How Much Money Is More Than Enough?

Photo by 401(K) 2013/ Flickr.com

Photo by 401(K) 2013/ Flickr.com

How much money do Americans need to have more than enough to go around? The answer might surprise you, especially if you remember how conservatives blew a gasket last year when President Obama announced plans to raise taxes on anyone earning more than $250,000 yearly. Obama labeled these people as “haves.” Republicans said these people were “have nots,” paupers really, until they made, say, $500,000 a year. As it turns out, Americans require just $180,000 to have more than enough to live comfortably, a Gallup poll has found.

Gallup surveyed roughly 22,000 Americans about their financial background during the first half of this year. Fifty-one percent of survey respondents who earn at least $180,000 yearly said they have more than enough cash to live how they want. Moreover, a whopping 87 percent of people in this income bracket said they earn enough money to buy the things they need. Asked if they earn enough money to make a major purchase such as a car or an emergency home repair, 74 percent of people in this group answered affirmatively.

Compare these responses to those of Americans from all income groups. Sixty-nine percent of Americans overall told Gallup they earn enough to buy what they need, but fewer than half said they could afford to make a major purchase. Digest that for a moment. Fewer than 50 percent of Americans can afford to replace their fridge should it break down on them. Clearly the lack of financial cushion for an emergency separates the average American from the wealthiest.

Although it’s easy to argue that an annual income of $180,000 isn’t much for those who live in an expensive city such as New York, San Francisco or Boston, the Gallup poll reflects the views of Americans who live in all 50 states, including the elite blue ones chock full of community organizers and Ivy League grads. Given this and the large number of Americans who remain unemployed or underemployed as the nation rebounds from the recession, it’s hard to deny that $180,000 is a lot of money. But does this yearly income mean one is wealthy? Yes, for Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation. Not quite for California.

Photo by 401 (k) 2013/Flickr.com

Photo by 401 (k) 2013/Flickr.com

Defining what’s wealthy will always be a tricky issue, even accounting for region, marital status and the number of children a person has. Ever run into that person who brings home a truckload of bacon each year but complains of being cash-strapped? Take “Real Word” alum-turned-Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy. The congressman made headlines in 2011 for complaining about his yearly salary of $174,000. Apparently that’s chump change to him.

“With six kids, I still pay off my student loans. I still pay my mortgage,” he said. “I drive a used minivan. If you think I’m living high off the hog, I’ve got one paycheck. So I…I struggle to meet my bills right now.”

The problem here is that Duffy had the gall to complain about his salary to a constituent who earned just a third of the amount that he makes. And note that Duffy is from Wisconsin, not one of those highfalutin states where people think nothing of dropping $30K yearly on private school for their kids. In contrast to the Sean Duffys of the world are the people like the Wealthy Barber, who make modest incomes but manage it so well they’re never short on funds to pay for emergencies.

So, is there a magical dollar amount Americans should make before they’re considered “comfortable,” if not outright rich? How much money would you need to have the lifestyle you want?

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