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How Much Money Does It Take to Be Wealthy? Here's What Americans Think

By Maurie Backman - May 14, 2021 at 5:48AM

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You may be surprised at what the public thinks being wealthy entails.

When we imagine the wealthy, we may conjure up images of people so rich they live in homes that resemble small palaces and own clothing items that cost more than the typical homeowner's mortgage payment. But there's a difference between wealthy and ultra-wealthy, and while it may be quite difficult to work one's way into the latter category, entering the former may be easier than expected.

In fact, according to a recent Schwab survey, Americans think it takes an average net worth of $1.9 million to be considered wealthy. That's a decline from 2020, when the public thought $2.6 million was what it took to be wealthy.

Hundred-dollar bills floating in the sky

Image source: Getty Images.

Wealthy versus financially secure

Interestingly, Schwab's recent survey broke down the difference between wealthy and comfortable. And for the latter, Americans said $624,000 is all it takes to maintain a decent lifestyle without being held back by financial stress.

Somewhere in the middle is financial happiness -- enough money to be more than just comfortable, but not necessarily wealthy. That figure came in at $1.1 million for the current year.

What can you do to build wealth?

Whether your goal is to join the ranks of the wealthy, the financially happy, or those who are financially comfortable, your strategy can be the same, and it goes like this:

  • Start saving at an early age
  • Keep saving consistently
  • Invest your money aggressively enough to generate decent returns

Let's see how this system might work in practice. Imagine you start saving $400 a month at age 22, which is when you begin to collect a steady paycheck. Let's then assume that you continue to save that $400 a month throughout your career -- whether in a tax-advantaged 401(k) or IRA or a traditional brokerage account that doesn't offer tax benefits but is also less restrictive. Finally, let's assume you invest the bulk of your money in stocks.

The S&P 500 index, which is a strong measure of the broad stock market's performance, has, over the past 30 years, delivered an average annual return of around 12%. Let's be a little more conservative and assume that if you go heavy on stocks but also retain some safer investments like bonds in your portfolio, you'll enjoy an average annual 8% return.

By the time you reach the age of 54, you'll have a little over $644,000 -- which, according to the general public, is more than what it takes to be financially comfortable. Then, by the time you reach age 61, you'll have over $1.1 million -- enough to reach that financial-happiness threshold. Finally, by age 67, you'll have just about $1.9 million -- enough to hit wealthy status.

When you look at it this way, becoming wealthy doesn't seem so difficult, does it?

Something else to keep in mind is that the above figures are meant to represent net worth. In other words, if you have a home worth $500,000 that you own outright, that counts toward your total, which means achieving these numbers could be even easier.

What are your financial goals?

One thing to keep in mind is that just because Americans think a net worth of $1.9 million equates to being wealthy doesn't mean that has to be your goal. You might consider yourself well-off with much less money than that. Or you might challenge yourself to save more.

The point, however, is that growing wealth is doable if you take the right approach and commit to it.

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