Cover Story

Image: Joana Gonzalez

Live richly, on a shoestring

Living cheap. It doesn’t mean being cheap, as in tasteless and tawdry, pinching and miserly. It means making room for those things that feed the soul: enjoyable new experiences, traveling.

Free Spirit

Linda Bauval of Salt Lake travels more than most of us know: New Zealand, England, Morocco. She doesn’t have a high-powered job or a lavish inheritance.

She’s just cheap. In the good way.

She’s thoughtful about money decisions and clear on what’s important.

“My bottom line is what do you enjoy and want the most? I’ve always put my wants before my needs. For me, it’s great meals and travel,” she said. “One Starbucks a day is a discount trip to New York. Buying lunch at work, $5-$10 a day, that’s about $2,000 a year. I put things aside.”

Since she can be flexible about travel dates, she trolls travel websites constantly and snags crazy fares.

Bauval does have one advantage many of us may not: Having lived many places, she has friends everywhere. When she does stay in hotels, she books clean, safe, low-amenity rooms–a place to sleep and to store her stuff, nothing more.

To an extent, she shrugs off the so-called paradise tax. “Hawaii doesn’t have to be more expensive,” she said. She lives in a just-big-enough condo cooled by tradewinds, not air conditioning. She buys very little that’s not marked-down. Her freezer is full of $5 after-thanksgiving turkeys. She never goes shopping without a specific goal.

“Thank God we live in Hawaii,” she said. Thank God for not having to spend money to battle cold weather and for the free beauty and recreation offered by our bounteous outdoors.

Oh, yeah, and, “Thank God we live in the place where we can have 25 pairs of shoes, and they’re all slippers.”


Bauval’s comments underline the single most important factor in any life change: making a deliberate, mindful decision. This is closely followed by seeking helpful information.

Here’s our cheap manifesto:

The B word: Budget. Find out what and where you spend your income. Some families teach their children about budgeting by cashing a paycheck, setting out all the upcoming bills, laying the appropriate amount of cash on each and staring pitifully at what’s left.

Use your status discount: age (youth and senior) military, kamaaina, studies (even night and online UH students get health insurance, for example), memberships (AAA, Safeway Club). Like business traveler Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in Up in the Air, don’t buy anything that doesn’t earn miles.

Cash in on coupons: OK, they’re a pain and some of us will never, ever go there. But if you already use the sorts of products that feature coupons, or you eat out at places featured in coupons, why not?

The 24-hour rule: If you see something you crave, wait 24 hours.

Debit not credit: Treat your credit card as though it were a debit card.

Take care with cash. Not carrying cash means less to be stolen or to slip too easily through the fingers. Conversely, the No. 1 detour around debt trouble is living a cash-only lifestyle.

Repair, reuse, recycle: Think like your grandparents, who never threw anything away just because it was broken. Granted, things were easier to repair then, and most households were equipped with tools and someone handy. But for investment items with long-lasting potential, there are still craftsmen out there who do repairs (cobblers, tailors and such). The small expense might be worth it.

As to reusing and recycling, much has been said, but it, too, is a creative commitment. Throw nothing away. There is no away. It’s going somewhere. Make sure it’s not a waste dump, make sure someone will benefit from it (as in you).

The good, the bad, the ugly: Online, search out the negative reviews of prospective purchases. Subscribe to Consumer Reports ratings online ($30 annually, $6.95 monthly). Or see the magazine hard-copy at the library. Use Google Shopping for price comparisons.

Whad’ya got? Conduct a household audit: sell, donate, give away whatever you don’t use.

Cheap is green: Doing things thriftily almost always means doing them ecologically, sustainably.

Let Your Keyboard Do The Walking

Shopping online can be dangerous: It’s too easy and shipping is costly. Shop for free shipping, or give yourself time to wait for standard delivery. Remember that local brick-and-mortar stores need your support, too.

[] Prime: New here is free shipping for members ($79) on all but the heaviest items.

