5 Powerful Lessons About Living Small on the Big Island


KonaDowntownLiving on the Big Island can be a challenge. Salaries are lower than those on the mainland, and yet our cost of living is higher. I was compelled to write this post after seeing another post about what lessons in happiness living in Hawaii can teach you. For many of my friends it’s what lessons in frugality the Big Island can teach you! The key to survival here is learning to live with less, but in living with less, you can also find abundance in so many other ways.

5 Powerful Lessons About Living Small on the Big Island

1. You have to leave your mindset of “having it all” when you come here. That means your big house, all your furniture and stuff and a “more is more” mentality.
2. Pretend this is the Marina District of SF or Manhattan in NYC – you are just lucky to live there, so you squeeze in a little harder to live the life of your dreams.
TidePool3. You find yourself (like I so some days) enjoying your own ice water from your own tap in your sustainable water bottle with a locally grown banana on your own piece of beach..because you are willing to live with a little less to be able to sit there and not in some high rise feasting on a catered lunch.
4. You riffle through the “designer” clothes at Macy’s or even Ross and realize, “Who am I trying to impress? Is this even comfortable?” Then you go over to the active wear section and get a $15 sundress or t-shirt instead and feel lighter knowing people like you for you, not your brand wear. 

KonaSunset25. Living small means having more time to enjoy life. Enjoying the passage of time watching the tide rise and fall at the beach. Watching a sunset. Living without that dreaded word in your head all the time, “MORE”, but instead with the feeling of “ENOUGH”.

Maybe that is the feeling so many people had during the lockdown days of COVID. When they had time to sit and think about their surroundings and their lives and realized the hamster wheel is an energy suck to nowhere.

I wrote this on my 365 Things to Do in Kona Facebook page and personal page and here were a few responses:

Marie- That is exactly what I was thinking this past week as I sat on my lanai watching the sunset, or when enjoying a dip at Kua bay, or dancing with the ocean breeze on my face or simply basking at Mahaihula Bay, watching turtles pop up to say hello or admire a Hao flower, taste some noni fruit or enjoying looking up at a Mesquite tree or riding through a bumpy lava road!! I trully have enough!

Eileen: My oldest daughter, 39 this weekend, is planning to move here in 2 years. She’s planning to pay off her mortgage, sell/give away her possessions, come here with her 2 cats and build a “tiny house”. simplify, simplify, simplify.

Gail: The kind of car you drive here matters to no one but you. Whether your house is big or small matters to no one. You do not need to buy many new clothes or any nice shoes. If you add up all the things you spend money on so you will “look good” one way or another, you can pretty much subtract all that from your budget and then see how it looks.

Tammy: The truth is, Hawaii is expensive (yes, I was raised on BI, lived there many years, have a small place there now), but what many may not understand is that many things are imported, so prices are high. And I’m talking basics like groceries and toiletries. What many don’t realize too is that stores, restaurants, schools, etc. may not be that “hop skip and a jump” away, so there may be a lot more driving (gas) and car maintenance (salt water). And if the industry you currently work in is not prominent on BI, that’s a big deciding factor. But many of my family members work 2 jobs to make ends meet and would never trade it for the world!

If you are wondering how I know about living small on the Big Island, you should read my memoir about the first year we lived here with two kids in a one bedroom/one bath condo in Keauhou! Read all about it in “1 Year, 2 Kids, 800 Sq Ft-The Adventure of a Small Family Family on the Big Island”

If you are considering purchasing a home (even if it’s small!) my husband and I offer real estate services if you are buying a home in West Hawaii and we have access to a group of trusted and knowledgeable REALTOR partners on the Big Island and around all the islands in Hawaii! Check out our website at MoveToHawaii365.com or email me directly at [email protected]

Spread the word if you love what you heard! #365kona so we can say Thanks!

Meet the Author

Julie Ziemelis

Julie Ziemelis is an entrepreneur, business owner, author, blogger and vlogger in Kailua Kona. She created and moderates the “365 Things to Do in Kona” page and the Kona Newbies group on Facebook. She blogs at 365Kona.com and MoveToHawaii365.com and vlogs with her husband, Eric, at “365Hawaii” on YouTube. Julie also authored the books, “How to Move to Kona” and the “Insiders Guide to Buying Real Estate on the Big Island of Hawaii”. You will most likely find Julie in Kona hiking, running, biking, taking photos and sharing Aloha.

Leave a Question or Comment About this Topic

  • Laura Ruth says:

    This reenforces why I’m selling 99.5% of my belongings to move there. Less is more!

  • Eunice says:

    I totally agree with Tammy.. I was born on Maui..But raised on Oahu..My father worked 3 jobs just to make ends meet…Many Island locals struggle..many are homeless…

    • This is very true…I don’t know that many people who live here who are NOT struggling. Even the business owners struggle to find people to work for them! It’s a weird economy here…people don’t come here to work full time..if you wanted to work full time, why live in Hawaii? However, when people have that attitude, its hard to keep things going consistently in terms of restaurants, businesses, etc. I’m a consultant and I know I would be making more money sitting in an office 40 hours a week here..but I choose not to do that..so I live with less.

  • John Coleman says:

    HELLO! I am 63 years old I just watched the DIY series Building Hawaii.I have watched them over and over again,I know it sounds crazy but I can not get it out of my mind.Trying to get as much feed back and info as I can.Things like what a 1 bedroom apartment in Kona would cost me,utilites ets.

