Hawaii On the “Cheap” – Part1

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I’m in the midst of my 22 night trip to the Big island of Hawaii on the cheap!  Being between jobs for 3 months now, we wanted to take a trip while I had an unprecedented amount of time off, even though I’m unemployment.  But we needed to keep it frugal.  FIRE principles at home and on vacation allow me to take a trip even while I’m on unemployment!  Now, I’m not really one to set budgets, so, this isn’t a Hawaii on a budget post.  But I bet we’re doing it cheaper than many would on a budget!

We’re settling in and I think it’s time for a blog post!  See what we’ve been up to and where we’ve been spending money so far!


“Pre Trip” Spending:

We had to pay for a hotel as our flight was early and we live 3+ hours from the airport.  But the hotel had a handful of amenities that made it worth it.

There was an indoor pool, which is great for the toddler.  There was a free airport shuttle, though it was about a 20 minute ride to the airport.  There were also two free beer/wine drinks at the bar per adult (or 2 free soft drink for kids) and an unlimited soup and salad bar (free).

In the morning, there was a hot buffet breakfast with “real” food and cooked to order items like eggs.  I was upset when I got there and they told me that it didn’t start until 7am instead of the usual 6am because of the Veterans Day holiday.  I had planned to eat at 6:30ish because we needed to be on our shuttle by 7am.

The front desk told me we might be able to grab to go boxes 15 minutes early.  We went down about 6:40 and were both excited and annoyed to see plenty of people eating already.  We crammed some food down our throats AND took to go box full of ham, biscuits, hard boiled eggs and scrambled eggs with cheese and a few bagels.

HOTEL: $114.15

We left our car at a family members house to avoid some sort of long term parking.  We visited with them and went out to dinner before going to the hotel.


I also grabbed some Vietnamese spring/salad rolls and tofu that looked like it would pack well to eat on the plane the next day.  This coupled with some things from  home like cheese quesadillas and fruit mean no in flight food spending.


Total to prep for flight out: $196.15

Vacation Rental/AirBnB Costs

We also had to pay for the 3 AirBnB rentals in advance.  I got discounts on ALL the rentals by booking one week or more.  Some also offered monthly discounts.  Here are prices including taxes and fees.

  • Rental #1 in Oceanview, 7 nights (15% weekly discount):   $417.76
  • Rental #2 in Hilo 8 nights (10% weekly discount)   $686.43
  • Rental #3 in Waikoloa Village, 7 nights:   $1093.72

I’ll do a follow up post about the various rentals and the.. quality of what we got for the money.  Rental #1 comes with nice grounds and a decent space, but a scary shower and mouse poop.

The vacation rental kitchen, and our loads of groceries.

Vacation rental totals: $2197.91 (Average $99.91/night)

Rental Car Price

Rental car is of course, a huge fee.  I ending up using a link through AutoSlash.com to get the best prices.

I did compare that to Costco.  It was close, but a little cheaper through the Priceline.com via Autoslash.com via Dollar Rentals.

I also looked into AlohaRentACar.com but AutoSlash was the cheapest.

I ended up signing up for a Chase Sapphire card because they have the great rental car insurance program.  My usual card had some rental coverage, but only for a rentals up to 15 days.  I will have the car for longer than that.  I considered booking two rentals to stay under the 15 day window, but that sounded like a big hassle.

PLUS, the Chase Sapphire card works as your primary collision and damage insurance.  Most cards it only works as secondary, after you bill through your insurance (with included deductibles).  Read more about Chase Sapphire car rental insurance here.

Even the guy at the car rental counter tried to argue with my that my card is only for secondary insurance when he tried to upsell me on the extra rental insurance.  Yeah, thanks buddy, I did my research.

Car rental: $815.00

It takes a few days to unwind.

We flew out at 9:20 and arrived mid afternoon.

I have really awful sinuses and was pretty sure that I was getting sick on the plane ride over.  I have major issues with pressure and was almost in tears as the plane descended.  It took me a few hours to recover and I felt really awful until my ears started to pressurize correctly.  Luckily, it doesn’t seem I actually was getting a cold, it was just the awful sinuses and I’m fine now.

So we did some shopping that first day and arrived home late.  The first full two days we went to two different beaches and some roadside stops.  Today we went to the Kahuku Unit of Volcanoes National Park, and came home early to relax a bit and cook a full fledged dinner.

Shopping in Kona for most supplies

Day “0” in when we arrived in Kona was our big shopping day.  We’ll be here for 3 weeks and brought our own cooler, so we planned to do almost all of our main shopping the first day and haul things along to the next rentals.