[]: Eight items each weekday, first-come, first-serve, at a $2 shipping rate per item. Sale starts at 6am.

Couponers: These include Groupon, Living Social and Hot Deals Hawaii, each offering deals that require customers to sign up in advance for savings from beauty salons, restaurants, spas and, occasionally, retail stores.

Hawaii Shopaholics: A Facebook page offering money-saving tips, deals and giveaways. Like the page, and the deals show up on your newsfeed.

The Entertainment Book for Hawaii: For $45, or less, this coupon book offers several hundred dollars worth of discounts on just about everything all around the Islands.

Stand By Energy

When you turn off a computer or cable box, pull a cell phone off its charger or the clothes out of the dryer, the devices aren’t off. They’re on standby. The situation is what’s variously known as “phantom load,” “energy vampires,” “standby syndrome,” “energy bleed.”

Plugged in, energy eaters are still drawing energy. While the energy savings you realize from unplugging these might be small, you’ll see at least a few dollars come off your electricity bill. And, if we all unplug, the environment benefits.

How much money are we talking about? The Department of Energy sets the loss at 5 percent to 8 percent of a single family home’s annual usage–an entire month’s energy bill. In the Islands, HECO says turning off your home computer alone can save $15 a year. Their booklet Energy Tips & Choices is available as a PDF online and lists costs of appliances both in use and on standby.

Here’s how to recognize and handle phantom load:

Does it bleed? If it feels warm when it’s not working, if it has a transformer (black plastic box on the cord), if it has an LED light that glows even when it’s not in use, it’s definitely consuming watts. But even countertop appliances that show no sign of life keep feeding so long as they’re plugged in. Devices about which to be particularly concerned include: TVs, cable boxes, VCR/CD/DVD players, Tivo, computers, printers, chargers, sound systems, WiFi modems.

Strip: The easiest way to deal with phantom load is to place groups of clustered appliances on a single power strip and unplug the strip (don’t just turn it off; unplug it).

Smart strips: Some experts recommend using so-called “smart” strips that cut the power when your devices are off (Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target) even without unplugging. The Mini Power Minder shuts off computer peripherals automatically when the computer itself is shut down.

Dry up: Line-dry clothes (string a retractable line across a lanai or balcony, if you have no yard). If they’re too stiff, throw the slightly damp clothes in the dryer with a softening sheet for five minutes.

Shop But Don’t Drop . . . Money

We said cheap, not dead! Shopping is one of life’s pleasures.

Aloha Stadium Swap Meet: More than 700 vendors in the stadium parking lot , ranging from clothing to souvenirs to food. Best spot for cheap aloha gifts; [].

Savers: This source of gently used clothes, housewares, books and stuff benefits non-profits. The clothes never have that second-hand smell, prices are reliably low, merchandise is well-organized, hours are regular and parking is easy.

Ross: Visit frequently; merchandise is subbed out often. Shop midweek, when shelves have been fully replenished after the weekend rush. Visit several different stores; merchandise differs;

Charity thrift shops: Goodwill and Salvation Army stores? Check. Small church and nonprofits often underprice really good stuff, too. Try Punahou’s The Tank (housed in a 7,000-square foot former water tank), on Kakela Place above campus, 943-3284. The Richards Street YWCA has monthly secondhand clothing sales benefitting “Dressed to Work.” On Maui, the Kula Hospital Auxiliary’s Kala Iki Thrift Shop at 204 Kula Highway is worth the drive almost to Ulupalakua open 9:30AM-1PM second and last Saturdays, third Tuesday.) See an all-island thrift shop list at http://[]

Online: [] and [] offer free or cheap sales. Beware of scams; always meet for exchange in a busy public place; give office address for mailed items. Also great for big items, such as sofas and other furniture.

