Single people across the U.S. mainland who plan on moving to Honolulu be warned: The Hawaii capital is the most expensive city in America for singles.

That is the conclusion of the Economic Policy Institute’s 2015 cost of living calculator, which adds up the price of a “secure yet modest” quality of life. Referred to as the “family budget calculator,” the institute has added singles to the mix after receiving requests from some of that fast-growing demographic.

The calculator takes into account a wide array of living costs — from health care and groceries to transportation, rent and others — in 618 metropolitan and rural areas around the country. For people with children, this includes things like child care and day care.

A single person with no children, according to the calculator, needs $46,308 for a modest but comfortable life in Honolulu.

Life doesn’t get any cheaper for couples or families. A couple in Honolulu needs $58,398. Parenting drives up costs substantially. For partners with a child, the cost leaps to $79,046; fifth in the nation. A second child means that the couple needs $94,092 for their modest life, while a third child drives the price up to $121,410.

Tunnel of money

Flickr: RambergMediaImages

Price differentials in things like the price of child care and health care are enough, the Washington Post noted in a recent article, to alter the order of the costliest cities depending on the number of children entered into the calculator. Honolulu isn’t the most expensive city in all categories, but it invariably remains near the top.

And here’s the scary part, both here and in those other cities: The actual costs for typical people are likely to be even higher. Among other things, the calculator assumes people will only eat groceries, not at restaurants, and the rental data is pulled from fair-market rents calculated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development numbers that tend to be a little low.

Rent and Taxes Weigh Us Down

Rent is often the greatest single expenditure for individuals and families, so when costs like child care are removed, it isn’t surprising that Honolulu — with its strikingly unaffordable housing — rises to the top of the list. The next most expensive cities for single people without children are Stamford, Connecticut; San Francisco, and New York City.

The Economic Policy Institute lists a typical studio apartment in Honolulu at $1,267, which is the second-priciest in the study; a comparable place in Stamford costs an additional $2 per month. But the typical single person in Honolulu can expect to spend a total of $778 per month on the category the calculator labels “taxes.” That is the largest overall tax bite for any city’s typical single person.

For people convinced that Honolulu can’t be more expensive than New York City, institute says singles in Gotham pay the seventh-highest rent bill and the third-largest overall tax bill. Honolulu singles pay $104 more than in New York City, while the tax bite on the typical monthly paycheck here is $100 more.

Throw children into the mix and things change a bit. While our child care can cost as much as college, it can be as much as housing in some other cities, particularly for people with several children. Other costs associated with children, like day care, also get thrown in to the study. (Private schools — about 37 percent of all children who study in Honolulu do so at private schools — are not included.)

The calculator’s hard numbers explain why the struggling Yolles-Young family of Kaimuki found a much easier life just outside of Houston. An adequate but modest annual income for the family of four there is just $60,608; that’s $33,484 less than they would need for a similar quality of life in Honolulu.

And the financial challenges faced by someone like former Republican gubernatorial Duke Aiona, who incurred substantial debt raising four children in Honolulu, also make sense. The annual price of a modest existence for such a family of six is $127,011, according to the calculator.

If you’d like to examine the details about some of the expenses included for your particular situation, you can click here.

And when looking at these prices, it is worth remembering that Honolulu’s salaries are lower than those of people in other expensive American cities.

Do you have a compelling story about the human impact of the cost of living, whether about you or someone you know? Are you a single struggling to get by, or who has found the answer to the financial challenges here? If you want to write it up, or tell it to me, please drop me a note at

And join Civil Beat’s Facebook group on the cost of living in Hawaii to continue the conversation and discuss practical and political solutions.

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