    • Aloha John:
      It’s funny that when I was writing my book, “How to Move to Kona”, I was catching flack for enticing people to move here. I think Hawaii Life and Building Hawaii have sparked WAAAAY more interest in moving here than my book has! There are not that many “apartments” to live here and most of them are in places you would not want to live in. There are some condos you can rent or an ohana (living in a small rental space underneath a single family home) You could probably live alone and small for $1000 a month. If you could swing buying a condo, you would not be consistently kicked out when the seller decided to move back in or a family member needs a place to live. I have had quite a few friends having to keep looking for housing in Kona when that happens, and it does. If you would not mind working a job that does not pay very much ($12 an hour is a decent job here for retirees), you could probably make it if you also have social security and some savings. Read my book…it has great advice!

  • Nick kaufman says:

    Thank you for all of the incredible info viz life on the big island! I’m thinking about relocating to your paradise with my five year old son, and was wondering if you could point me in the direction of any good info regarding schools….I’ve googled endlessly and quite a few people say steer clear of the public schools…is this true? My son is in an amazing public school now after starting off in a Waldorf preschool and I find that it’s less a matter of public vs. private and more a matter of family/ teacher participation/ passion that makes schools work…any help would be greatly appreciated!:) we are looking at the kona area – are there any schools in particular you would recommend? Thanks so much!

    • Nick-Check out Kona Pacific Public Charter School. It has a Waldorf and mainstream curriculum and it sits on 40 acres. My kids enjoyed being there and I loved the school community.

  • Rose says:

    “Frugality” , not “frugalness”

      • Pumehana says:

        I just wonder why no one informs newly transplanted people about losing the mainland attitudes… Learn humility, learn the culture of Hawaii, the ways of the people…stop trying to change Hawaii to become something that you just ran from…Kailua-Kona never looked like how it does now…Sooo many people, streets, lights, stores….more, more, more,,, Seems thats what everyone wants…
        I asked a local when I first moved here.. What can I do to learn about the people, culture, etc.. I was given the best advice… “Keep your mouth shut, observe the people, food, language, listen. really listen to the things locals speak of” Sooo often people just assume..Please don’t do that… Until you have lived here for some time and learned the intricacies of the places, people, islands of Hawaii, you Do Not Know!… Be humble, take the time to ask and learn… (arrived in 73 and still here…happily co-existing..

        • I wrote my book, “How to Move to Kona” and my first chapter highlighted exactly that issue. I will admit..I was like everyone else coming from California and thought Kailua Town needed to “be renovated and cleaned up”. It was a Hawaiian who basically said exactly what you wrote..”if you liked it so much in California, why don’t you go back?” And quite a few locals pointed out that you can’t find Kona town anywhere else in the world..where California strip malls and updated shopping districts are a dime a dozen. I shut up, listened and learned. Thank you for this and I hope you don’t mind if I use it as a quote in a future post about “Listen First, Construct Later”. Mahalo!

          • Pumehana says:

            Mahalo Nui for the reply…most locals now call Kailua-Kona, Konafornia… It has already become a little California… such a shame..it used to be a sleepy little fishing village where people could come to relax, enjoy a different people and way of life… Many celebrities USED to visit because no one would bother them there… I say there as I got tired of seeing Kailua-Kona being transformed, (I also came from California).. ugh..Moved to Hilo…lol

            Just one last request… If you have been here some time, I am hoping you know how important a name is whether it be the name of a place, a thing, or a location.. The name has a meaning behind of it..or a mana attached… Please be aware of this as Kailua-Kona is… Kailua-Kona…not KONA…again, mahalo

          • Just wanted you to know that I have been using Kailua Kona as much as possible in my blogging! Mahalo!

  • George Smith says:

    Something to bear in mind, especially for retirees; medical care in Hawaii nei is seriously lacking. Even if you can find a specialist on Oahu (I was turned down for treatment by three), by the time you fly, rent car, book hotel, meals etc.,myou may as well gomto a specialty center on da mainland.

    In fact I am writing this from Whitefish, Montana ehere I came for a total reverse shoulder replacement. While here, my wife is having catarct correction on both eyes.

    ‘Medical Vacation’, indeed.

  • George Smith says:

    Remembered another cavaet. Auto warranties. Don’t know about their other marques, but Servco doesn’t honor Subaru factory or aftermarket warranty plan.

    Brand new Subaru? Gold standard lifetime warranty? SOL! And SOA (Subaru Of America) can’t do a thing about it.

  • Mike says:

    Growing up in Hawaii, I used to visit the mainland and think how much cheaper it would be, but I moved there years ago and found it to be more expensive. Heating for one. Now on the big island, we are 100 per cent solar power and it’s actually a lot cheaper than elsewhere. Gas is about the same as California, but the big-box stores are basically the same prices as the west coas (Costco, Target, Walmart, KMart, Ross and Amazon) so it’s not really more expensive anymore. Used to be, before these stores. True no big salary jobs, but you need a lot less as the article says. We eat local style, so healthier and better tasting, but if you try to eat the same things you ate on the mainland, they are gonna be more because they are imported. We shop for veggies at the farmers market, grow some of our own, and I’m sure our monthly budget is less than if we lived a similar lifestyle in Seattle or Portland. Plus, all the best things in life are free here: lower crime, friendlier neighbors, perfect weather, the best coffee, no horns honking, easy-going lifestyle, empty parking lots, no traffic, and the best beaches in the world (if you can find them with your 4×4 without any signs).

    • Thanks for your feedback Mike. Shifting your diet, need for a nice new car, travel off island..its all a tradeoff to make it work in Hawaii. Thanks for your insights! Good ones!