Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Price of Living in Paradise

Mainland Americans always say that Hawaii is expensive. Everything has to be imported and therefore standard survival items like rice or a gallon of milk are inflated to cover the added costs of getting them to a rock out in the middle of the Pacific. Some just shrug and realize it’s the cost to living in paradise. Others don't think this sounds like paradise at all and are deterred from living in such a place. In my honest opinion, people making the move to Hawaii have got it easy. Don't forget that you're still in the good ole U.S.of A. If you live in Hawaii, you can one-click order from Amazon and stuff arrives at your door, the grocery stores will most likely always have everything you need and the utility companies do their best to keep the lights, water and internet on all the time.

Things operate a little differently here in the Bahamas. Say you want a new coffee pot. You don’t just one-click order it online from Amazon. That would be too easy.

Let’s say you have been dreaming of owning a Nespresso espresso coffee maker and you don’t want to deal with the hassle of packing it in your luggage on your next visit to the US so you do your research and find the best deal online. As luck would have it, you find one on special for $129.99. You’re subject to US sales tax and shipping costs so your total comes to $147.09. Your next step is to order it to the freight forwarding company in Ft Lauderdale. 

If you placed your order on a Thursday, your package may arrive at the freight forwarding company by Tuesday. The next ship doesn't leave Florida until the following Monday and if everything is on schedule, it will probably show up on your island by the Wednesday or Thursday of that week. So from the moment you click "pay now" until it arrives in your hands, it takes 2 weeks to get your Nespresso pot. That is, if everything goes smooth, there's no weather delays or they didn't misplace your coffee pot at the freight forwarding company. No, we don't have Amazon Prime next-day delivery. 

Upon receiving your Nespresso pot you are subject to shipping and customs duty which are charged on the total amount of the item, which includes the original shipping, freight forwarding shipping and any sales tax you've already paid. If they charge you $100 for shipping and 45% duty, your total for that coffee pot (what we call “landed”) is now $358.28. I hope you didn't forget to order the special Nespresso cartridges, because you surely won’t find them here!

Now do that formula for everything that arrives on this island. Luckily we have retail stores that deal with importing items. But not every island has a wonderful selection of food, clothing, office supplies, home goods, etc., so sometimes you are on your own to sort out specialty items. For many Bahamians, things like rice, canned beans and frozen veggies are the staples so on most islands, that’s about all you’ll find.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and am accustomed to fresh, local, in-season fruits and vegetables. I would eat so many sweet black cherries and red raspberries in the summer months that I would give myself a belly ache. We had more than we knew what to do with on our family property out in the country. My dad would busy himself making crisps, cobblers, pies, jams and preserves so that none went to waste. I gasp when I go shopping on the island now and find a 1 lb bag of cherries for $16 or a 6oz punnet of raspberries for $8.

On Harbour Island, we do have the luxury of having an ethnic section of the food store where you can buy ingredients to make your own sushi, and you can find organic milk and fancy cheeses. But it ain't cheap! And you can’t always count on the stores having what you’re looking for. Sometimes they don’t have broccoli, sometimes they ran out of eggs and you are waiting for the next boat to arrive so you can make that omelet you've been craving. Oftentimes I have to stop at three different grocery stores in order to get the ingredients I need for dinner. 

The good thing is there's not really such a thing as impulsive buying here. You have to double or triple think your purchase since it's expensive and difficult to get that item here. So even if things tend to be more expensive here, you probably wouldn't be wandering into Best Buy on a Saturday and get talked into buying that new 60" flat screen that you're weren't really planning on buying. 

There's always a positive side. 

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