Here’s how much Americans say they need to earn to feel financially secure

Americans have a specific dollar figure in mind for what it would take to financially secure, according to a new survey from Bankrate. That magic number? $186,000 in annual income.

Currently, only 6% of U.S. adults make that amount or more, Bankrate said. The median family income falls between $51,500 and $86,000, according to the latest federal data

Attaining a sense of financial security means paying all of one’s bills as well as purchasing some wants, while having enough left over to save for the future, the personal finance site said. However, many inflation-weary consumers are experiencing increased financial stress, with a new Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia survey finding that 35% of Americans are worried about making ends meet, up from 29% a year earlier.

That gap between what the typical American makes now and what they aspire to earn means “Americans have their eyes set on this high income, and they think they need to make more money even if they know it’s unrealistic they’ll never make that amount,” Sarah Foster, an analyst at Bankrate, told CBS MoneyWatch.

Earning more remains at the top of many Americans’ priorities as the price of shelter, food and medical care remain stubbornly high after two years of rising inflation. To cope, consumers are cutting spending on dining out, entertainment and travel, a TransUnion study found.

Bankrate’s survey of 2,400 Americans in mid-May found that younger generations are more optimistic about eventually earning enough to live comfortably.

What does it take to be rich?

Americans have an even higher yardstick for feeling rich. The survey found they believe they would need to earn $520,000 a year to qualify as wealthy — up from their $483,000 response during the same survey last year. 

The rising cost of consumer goods is a chief reason for the increase, Foster said.  “Inflation is the centerpiece to this narrative,” Foster said. “Americans know where the bar is for living comfortably, but every time they get there, the cost of living goes up and the bar grows further and further away.”

Another recent report found that adults in major U.S. cities need to earn $96,500 annually before taxes to afford basic necessities and savings, while a two-parent household with two children needs a combined $235,000 for a comfortable life.

Interestingly, 2023 research from the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman and colleagues suggests that happiness does increase with income, up to about $500,000 – roughly the income Americans told Bankrate would make them feel rich.

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