Be original: Watch newspaper listings for periodic sales by art students, art school faculties, artists’ guilds. Among these: Academy Art Center’s Student Benefit Sale, Honolulu Museum of Art’s Academy Shop annual sale, Kama’aina Christmas, periodic sales by Hawaii Potters Guild, community college art faculties, Association of Hawaii Artists “For the Love of Art” show and sale. Many of these are around Christmas.

DIY clothing/accessories: Check YouTube video projects, including a) fashioning a skirt or dress from a long-sleeved men’s shirt, b) making a T-shirt into a color-block dress, c) turning old T-shirts into cool clothes; turning plastic bags into wallets, bags and such.

Cheap vintage: Mish Mash Shop and Barrio Vintage in Chinatown offer carefully selected clothing items for about $15–$20. Catherine’s Closet is a little more pricey, but worth a look. Stylus is more thrift than vintage, but has a more updated selection of clothing appealing to a younger crowd.

Higher and high-end consignment: Pzazz, Glam Rok, The Clothes Chick, Tara’s Secret Closet, Paris Station for designer handbags.

First Friday discounts: Many of the growing number of Chinatown boutiques offer extra discounts on First Fridays, such as Fashionista’s Market and Roberta Oaks.

Sunday coupons: Fish coupons out of Sunday papers from recycling bins (yes, dumpster diving). Also check online for news of printable or smart phone coupons.

Swap Parties: Gather with friends, each with a suitcase full of used-but-awesome clothing and accessories to trade. Throw in a few cocktails to make it a party, and you’ll come away with new-to-you items without having spent much (or anything) at all.

Drugstore makeup: e.l.f. cosmetics is a ridiculously cheap make-up line (many items range just $1–$3) that saves money by not advertising and is available at Target. Wet n Wild–Inexpensive line that offers a good way to test new or trendy make-up before taking the plunge with a more costly brand. Maybelline’s Great Lash Mascara–Considered a classic staple (about $5). Duo eyelash adhesive ($1–$6) and Red Cherry false eyelashes ($1–$2)–Worn by models and celebrities. Revlon ColorStay liner–Gets good reviews from beauty blogs and magazines.

Paraben-free/natural origin make-up and body care: Physician’s Formula Organic wear ($7–$14); Burt’s Bees tinted lip balms and lip colors ($5–$7), Burt’s Bees solid perfumes ($10) and body care products (usually $8); Yes to Carrots body and hair care products ($8–$10) at Target, Walmart, Walgreen’s; Dr. Bronner’s lip balms, soaps, moisturizers and hair care ($3–$10).

DIY beauty treatments: Make your own face masks, exfoliators, moisturizers and hair treatments. Common ingredients include yogurt, cucumbers, citrus fruits, tea bags, honey, sugar, oats, coffee grounds, olive oil, eggs and apple cider vinegar. Visit [] and [] for recipes.

Financing Fun

We tend to think that fun is stuff that doesn’t involve thinking. But let’s start there: Think back to the last time you really had what Grandma called good, clean fun. What were you doing? Who with? What made that time fun? Plan a day or an evening like that with those people.

Get game: Got a Wii, games or cards? If not, go online and research games (skip anything that involves embarrassing questions or the removal of garments). Host a game night.

Be crafty: Host and art, craft or cooking day with friends.

Still free: Royal Hawaiian Band concerts, Honolulu City Lights, United Fishing Agency auction, Hawaii State Art Museum (including special Second Saturday family activities), Sunset on the Beach movies in Waikiki.

Still cheap: Wildest Show in Town summer concerts at the Zoo; $3 with zoo mini-tour.

A Zoo out there: Honolulu Zoo Society membership (from $40) includes unlimited admission for up to two adults or one adults and two children for one year and discounts on one-day passes for guests. [].

You pass: If you’re doing a staycation or entertaining energetic sorts who are determined to See It All, consider a multi-attraction pass card. Check online tourist agencies for passes such as Go Oahu (36 destinations from $59.99); Go Select (build your own pass from 45 attractions). Economical only for the energetic.

