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What does it take to be wealthy? Well-being is a more important measure than money or assets, survey finds

KEY POINTS

  • Americans’ views about what it takes to be wealthy have changed since pre-pandemic times.
  • In a new Charles Schwab survey, Americans say having lots of money isn’t the same as being wealthy.
  • More people define wealth as their well-being rather than their money.

Many Americans feel wealthy — but don’t necessarily measure it in dollars and cents. Well-being, not money, has become the leading measure of wealth for most adults today, according to the new Charles Schwab Modern Wealth Survey.

It takes an average net worth of $2.2 million to be considered “wealthy,” the survey found — but that’s the estimate respondents gave for other people.

What about you? Are you rich? How much money does it take for you to consider yourself wealthy

Of the 1,000 adults surveyed, about 48% say they already feel wealthy. Yet their average net worth is $560,000 — about a quarter of what they think others need to be rich.

Millennials are overwhelmingly more likely to say they feel wealthy — with 57% of those ages 26 to 41 saying they feel this way, compared with only about 40% of Gen Z, Gen X, and baby boomers. For millennials who say they feel wealthy, their average net worth is about $530,000. 

Wealth is a ‘very personal’ definition

“The definition of wealth is very personal, and it should be unique to one’s experience,” said certified financial planner Preston D. Cherry, founder and president of Concurrent Financial Planning in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He stresses the importance of having a financial plan based on your own wants and needs.

“If you do nothing, then nothing will happen,” said Cherry, who is a member of CNBC’s Financial Advisor Council.

Americans’ views about what it takes to be wealthy have changed since pre-pandemic times. 

When Schwab did its Modern Wealth Survey before the Covid pandemic in 2020, people said the average net worth it takes to be considered wealthy was $2.6 million. In 2021, that figure dropped to $1.9 million, then went up to $2.2 million in 2022 — where it’s stayed this year.  

How wealth and well-being intersect

When asked to characterize what being wealthy means to them, respondents overall mentioned their well-being (40%) more often than money (32%) and assets (26%). In 2017, the top response to what wealth means was money (27%). 

“Whether they know it or not, well-being is much more important,” said CFP and financial psychologist Brad Klontz, a managing principal of Your Mental Wealth Advisors in Boulder, Colorado.

“One of the risks we run is thinking a certain amount of money is going to bring us happiness, bring us peace, improve our lives, improve our relationships,” said Klontz, who is also a member of CNBC’s Financial Advisor Council.

“Unfortunately some people will sacrifice what matters most to them ultimately, in their goal to achieve an arbitrary wealth number.”

Yet, nearly two-thirds, 62%, of adults in the Schwab survey say enjoying healthy relationships with their loved ones better describes what wealth means than having a lot of money (38%). And, 7 in 10 adults say wealth is about not having to stress over money, not having more of it. 

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