Americans say they need to earn $186K to live comfortably — but is it enough?



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(NEXSTAR) — While inflation has seemingly flatlined as of late, it’s hard not to wince when you see the prices of things like housing and fast food.

When considering the cost of everything, Americans feel they need to earn an average income of roughly $186,000 “to be financially secure or comfortable,” according to a recent survey by Bankrate.

That range did vary across demographics. Men felt they needed more than women ($197,000 versus $176,000), while white Americans felt they needed far less than Black Americans ($171,000 versus $282,000).

Younger survey participants said they needed a higher average income than older participants. Here’s a breakdown of the generational responses in Bankrate’s report:

  • Gen Z: $200,000
  • Millennials: $199,000
  • Gen X: $183,000
  • Boomers: $171,000

But are these salary aspirations even enough to afford living comfortably in the U.S.? Ultimately, it depends on your household size and where you’re living.

Personal finance site SmartAsset recently reviewed data from the MIT Living Wage Calculator and applied it to a common budgeting method known as the 50/30/20 rule — 50% of your budget should cover your needs, 30% goes toward “wants,” and 20% for debt, saving, or investing — to find the pre-tax salary necessary for Americans to “live comfortably.

Overall, SmartAsset found the most affordable areas are in the South and Midwest, while life gets more expensive on the coasts.

The most expensive state, according to SmartAsset, was Massachusetts, where an average salary of just over $116,000 is needed to be financially secure. Across the nation’s largest cities, New York City ranked as the most expensive at roughly $138,500.

While both are below the idyllic average salary found in Bankrate’s survey, they represent what an individual earner would need. In households with two working adults and two children, the necessary income jumps drastically in most cities and states, SmartAsset determined.

In only two states, Arkansas and Mississippi, the necessary income for a family of four to live comfortably — $180,800 and $177,800, respectively — was less than the $186,000 salary people said they needed in Bankrate’s survey. Four Texas cities — Houston, Laredo, El Paso, and Lubbock — also came in under that $186,000 threshold.

Overall, SmartAsset found that to live comfortably in any major city, you need to make about $96,500 annually, up immensely from the nearly $68,500 it estimated last year. A family of four would need to make much more at $235,000 to avoid living paycheck to paycheck. 

Of those surveyed who knew what it would take for them to feel financially secure, only 6% said they were already earning that annual income, Bankrate found. The survey also found that 18% of Americans feel they’ll never earn enough to live comfortably while 31% say it’s ‘highly’ or ‘somewhat’ unlikely they will reach that threshold.

If you’re worried about living comfortably, Bankrate recommends maintaining a tight budget, living “within your means,” and trying to save for both short- and long-term savings goals.

“Our culture is one where there is much focus on material possessions, and that does not tend to lend itself to a satisfying life,” Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst for Bankrate says. “Overspending on a larger home, a fancy car, or unneeded clothing, consumer electronics, etc. are not part of a winning game plan.”



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