends joining the eVIP Club (sign up at, because you’ll be e-mailed special offers from stores and restaurants. Or, if you see a movie at Ward 16 Centers, save your ticket stub, because for a week afterwards, you can get discounts—like 10 percent off purchases at Executive Chef—at Ward stores. (See for a full list.)


Consignment Stores

Don’t forget about consignment shops, which offer a way to either clean out your closet or stock up on some serious deals. Consignment stores usually run about one-third—or less—of the prices you’ll pay at a retail store. Score!

A few good Honolulu stores to try are Catherine’s Closet, which carries feminine, retro styles (2733 E. M-anoa Road, 386-2746); The Closet Chick, which is geared more to work clothing (2013 S. King St, 942-2442) and The Ultimate You, which specializes in designer brands, such as Chanel, Dior and Prada (449 Kapahulu Ave., 734-7724).

For dealing with consignment stores, here are a few tips:

• Consider signing up for the store’s mailing list, which will alert you to upcoming clearance sales.
• Be sure to try clothing on. A former owner might have had an item of clothing tailored, so you can’t always go by the label.
• Don’t forget to check out the display windows; the items on the mannequins are usually for sale, too, but are often overlooked by other shoppers.
• If you’re selling clothing, you can expect to make 30 to 50 percent of the price the shop puts on it. For example, if a dress goes for $20 in the shop, you might make up to $10.


Shopping Locations:

American Eagle Outfitters, Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., 947-2008.
Bamboo Sky, 401 Kamakee St., Suite 104, 591-8003.
Banana Republic, log onto for locations.
Fossil, Ala Moana Center, 947-4440.
Jimmy Choo, Ala Moana Center, 946-5660.
Juicy Couture, Ala Moana Center, 942-7700.
Longs Drugs, log onto for locations.
Louis Vuitton, log onto for locations.
Neiman Marcus, Ala Moana Center, 951-8887.
Nine West, log onto for locations.
Old Navy, log onto for locations.
Remix, Aloha Tower Marketplace, One Aloha Tower Drive, #179, 524-3119.
Tiffany & Co., log onto for locations.
The Butik, 1067 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite A-3, 593-4484.
Yves Saint Laurent, 2114 Kalakaua Ave., 924-6900.

Price Adjustments

It’s happened to all of us: You buy something, only to be dismayed to see it on the sale rack at 50-percent off a week later. Don’t assume you’re out of luck. Stores often will refund the difference, but many shoppers are too shy to ask. For example, Banana Republic will give you one-time price adjustment, if you bring the item back with a receipt within two weeks of your purchase. Best Buy will refund you the difference if you spot something at a competitor for a lower price, plus an additional 10 percent of the difference, within a month of your purchase. It certainly pays to ask.

QUICK TIP: Best month to shop for clothes in Hawaii? July, when you’ll find deep discounts on warm-weather clothing.

>> Free Fun

Here are 14 highly enjoyable ways to spend a day (or night) without spending a cent.


The Contemporary Museum’s main location offers free admission every third Thursday of the month, 2411 Makiki Heights Drive, 526-1322.

Hawaii State Art Museum is always free to the public. Every second Saturday of the month, the museum offers free tours and activities that allow visitors to create their own artwork with the help of local artists. 250 S. Hotel St., 586-0304,

Admission to the Honolulu Academy of Arts is free every first Wednesday and third Sunday of the month. On “Bank of Hawaii Sunday,” the Academy opens two hours early, at 11 a.m., and offers family-friendly entertainment and activities. 532-8700,

At Iolani Palace, residents can enjoy the galleries and a docent-guided tour for free on Kamaaina Sundays, usually the first Sunday of each month. Corner of King and Richard streets, 522-0822,

Experience plantation life at Hawaii’s Plantation Village. In honor of the Waipahu institution’s 15th anniversary, the organization will waive its admission on Sept. 1, Keiki Day, which will feature entertainment by Frank De Lima and games for children. 94-695 Waipahu St., 677-0110,



Attend a free taping of Hawaii Public Radio’s Aloha Shorts, a program where local authors read their works in front of a studio audience. For dates and times, visit or call 955-8821.

Residents still flock to the city’s monthly Sunset on the Beach events in Waikiki, where they can view family-friendly flicks on a 30-foot screen. Get there early to catch the pre-show live entertainment. For dates and times, call 923-1094 or visit

On the last Saturday of each month, the Waikiki Beach Walk features some of Hawaii’s greatest musicians—Jerry Santos, Hapa and Eddie Kamae—as part of its Na Mele No Na Pua concert series, which takes place at the Embassy Suites’ Grand Lanai. Check out the hotel’s 50-foot timeline of Hawaiian musical milestones, also free to the public.

Follow lunch at Kincaid’s or the Spaghetti Factory by taking in a free Na Mele Nei concert, which takes place every Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Ward Warehouse stage. Sponsored by Na Mea Hawaii, the series has featured such entertainers as Kamau and the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame Serenaders. Ward Warehouse, 596-8885,


Owned and operated by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, the 3-acre Halawa Xeriscape Garden features more than 200 varieties of xeric (dry) plants, which use less water than popular plants. You can also pick up free Native Hawaiian plant seeds. Call 527-6113 to schedule a free tour. 99-1268 Iwaena St., Halawa Industrial Park,

There are dozens of spectacular hiking trails on Oahu alone, and nearly all of them are free. For an easy hike, try the Manoa Falls or Makapuu Lighthouse trails. Visit for more information.

At Oahu’s five botanical gardens, you’ll find plants, trees and shrubs of all kinds from all around the world. Wahiaw-a (1396 California Ave., 621-7321), Liliuokalani (North Kuakini Street, 522-7060), Koko Crater (Koko Head Crater, 522-7060) and Hoomaluhia (45-680 Luluku Road, Kaneohe, 233-7323) botanical gardens are free. Foster Botanical Garden (50 N. Vineyard Blvd., 522-7066) charges $3 for kamaaina.

At Ice Palace, the price of admission, including skate rentals, is $8, but if you’re only there to chaperone the kids and don’t plan to hit the ice yourself, there’s no charge at all. 4510 Salt Lake Blvd., 487-9921,

The Children’s Discovery Center in Kakaako (111 Ohe St., 524-5437, isn’t free ($8 for adults, $5 for seniors and $6.75 for children), but for not a penny more, you can make sure the kids are extra tired at the end of the day by bringing some cardboard for sliding down the hills of Kakaako Waterfront Park.