The primary way we save money (and our sanity) during vacation is having our own food to make and not relying on restaurant food all day, everyday. Having a kitchen in the rental house was a big selling point for the trip since it would allow us to store and prepare our meals.
When we finally landed in Lihue, we were exhausted and looking forward to reaching our final destination. We met our party at a sports bar overlooking the ocean, hoping to get a cheap bite before heading to the house. The bite was neither tasty nor cheap, costing us over $40 for incredibly bland pub food. The view was great, but we left ready to stock up on real food for the rest of the week.
After a detour to the rental car agency to exchange our vehicle, we were led astray by Google maps, who routed us in circles trying to find the Safeway. We settled for the Big Save Markets and were immediately slapped in the face with the reality of island pricing.
Here’s a little rundown of the first few items we saw:
- Red Bell Peppers – $6.99 per pound.
- Orange Juice – $10 per jug.
- Dozen Eggs (white, non-organic, not cage-free) – $6.
It was like getting sucker punched, only worsened by the fact that we were still nauseas over the exorbitant price we paid for subpar restaurant food. We spent over $30 on six staples (eggs, bacon, coffee, cream, pineapple and butter), and then bought another $30 in wine and beer because at this point, we both really needed a drink. We found our way to the rental house and vowed not to make any more purchasing decisions until after a good night’s rest.
We found the elusive Safeway the next day and tooled around the aisles in search of more palatable prices. Overall, Safeway seemed to have better prices than Big Save, albeit not by much. We decided to load up on essentials for the week so we could avoid the experience of shopping for groceries as much as possible. I left my husband in the meat department to find healthy produce that wouldn’t cost us our flight home. Here’s what I found:
- Tomatoes – $4.99 per pound.
- Avocados – $1.99 each.
- Green Bell Peppers – $2.99 per pound.
I thought BLTs would make for a simple dinner, until I found the price of bacon was $9.99, and that was for the cheap stuff. At this point, I glanced back at my husband who was standing in the same place I left him, staring at two packages of meat in disbelief. He seriously looked catatonic, and it occurred to me he might need medical attention before this shopping trip was through. Every fiber of his being seemed to fight these prices, to the point where it left him powerless to make a purchasing decision.
By this time, the store was getting busy and we both have trouble focusing in crowds. We made quick decisions on our purchases and tried unsuccessfully to do self-checkout. After much frustration, we packed up our goods and headed to the regular checkout, leaving a queue of annoyed shoppers in our wake.
By the time we left the store, we were both ready to go home. Like, back to the mainland, where prices for basic tomatoes didn’t rival that of heirloom varieties that receive their nutrients exclusively from unicorn tears.
Despite these initial setbacks, we did finally find our groove when it came to buying food. I’ve created the following five-step plan to help you avoid the shock and dismay we experienced.
Step 1: Acceptance.
We struggled with this throughout our trip, but ultimately there’s nothing you can do about island pricing. The cost to ship fresh goods across the Pacific gets transferred to the consumer, and you just have to determine which high-priced items fit best in your budget.
Step 2: Co-hosting.
Each couple cooked for the entire party one night, essentially providing everyone with three free meals. My husband grilled tri-tip steak (the poor man’s ribeye) and russet potatoes, and I made a cucumber-tomato salad. In turn, we enjoyed sushi, grilled steak with kimchee and seaweed salad, and pizza on the beach from our party.
Step 3: Brown bagging.
With restaurants charging $15 to $20 for lunch entrees, we decided PB&Js would be perfect hiking and touring food. The initial cost of ingredients was hard to swallow ($15!), but we ate every last slice of bread and put significant dents in the preserves and peanut butter. Coupled with water and orange Gatorade, these on-the-go meals were 100 times more satisfying than our first lunch on the island.
Step 4: Loyalty.
We became loyal customers of Bubba’s Burgers, a fast-casual burger joint that sold delicious Kalua pork sandwiches. At $7 a pop, they weren’t exactly cheap but they were filling and highly satisfying. We dined here three or four times during our stay.
Step 5: Sharing.
Share restaurant food as much as possible! At Bubba’s, we shared fries and a drink, and filled up our second sip for just $0.50 (compared to $2 for an additional beverage). We split an appetizer at the Mediterranean restaurant on Hanalei. We also shared the three-taco special from a food truck in Kilauea. In each instance, we both left satisfied and confident we paid as little as possible to get that way.
All in all, we spent about $350 on groceries for the week (not including booze), and around $250 on dining out (including booze). We figure you can take your typical grocery budget for the number of days you’ll be vacationing in Hawaii, and then increase it by about 30 to 40 percent. This will help temper the shock of island pricing.