There is an oppressive force in the islands.

It sparks otherwise loving couples to bicker and fight, ties people to mind-numbing jobs and abusive bosses and dictates living conditions.

Its relentlessness can drive children off the islands and divide family members.

It is the cost of living in Hawaii, and it weighs on some of the most difficult and intimate decisions for all but the wealthiest residents.

We aren’t talking about some abstract statistical set of numbers. The price of paradise is something we wrestle with daily and, when we can’t sleep, nightly.

Gas station at 11th and Harding in Kaimuki on September 24, 2014

Gas prices topped $4 a gallon in late September at the Chevron on 11th and Harding in Kaimuki.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

In the middle class, we live it when we buy milk for twice the average national price, or refresh ourselves with “local beer” — that sells more cheaply in Manhattan. We feel the financial pain when we pay for childcare that can cost as much as college, or try to buy a home on an island with some of the highest median prices in the country.

But you already know that Hawaii is expensive. It is all encompassing, and you feel it in your rent, mortgage and utilities, as well as in your bills for health insurance, cars and groceries, which are among the most expensive on earth.

Everyone has their stories about the cost of living in Hawaii. Just bring it up in a conversation and it tends to take a life of its own. That’s why we’d like to explore more closely what can be done to bring down the price of paradise. We’d like to hear — and share — your stories, your ideas, your innovations to navigate around the high cost of life in the islands.

Yes, we are crowdsourcing Hawaii’s cost of living.

Unlike Other American Cities

Even expensive world-class cities tend to offer a mix of prices. In general, you can compensate for some high-end costs, or avoid them altogether by finagling, sticking to affordable things and making tactical decisions.

This has long allowed people on middle class salaries like, say, cops and journalists, to generally enjoy middle class lives where they work. So, even though San Francisco’s out-of-control real estate market has priced such workers out, people who don’t earn a Silicon Valley-sized salary can still commute from the affordable parts of Oakland, and save on rent. In New York City, workers can take public transit in from the Bronx or New Jersey.

But if you live on Oahu or Maui, you can’t save money by commuting from lower-rent places like Molokai or parts of the Big Island. And while those islands may have lower rents, other things, like gas and electricity, can cost even more.

In some cities, a lot of people forgo key costs associated with owning vehicles, thanks to much more complete mass transit systems, city bike-sharing systems and popular car-shares, like Zipcar. But the way Hawaii is laid out, both economically and topographically, it isn’t currently plausible for many working people to live without cars. No wonder we have nearly as many vehicles as residents.

But the real problem, in cost of living terms, may be that Hawaii just doesn’t have much that is affordable. In many cities, people save money by avoiding restaurants and eating produce bought in discount-friendly areas like Chinatown. In Hawaii, remotely healthy food from the market can cost as much as restaurant food in many parts of the country, regardless of whether it was grown locally or shipped to the islands.

It leads to a question for you: What are some things that are less expensive here than on the mainland?

When I ask people, they generally need to think for a while before offering a response. They will often point to a single product that might — might! — cost less here than in an expensive city on the mainland.

Anecdotally, parking in downtown Honolulu seems to cost substantially less than in downtown Los Angeles — although, to be fair, the capital of Hawaii is the size of a small portion of LA and parking prices vary greatly around that sprawling city.

So, what do you think? What comes to mind that’s cheaper here?

If we accept that Hawaii is expensive, nearly across the board, in ways that few cites are — and numerous economic indicators suggest as much — it leads to another question for you: How do people here get around the costs?

We know that people often limit rents by having families double or even triple up in a single home or apartment. Some parents save on childcare by relying on relatives, if they have any nearby, or through the kindness of neighbors. But what other solutions have you noticed or found?

And how are you living Hawaii?

Share your thoughts below or drop us a note at news@civilbeat.com. Photos or even a short video would be very cool. And join the social media conversation in our new Facebook group, Living Hawaii.

Let’s see if we can find some ways to make living in Hawaii more affordable for all of us.

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