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Workers Say $122,000 Is the Minimum Salary to Be Financially Healthy

​​Key Findings

  • Americans say they need to make $122,174 to feel financially healthy
  • Men report needing a salary of $142,000, women say they need less at $101,000.
  • Boomers report the lowest amount of salary needed to feel healthy at $100,000. Gen Z is next with just over $110,000. Gen X and Millennials report needing higher amounts of $130,000.
  • Americas say they need $663,322 saved for retirement in order to feel financially healthy

Before the pandemic, people who left their jobs might have been ridiculed for “job hopping,” but the trend has evolved into an era-defining rallying cry for improved living standards in our post-COVID life.

And at this time when many people are retiring early, waving goodbye to office jobs in favor of remote work, and negotiating better pay — Americans have money on their minds.

According to Personal Capital’s 2022 Wealth & Wellness Index, a survey* of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, today’s workers say $122,000 is the minimum salary to be financially healthy. That’s a drastic jump from what was once accepted as the minimum “happiness salary” of $70,000. But what’s driving this adjustment — optimism with what’s to come or uncertainty amid increasing costs of living?

Unsurprisingly, it’s a mix of both. Americans are reportedly less trusting of the economy, with just 40% expressing confidence (down from 69% when the pandemic began). Simultaneously, fewer Americans are achieving goals like debt payoff, emergency savings, and other financial basics. Paying off personal debt and saving for retirement were reported as Americans’ top goals for  2022. And in quarter four of 2021, there was an uptick in Americans reporting that  salary and income are key drivers of  financial health — up 10% from quarter one.

Maybe the data explain why Americans have gotten pickier and laser-focused on their financial health. One category that’s receiving increased attention is employer benefits — either in new, prospective jobs or with their current gigs. The survey found that more workers are looking for financial planning resources from their employer’s retirement savings account (23% today vs. 15% at the start of 2021).

How Much Do Americans Need to Feel Financially Healthy?

But how much is enough when it comes to financial health? Money, as we know, isn’t static; it’s important to look at both a person’s income and their overall big picture when evaluating their stability and ability to move through the world.

Financial health came down to three areas in the Personal Capital survey:

  1. Income
  2. Nest egg savings
  3. Retirement savings

Where you land in each category probably has an impact on how financially secure you feel. But what’s the American definition of “secure”?

Here’s what the data reveals.

How Much Do You Need in Income?

  1. Americans say they need to make $122,174 to feel financially healthy
  2. Men report needing a salary of $142K,  women need less at $101K.
  3. Boomers report the lowest amount of salary needed to feel healthy at $100K. Gen Z is next with just over $110K. Gen X and Millennials report needing similar amounts of $130K.

How Much Do You Need in Your Nest Egg?

  1. Americans say they need a nest egg of $441,177 to feel financially healthy.
  2. Men report needing more money saved to be financially healthy – over a half million vs just over a quarter million ($598,899 vs females $275,165).
  3. As age increases so does the amount of money felt to be needed to be healthy. For Gen Z just over $100K needed, to Boomers who say over a half million.

How Much Do You Need in Retirement Savings?

  1. Americas say they need $663,322 saved for retirement in order to feel financially healthy.
  2. Men report more retirement savings needed – Over $800K. Women say they need less than $500K.
  3. Gen X report needing nearly $800K retirement savings. Other generations need less, with Boomers and Millennials needing between $650K-$660. Gen Z believe then need under a half million ($487K).

Tip: Get a handle on your money with Personal Capital’s free financial dashboard. You get a quick overview of your net worth, cash flow, investment allocation, and more. You can also plan for long-term goals like funding a child’s education or retiring.

Comparing Millennials vs Baby Boomers

Let’s take a look at how the different generations describe their financial security.

Millennials

Interestingly, Millennials are the group most likely to report feeling “very financially healthy,” (43%) even though many of them report being in “survival mode” — ie only having enough to cover the basics (the survey reported 39% — the highest of any generation)

So why do we think Millennials are feeling so good despite being in paycheck-to-paycheck mode? The data revealed a few takeaways:

  • Millennials are the group most likely to report being positively financially affected by the pandemic.
  • They feel good about their long-term investments (80% feel confident in their investment portfolio).
  • They feel the pandemic was a wake-up call that made them re-evaluate their financial situation (84% agree that the pandemic forced them to pay more attention to their financial health – the most of any generation), and they’ve made improvements to their financial situation in the past year (71% feel their financial health improved in the past year vs 60% gen X and 54% boomer).
  • Millennials spent the last year prioritizing debt paydown and focusing on thinking ahead to retirement – are more likely than Gen X and boomers to have “achieved” being debt free (36%), and are now looking ahead to planning for retirement in 2022 (saving for retirement is the #1 goal for Millennials in 2022 – financial or otherwise).
  • Millennials are the generation most likely to say they feel optimistic about their financial health (46%). They are feeling good about their financial situation, even if they haven’t gotten to a place of financially thriving, because they are optimistic about the future and they’re confident in their ability to get there.

Baby Boomers

  1. Boomers are the generation that feel least confident in the economy.
  2. Boomers are still dealing with debt – their top goal (financial or otherwise for the New Year) is paying off debt.
  3. Boomers are worried about their spending power – only a third feel they can make big purchases without worry.
  4. Some 34% of Boomers report having no form of retirement savings and 28% report having no savings of any kind.
  5. Lack of income is the top reason that Boomers face as a roadblock to financial health, with 30% saying they don’t have enough income.

Worried about inflation eating into your savings? Use the Retirement Planner to model different scenarios based on inflation.

Bottom Line

For many, the pandemic was a wake-up call that made them re-evaluate their financial situation. And as we adjust to the Fed’s hints at interest rate hikes and worries of inflation, it’s natural to evaluate our money. As you consider what salary you need to fund your lifestyle and retirement, plan ahead and consider how you’ll make the most of any income that comes to you through wages, salaries, future raises, bonuses, and windfalls, too.

 

* Survey Methodology: This survey was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Empower and Personal Capital from October 29 to November 3, 2021. We surveyed 2,006 U.S. citizens ages 18+. This study also references data from prior research, including a study conducted from March 23, 2021 to April 8, 2021 with 2005 respondents; a study conducted from November 25, 2020 to December 11 among 2008 adults; and a study conducted from December 18 to December 30 among 2001 adults.

 

Author is not a client of Personal Capital Advisors Corporation and is compensated as a freelance writer.

The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. Compensation not to exceed $500. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money. Any reference to the advisory services refers to Personal Capital Advisors Corporation, a subsidiary of Personal Capital. Personal Capital Advisors Corporation is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training nor does it imply endorsement by the SEC.
Megan DeMatteo is a former CNBC money reporter and Pushcart-nominated poet. She now contributes to various publications with a specialization in personal finance.
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