Food prices in Hawaii are CRAZY expensive.  Even at places like Costco.  A two pack of Dave’s Killer Bread was $11.39.  That would have been about $7.00 at home.

Costco Spending:

We bought a bunch here.  Meats, cheeses, bread, some produce, some snacks.  Keep in mind, we’re hoping this covers most of the trip.

Costco $298.47

Walmart Spending:

We went to Walmart to pickup paper products (plates, napkins, etc) and a few smaller things like mayonnaise and mustard.  The Walmart in Kona did not have a produce section and only a few freezer cases, so we decided to head to the Safeway next door.

Even though I left with like two bags of items, we still somehow spent a bunch.

Walmart $66.34

Safeway Spending:

We bought some smaller produce items, one pack of chicken breasts (Costco only had HUGE amounts of that).  Again, I was amazed how little we bought for the prices we paid.

Safeway $81.66

Total Bulk Grocery Spending: $446.47

Touring and spending, full day 1

We drove towards South Point with plans to hit Punalu’u Black Sands Beach.

We stopped at Paradise Meadows Coffee Farm and Fruit Stand.  It is free to visit and they have a self guided tour around their little farm.  There are parrots to see, wandering ducks and friendly staff.

The fruit sales seem almost secondary.  More like they end up with some produce to sell because they want to show visitors a working farm.  But, their big money is in coffee and honey.

We ended up buying two avocados, 2 giants lemons, 2 tangerines, and then she insisted to send us with some watercress.  We spent a whopping $2.00 on all of it.

We stopped at Waiohinu Park to eat our packed lunch and the mini run around a bit.

We also refilled our water bottles at the water fill station which you will see around the island, as many don’t have running water and/or run on catchment systems.  Our rental has a double treated catchment so we’re fine to drink the water here, though some may not be ok with it.

We went to Punalu’u Black Sands beach for the rest of the day.  We got to see plenty of turtles and played in the water.  I had a wardrobe malfunction when the hook on my bikini broke as we arrived at the beach!  Luckily I had a key ring that we adapted as a new hook, problem solved!  Well that, and I had more bathing suits at home.

At sunset we headed home and ate dinner cooked in the rental.

Don’t let a simple problem derail you! A key ring saved my bikini and our beach day.

Total spending for day 1: $2.00

Touring and spending day 2:

We ate breakfast at home and headed to Ho’okena Beach Park.

Ho’okena Beach – and my little mini drying off.

It was about a 40 minute drive from the rental, but there aren’t many beaches on this part of the island.  This beach has some sand and was a decent place to take the toddler out in the waves with us.

On the drive I stopped at two honor system road side fruit stands.  I bought a papaya for $2.00 and 4 island staple apple-bananas for $1.00.

We spent most of the day at the beach.  We left around 2:30 and the mini promptly fell asleep in the car.  Since we were about halfway to Kailua Kona we decided to drive north a bit and see if there was anything that stood out to us.

With the mini sleeping there wasn’t a whole lot we could stop to do (and not anything that stood out enough to make me want to wake him up!).  By the time I started thinking we should turn around we were only about 20 minutes from Kona.

We decided to hit a cider brewery and planned to pick some up to take home.  We drove up to Ola Brewery.  We got beer and cider flights and enjoyed ourselves for a few.  The toddler woke up just as we were parking, what luck!  They do allow children in, which was nice, but there was no food.  Luckily I had a bag of snacks in the car.

Ola Brewing in Kona and the taproom- children are welcome just not AT the bar.

There was nothing but IPA canned to go, and I didn’t feel like buying a new growler, so we got out with just the flights.  Spent $25.30 for two flights.

Beer and Cider flights at Ola Brewing in Kona, plus some of our snacks (in reusable snack pouches)

We decided to run to Safeway as we were running low on bread already.  We bought a cheaper bread this time and I found some organic crackers half off, spending $7.01.

We did the (long slow due to rush hour traffic) drive home and made burgers on the grill and salad for dinner.

Total spending day 2: $35.31

Touring and spending day 3:

Today we decided to keep it a little closer to home.  We wanted to get a little bit of exercise and check out some nature activities.

We went to the Kahuku Unit of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  It happens to only be about 10 minutes from our rental!  This section of the park opened in 2003 and has a variety of hikes and interactive activities.  It’s a pretty low key, DIY park.

Until recently, when the main park was closed for major volcano activity, it was the only portion of the park that was open.  Extra bonus, it’s free to enter!  That is opposed to the $25.00 per car fee (for a week) for the main park.

We went to the main park in 2011.  Back then, with no child in tow, we did quite a bit of hiking and got to see a lot of the park.  After testing out the kid for hiking in warm weather, I think we’ll probably skip the main park this time around.  I’m not going to carry him everywhere in the Tula baby carrier.. and this is the laziest two year old I’ve met.  He complains that it’s hot and just wants to sit.  Not sure how that happened, but it is what it is!

