So many people believe they’re above average that psychologist coined a term for it: the Better-Than-Average Effect.
But if you want to build wealth and retire early, then you can’t do what the average person does.
You need reference points on how people are doing financially.
Here are the 7 numbers to beat if you want a shot at building wealth and creating a rich life.
1. Make more than $70,000 a year
The median American income is about $70K/year.
Why beat that number, and how much?
$95,000/year, according to a Purdue study, is the global income for “satiation” — an amount at which more money doesn’t increase happiness. However, this figure looks like $105,000 for North Americans and varies wildly by state.
Money doesn’t make us happy, but lack of money can make us miserable.
But as you’ll see, it’s not all just about how much money you make—it’s about lifestyle.
2. Avoid becoming the 61% of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck.
Living paycheck to paycheck makes it hard to save, let alone invest.
You’ll be surprised that even six figure earners live paycheck to paycheck (source):
- 52% of those earning $100K-$150K live paycheck to paycheck.
- 41% those earning between $150K-$200K live paycheck to paycheck.
Lifestyle inflation and keeping up with the Joneses are real.
Wealth is not just about how much you make—it’s how much you keep.
3. Save more than 4.4% of your income
The average personal savings rate is about 4.4%, according to the Bureau of Economics Analysis.
This is the percentage of people’s incomes left after they pay taxes and spend money.
It’s so essential to save because 56% of Americans are unable to cover an unexpected $1,000 bill with savings (Bankrate study).
Start saving even 10% of your income and you’ll already beat the American average.
While establishing an emergency fund is the absolute first line of financial defense, the next priority is to pay down toxic debt.
4. Have less than $5,769 in credit card debt
Credit cards are a double edged sword—they provide easy access to cards, but it’s a slippery slope into high interest debt.
That’s because the average credit card interest is anywhere from 15-20% APR.
Just to put that in context: average stock market returns are 8-10%.
That means paying off credit card debts leads to a bigger “return on investment” than even investing.
But to build wealth, investing is not optional.
5. Invest in stocks—58% of Americans do
According to Gallup, more than half of Americans invest in stocks.
That means 1 out 3 of Americans choose to not participate in the stock market—the best performing investment in the last few decades.
It’s not just how many people own stock, but it’s how much you have on average.
The amount of money in your investment is your portfolio balance— here are some averages by age:
Let’s not forget the point of investing: have enough money for retirement.
Men retire at an average age of 64.6 years, and women remain at age 62.3. (Source)
Retirement doesn’t mean you have to stop working. It just means you have the financial freedom to choose what you want to do, whether that’s working a job or spending your golden years bingeing Netflix.
Nobody want to give the best years of your life to working, only to retire at an age when you’re less capable of going on vacation.
Speaking of vacation…
6. Use more than 54% of your vacation days
One of the top regrets of the dying is: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
Contrast: the average U.S. employee only uses half of the paid vacation days they’re given. Even more telling is that half of those who take paid leave still work on vacation!
There’s hope: those who plan their vacations use their PTO twice as much as non-planners.
Vacation is not only about travel—it’s about maintaining mental health and avoiding burn out.
What’s the point of money if you don’t enjoy it?
7. Talk about money. 56% of people avoid it.
We don’t need to poll 2,000 respondents to believe that most people consider finances a taboo topic.
If you’re willing to have uncomfortable conversations about money, you’re going to be way ahead of the game.
A recent Fidelity Investments Couples & Money Study found that the more couples communicate – especially about money – the better the relationship. Not rocket science.
So why is money so hard to talk about?
In another study, reasons like shame, not wanting to burden others, and lack of experience talking about money in the household are top reasons.
These emotions are compounded when it’s your loved ones – spouse and family – that you must face.
That’s why it helps to talk to a money coach like me to learn how to have productive conversations about money.
Beating the financial odds
Here are the stats again, summarized:
- Make more than $70,000 a year
- Avoid becoming the 61% of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck
- Save more than 4.4% of your income
- Have less than $5,769 in credit card debt
- Invest in stocks like 58% of Americans
- Use more than 54% of your vacation days
- Talk about money. 56% of people avoid it
Hard truth: becoming wealthy is supposed to be hard—or else everybody would do it.
The point of self comparison is not to be better than other people (though it is nice to feel smug once in a while).
The point is to give yourself a frame of reference.
With some of these statistics in mind, I hope you feel more clarity in how to set financial goals.