Take advantage: of free or reduced-price days at local arts and cultural organizations. Honolulu Museum of Art–free third Sundays, first Wednesday, first Sunday for military and families. Bishop Museum–free Kanikapila concerts, 1-3pm last Sundays; museum admission separate.

Volunteer: as a docent for exhibits, galleries or museums or usher in theaters.

Campus crawl: Attend free and/or low-cost on-campus events–talks, seminars, concerts, art openings, theatrical productions.

Be festive: Most cultural and ethnic festivals are entry-free. Fill a backpack with a picnic lunch or snacks and fill your eyes with parades, exhibits, performances.

Go fish-watchin’: Waikiki Aquarium memberships include a year’s free admission ($40 individual; $85 covers two adults, their children and two guests per visit for a year). Free kids’ programs 3pm Wednesdays.

To Your Health

Health care and insurance are among the most costly items in any budget and the least open to control. We found a few options. Following these, find some ideas for the very best investment in good health: keeping fit.

Cheap or free dental care: UH School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene visits are $25 (956-8229 or []). Department of Health: [] Tzu Chi Foundation, USA: Dental and other health care (550-8608 or []). Aloha Medical Mission: Free dental clinic, Palama Settlement (841-4489 or []).

Know your status: Free testing for STDs, STIs, HIV at Department of Health Resource Page ([] or 733-9280). Sites include Diamond Head Health Center, the Life Foundation, Waikiki Health Center.

For women only: Planned Parenthood, women’s health treatment for the uninsured (589-1149 or []).

Streaming fitness: Work out to free YouTube videos.

Equip your “gym”: Use canned food as weights. Or place 5 pounds of rice or beans in a zippered plastic bag then place in a cloth shopping bag. Balance the bag evenly on either side of your hand. Buy inexpensive exercise bands for warming up, stretching, exercising; a set of three TheraBands® online (5 feet long by 5 ½ inches wide) was listed on [] for just under $13 the other day (note any shipping charges).

Buddy system: Make a fitness pact with a friend or coworker to provide motivation and support.

Parks and pools: Go to [], click on the List of Staffed Parks link and/or the List of Staffed Pools link (both under programs) to download a pdf of contact information.

Fit and free (or cheap): Community or adult education schools (usually meeting in public school buildings), Ys, community centers offer classes ranging from tennis to Zumba, hula to tae kwon do. Elders and/or low-income get a break on youth memberships. Search online by community, by type of class, by “fitness.” Check newspaper listings, including The Weekly’s. Get on the mailing or e-mail list for local centers.

Getting Around

Walk. It’s healthy and all you need are some good shoes and light raingear.

Bike: You won’t use fuel or pay for parking. It’s healthful and environmentally responsible. The downsides are weather, attire (looking professional after peddling to work), road safety, theft. For advice on commuter bike brands, apparel and gear, visit [] or a local bicycle retailer. On Oahu, bike rentals are Waikiki-centric and oriented toward touring and adventuring.

Bus: $60 a month; $660 a year; discounts for senior, youth, disabled, college students at participating universities. Upside: no fuel or parking costs; most take bikes, wheelchairs. Downside: distance to bus stop, lack of flexibility/spontaneity. ([]) The Oahu Bus App has route maps, schedules. Requires iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad with iOS 5.0 or later ([]).

Vanpools/carpools: People who work near each other pool funds to lease a pool van (insured, maintained), and share driving, and costs. Vanpool Hawaii, 596-VANS. Leeward area: LOTMA, 677-RIDE. Also available: carpool matchlist.

Parking: Chinatown–lots less than $1 half-hour include Smith-Beretania municipal lot, Marks Garage, Hale Pauahi, Kukui Plaza, Kekaulike Courtyard, Marin Tower, Chinatown Gateway Harbour Court. Downtown/near downtown–Kekuanaoa, Kalanimoku, State Capitol, Vineyard Garage, metered parking, $1/hour (quarters only); Lot next to Honolulu Museum of Art School (Linakona), $3 all day. Waikiki–metered parking, Honolulu Zoo; Waikiki Shell lot, free when open.