After the park we headed to Punalu’u Bake Shop for a “treat.”  They have free samples of few varieties of the sweetbread they make.

Punalu’u Bake Shop in Naalehu

They had two varieties of bread on buy one get one free!  I asked and they let me mix and match, so I got some guava rolls and kalakoa sweetbread loaf.

For lunch we had packed the cooler with one sandwich, leftover hamburgers, fruit etc.  I wanted a bit more so decided we’d order one of the kalua pork plate lunch specials and split it.  That put me out a total of $14.61 for the extra lunch and two breads (we didn’t see a loaf of their bread at the store for less than $4.50).

We sat in their nicely manicured gardens and ate our lunch.  There was someone playing guitar and ukulele, which my son really enjoys.  So we hung out for a bit and he even sang “wheels on the bus” to my son, which earned him a $1.00 tip.

We stopped at the same park as two days before to let mini run around a bit and eat the rest of our lunch and fill our water bottles.

I decided to take a detour on the way back to Oceanview.  I took a road that connected with South Point road (the road that goes to the southernmost tip of the island, and the USA).  There were a few odd farms on the way and I drove in to a couple but saw no one there despite signs indicating fruit stands.

We ended up stopping at Ka Lae Coffee.  They had a really nice place with greenhouse and plants and a surprisingly nice sitting area and coffee shop on site.  We weren’t in the mood for coffee at the moment, so I felt a bit guilty taking advantage of the kids play area they have.  But my son really enjoyed the playhouse and play structure.  It ended up being free, though I might have bought fruit or veg if something stood out. Along the drive we spied a lime tree dropping some limes and grabbed a few on the side of the road!

We got back to Oceanview and I gassed up the rental.  It was 34 cents cheaper out in Oceanview than in the Kona area!  That really surprised me since it’s kind of the middle of nowhere!  I’m not going to include gas prices for the purposes of tracking vacation spending as I would be buying gas at home.

We went to the market to buy some flour for dinner.  Ended up buying a case of Kona Brewing beer with flavors we can’t get at home.  Spent $17.99.

We came home and walked the 4 acre property a bit. It’s overgrown, but you can get a little exercise.  Bonus, we found a guava tree and picked up a 3.  Not sure what I’ll do with them yet but I can’t turn down free foraged food!  I just can’t!

The rainwater catchment system and treatment equipment shack on property rental #1
Some of the overgrown but beautiful plants on our 4 acre vacation rental site

Now I’m relaxing and writing this post and my son is playing with the box of kid toys in the rental while my husband cooks dinner.  We’re going to watch Sinbad’s Golden Voyage on dvd after dinner.  We got home by about 4 and are taking it easy this evening.  Maybe we’ll get up early and do a longer drive tomorrow.

Limes and guavas we foraged from our rental property and roadside, and some Kona Brewing beer.

Total Spending day 3: $33.60

How’s our spending so far?

I think we’re doing pretty good!  And we’re having a great time too.  I really like this laid back travel style that longer trips afford us.  It works a lot better with the toddler too.  We don’t push things too much with him along.  If he’s not having a good time, no one is.  So far, he’s happiest playing with the toys at the vacation rental or at the beach.

Total “daily” spending at 3 days: $70.94

Total trip spending so far: $3655.53

Stay tuned for the next update!

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Regina is That Frugal Pharmacist. She’s a PharmD, mother to a son with cancer, breadwinning wife, personal finance enthusiast, artist, writer, and entrepreneur. Regina’s single-income household has been debt-free, including her home, since she was 28 years old.
Her money approach is “holistic financial health.” She encourages mindful spending, awareness of the non-monetary costs of choices, and aligning personal values with money habits. Regina sees a frugal lifestyle and mindset as an important part of environmental stewardship. As such she’s interested in ongoing efforts towards self-sufficiency and sustainability.

4 thoughts on “Hawaii On the “Cheap” – Part1”

  1. So jealous of you right now! My husband and I are planning a vacation to Hawaii for our first anniversary. It’s cool to have an idea of just how much more expensive it will be.

    1. Food is the big thing! I think you can find affordable accommodations and there are plenty of free (or very cheap, I.e, parking fee) things to do, ESPECIALLY if you don’t mind some hikes! I recommend the “Hawaii Revealed” books. I think they have one of each island and it’s helpful for finding those cheap natural thrills when you get tired of googling constantly. Plus- cell service can be spotty. Two of the 3 rentals had a copy in them (I bought mine at the second rental, which didn’t, of course).

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