Americans Say They Need $186K to Live Comfortably


Last updated: July 3, 2024

a_woman_is_using_calculatorInflation may have hit a plateau, but sticker shock remains the norm, from housing costs to fast food prices.

A recent Bankrate survey reveals that Americans believe they need an average income of $186,000 to feel financially secure.

This figure varies across demographics: men aim for $197,000 while women target $176,000, and white Americans estimate $171,000 compared to Black Americans’ $282,000.

Generational expectations differ too:

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

But is this income truly enough to live comfortably? It largely depends on household size and location.

SmartAsset, leveraging MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, applied the 50/30/20 budgeting rule (50% needs, 30% wants, 20% savings/debt) to pinpoint the pre-tax salary needed for comfort.

The South and Midwest emerge as the most affordable regions, while coastal living is pricier.

Massachusetts tops the expense chart with a required salary of just over $116,000 for financial security. New York City demands about $138,500.

Though these figures fall short of the $186,000 average from Bankrate’s survey, they reflect individual earners’ needs. For households with two working adults and two children, the required income soars in most areas.

Only in Arkansas and Mississippi is the needed income for a family of four ($180,800 and $177,800) below the $186,000 mark. Texas cities like Houston, Laredo, El Paso, and Lubbock also fit this budget.

Nationwide, SmartAsset concludes that living comfortably in any major city requires about $96,500 annually, a steep rise from last year’s $68,500 estimate.

For a family of four, that figure climbs to $235,000 to avoid paycheck-to-paycheck living.

Bankrate’s survey found that a mere 6% of respondents already earn what they consider a comfortable income. Additionally, 18% believe they’ll never reach financial comfort, while 31% think it’s unlikely.

For those striving for comfort, Bankrate suggests sticking to a budget, living within means, and saving for both short- and long-term 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,” says Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst. “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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About The Author

Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Jon Morgan, MBA, LLM, has over ten years of experience growing startups and currently serves as CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Venture Smarter. Educated at UC Davis and Harvard, he offers deeply informed guidance. Beyond work, he enjoys spending time with family, his poodle Sophie, and learning Spanish.
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Growth & Transition Advisor
LJ Viveros has 40 years of experience in founding and scaling businesses, including a significant sale to Logitech. He has led Market Solutions LLC since 1999, focusing on strategic transitions for global brands. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Communications, LJ is also a distinguished Matsushita Executive alumnus.
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