As it turns out, at least for now, cheap flights to Hawaii may be the best bargain you’ll find on your next Hawaii vacation. In the meantime, let’s hit on a topic that is fresh on our minds.
The federal government says that “food prices advanced 2.7 percent for the two months ending in September in Hawaii.” Food is one of the highest costs for Hawaii visitors, following only accommodations, car rentals, and airfare.
If you’ve shopped for food in Hawaii before, you know it’s easy to blow your mind and your vacation budget if you’re not careful. And now it is even worse. Put that together with shipping issues, and it is another island disaster in the making.
What are the best Hawaii vacation tips for food, and how do locals shop? Here are some Hawaii tips that can leave more green in your pocket for excursions and other Hawaii activities. We also have many more suggestions from readers. Would you please add your comments too below?
1. Browse the Internet for weekly deals. Have a shopping list before you leave for the store and search online for weekly specials at grocery stores in Hawaii. Brands include Safeway, Times Market, KTA (Big Island), and Foodland, for starters. Don’t expect pricing comparable to the mainland. The food here just got off one or more boats after spending over a week at sea.
2. Hawaii big box stores have pros and cons. Costco, Walmart, and Sam’s Club (Honolulu) can either save you money or significantly increase your food bill with their large sizes and many non-food selections. Sometimes just having a grocery list can help keep you on track. These stores are fine-tuned for visitors, whose spending easily accounts for 1/3 of their Hawaii sales.
3. Grocery store loyalty programs and apps. Save when you have a Safeway card or Foodland Maika’i card (free for visitors). Check Safeway’s app too, which offers a pick-up service too.
4. Farmers’ markets and roadside stands. Popular with locals and visitors alike. Many times these can offer better deals. For local fruit and for fish, among other things. The same is true for papayas and bananas, among other things.
5. Clearance items. Check for these in stores as they can be tucked away. These are a bigger deal in Hawaii than on the mainland since shipping and delays often result in damage of various kinds. Want to make banana bread? – check the produce area for any markdowns on things like soft bananas. If in doubt, just ask where to find it.
6. Don’t shop when you are hungry. This seems obvious, but we all do it. We all know that when we shop hungry, we buy things that we would never purchase otherwise. It is funny but so true, and on vacation, perhaps even more so.
7. Prepare for substitution. Here in Hawaii, it is often essential simply due to lack of availability. Mainland shoppers are used to going to the store and finding exactly the product they have in mind. You can seriously control your grocery bill if you follow this tip in Hawaii.
8. Avoid bottled water. What you get out of the tap in Hawaii is better than what’s in the plastic bottle.
Suggestions from Beat of Hawaii friends.
9. Gavin: Where possible, check out the discount grocers: Sack-N-Save (O’ahu), Big Save (Kauai), etc. They have the same selection as their counterparts, but at better prices. For cereals and snacks, Walmart and Target tend to be cheaper than the grocery stores, but almost everyone is cheaper than the mini-mart in your hotel. Historically, milk, eggs, and breads have the biggest price difference when compared to mainland prices. If you can avoid these items, you may not notice a big difference in your grocery bill. Expect to see $6 and $7 price tags for a gallon of milk, here’s where Costco and Sam’s Club have the best deals! At the very least, don’t throw away any of your unused groceries or sundries… the Housekeeping staff LOVE to take these home at the end of YOUR stay…
10. Smitty: Longs drugstore for wine, liquor, coffee and all those choc-mac goodies to take home to the office, Also good for cheap slippahs, and generally lowest prices on sunscreens an stuffs li’ dat. And no, am not affiliated in any way.
11. Colleen: If you have a condo and a place to cook then I vouch for the Safeway Club Card or other grocery loyalty cards. It takes 5 minutes of your time – at the store or sign up online ahead of time. Saves a bundle. We personally don’t care much for Wal Mart and the quantities are often too large at Costco or Sam’s Club f you are only staying a week and there are just two of you. I also like to eat out some – and if we have a huge amount of food then we feel compelled to stay in and use it up and then I feel ‘neglected’ – as though I am not on vacation from my stove.
12. Allan: Eat a plate lunch. Sometimes there is enough food for 2 people to share and certainly enough calories. And typically you take it to go and can enjoy eating outside. And you may just discover a new local food. If you are staying in a condo then pack a lunch for the day and don’t eat dinner out every night. I like to eat as much local food as possible; it may not be the cheapest but certainly the tastiest. It is hard to beat the Costco food court for fast and cheap food.
13. Ed: I enjoy purchasing locally sourced items. Like the fruits and veggies that I cannot get “back home”. Plus things you can *ONLY* get in Hawaii…Maui Onion chips or Taro chips…yes, they are more expensive, but worth it for that authentic Hawaiian flavor!
14. Ashley: Good to hear that the housekeeping staff LIKE leftover packaged food/drinks! I always end up leaving some, and formerly just thought I was being rude!
15. Barb: Where there’s a CVS there’s a Walmart, choose the latter, way less expensive. As far as Gluten free, there is a wonderful bakery in Hilo. Short and Sweet. The best Panini sandwiches ever. We travel quite a lot on the Big Island and don’t find a huge increase in food costs. If you’re big meat eaters, freeze it and pack it. We tend to eat a lot of fish, fresh on the roadside and less expensive and hit the roadside for fruit and veggies. Eat like a local, help out a local.
16. Sherri: Bring stuff from home!! You don’t need many clothes in Hawaii, so use your bag for dried foods, rice cakes, breakfast bars, pastas, mixes, cereal, etc. Then if you do have some souvenirs, you’ll have room for them because you will have eaten the food. Scour the fast food places for packets of mayo, soy sauce and other condiments. And eat like a local!!
17. JK: When I go to Kauai, I take a small portion of all of my of staple foods (spices, flour, bread crumbs, coffee, sugar, tea bags, granola, etc.) with me in a soft-side insulated cooler. I eat breakfast at the condo, and then I have the cooler to take my lunch with me on my outings. And then I have an empty cooler to bring back souvenirs for family and friends. Works for me!
18. Dee: We almost always (95% of the time) make our lunch — whether we stay at a condo or a hotel or a vacation rental. A loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly, fruit and raw veggies is generally much cheaper and healthier than going out. That said, we have the added issue of a child with a gluten intolerance, so in order to insure we have bread that he can eat, I freeze two loaves and stick them in our luggage. Would LOVE to see a post about eating gluten free in Hawaii.
19. CJ: Not everyone knows, especially visitors. Longs Drugs is part of CVS. If you have a CVS card you can use it for discounts, coupons and to accumulate spending total for the quarterly rewards bonus.
20. Jim: For those visitors from the West Coast, you can also use your Vons supermarket card at the islands Safeway stores. They have real good deals on wine if you get 5 bottles or more.