Being a millionaire is no longer the endgame for most Americans

Fewer than 20% of Americans, across age groups, equate financial success with being a millionaire, per Bankrate’s 2024 Financial Success survey released last week. A big reason for that might be that $1 million is hardly a windfall in today’s economic environment. Rather, financial success is more a feeling than a hard number, and the feeling workers are after is comfort. 

“Living comfortably,” respondents told Bankrate, means being able to afford day-to-day expenses while still being able to save—and get rid of debt. For each individual, that number is likely to vary, which is why the million-dollar mark is virtually meaningless. 

A separate Bankrate survey conducted last summer found the average American feels they need to earn $233,000 a year to be financially comfortable. Unfortunately, that’s 310% more than what the average full-time worker earned in 2021 ($75,203, according to the Census Bureau).

Just over 60% of Americans hold out hope that one day they’ll reach that comfort milestone, Bankrate found, though only about one in 10 people consider themselves to already be financially successful. Unfortunately, almost 30% say they’ll never get there. 

“With the worst inflation crisis in 40 years far from over, the U.S. economy might be causing a bit of ‘goals dysmorphia’ for many Americans,” Sarah Foster, a Bankrate analyst, wrote in the report. Nevertheless, simply getting to a place where money is no longer a concern is all people really want.

If they want to go a step further and feel wealthy, that’s another can of worms. Respondents to Charles Schwab’s 2023 Modern Wealth Survey said they’d need a net worth of $2.2 million at minimum to consider themselves rich. 

Each age group pushed back their expected timeline for achieving their version of financial success, the survey found. Most Gen Zers said they expect to become financially successful in their 30s. Most millennials are targeting their 40s, while Gen X is looking at their 50s. 

The older respondents got, the more pessimistic they became about achieving financial success. Nearly two in five Gen Xers and baby boomers said financial success is a pipe dream; 20% of millennials, and 11% of Gen Zers, said the same. 

Those who have yet to achieve their version of financial success say they need to make more money, grow their savings, pay down their debt, and invest more. Perhaps the best way of achieving comfort is through savvy investing. “Historically, participating in financial markets has been the best way to guarantee that your money not only keeps pace, but beats inflation over time,” Foster wrote. 

But almost one-tenth of that subset said any of these moves are futile; no matter what they do with their money, they’ll never be financially successful.

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