Make friends with a mechanic: Your car will last longer if it’s routinely serviced; a mechanic who wants your business will send you regular reminders or at least paste a reminder sticker to your windshield. A mechanic who knows your car well can tell you when it’s passing the point of being worth fixing. If there’s a professional service you can perform, barter for car service and repairs (no tax). When it’s time to get rid of your car, check out its resale value and don’t undersell yourself just because you want to be rid of it.

That’s warranted: If you buy a new car, shop for the warranty as readily as for any other attribute.

Media Menu

Even if bookstores weren’t vanishing, paper books, e-books, movie rentals and other media are extras many of us find difficult to afford. What to do?

Been to the library lately? Books are just a jumping-off point. The state library systems has free computer use, internet access, a new Hi Tech Academy (classes in everything tech funded by a Gates Foundation grant), OverDrive eBooks (online ebook downloads with automatic return), programs (storytimes, readings, films, classes, book talks without charge), one-week video rentals. You can now renew books online or over the phone. The biggest news is that the system has just introduced WiFi in all 51 libraries. Low-cost services include Books by Mail ($3 for books shipped from anywhere in the statewide system), and interlibrary loans (loans from outside the state system; $10 plus whatever the other library charges).

Cheap books: The Friends of the Library annual book sale (June 22–July 1, 2012) is the granddaddy but the state Friends and individual neighborhood Friends groups hold periodic popup sales; some libraries have ongoing sale shelves. Try also BookEnds (yes, they do have used as well as new books), Punahou Carnival, Revolution Bookstore, Jelly’s, Savers.

Book swap: Find like-minded friends with whom to trade books–people who will actually return them.

Lower-cost media: This is a research project in itself, but there’s a lot of buzz about how to access movies and other media without paying high cable subscription prices. Mostly, it involves watching TV on your computer screen or via a service, such as Hulu, linked to various platforms (phone, Blu-ray player, smart TV, etc.). After the initial investment monthly charges may be lower.

Taking Off

Cheap travel is time expensive; you gotta shop before you fly:

Tuesday tip: All prices on airlines change on Tuesday and many specials are posted then, to be gone by Wednesday. Use online services (Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, etc.) to alert you to fare changes and specials to locations in which you’re interested.

Travel on a dime: The ability to take off on a whim often allows for greater savings. Empty seats and rooms are discounted at the last minute.

Time your trip: Always fly midweek. Avoid holidays and peak travel times (if you’re traveling overseas, be sure to check popular travel times there, not just here).

Discount route: Many Islanders have found that, due to the popularity of Las Vegas as a vacation destination for people here, you can often do better by routing yourself on a package deal through Sin City, especially if your destination is a less-visited mainland spot (for example, bracketing a trip to Kansas City between one night each in Las Vegas).

Make a trade: If you’ve got your own place, be it a tiny Makiki apartment or a sprawling Hawai’i Kai house, find someone with whom to house trade (and take care of your plants and animals) by listing yourself on home exchange sites online. Access to pantry and car may be included. Appoint someone responsible to “check in” visitors and handle emergencies, and make a Plan B in case of missed flights or other problems. Second-generation home exchanger Nicole I. Frank offers practical advice: http://[]

Kamaaina pricing: While hotels, car rentals, airlines and attractions offer discounts for those with local ID, the percentages are often slim and may be unavailable for all classes of service. The best savings are with packages that include air, hotel, car, many available only through consolidators (package deal travel agencies).

Feel the beat: [] offers deals to and from Hawaii — airline, hotel, cars, and restaurants.

Go Hawaiian (like you have a choice): A Hawaiian Miles account is a must if you hop interisland with any frequency; a Hawaiian Miles VISA card earns additional miles, as does a Foodland Maikai card. Miles members hear of unadvertised fares.