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You May Say You Want to be Wealthy ... but What Exactly Does Wealthy Mean?

We all have our own version of the American Dream. A four-bedroom house in a nice neighborhood would certainly qualify, or maybe a two-bedroom condo in the city, with its own garage, would suffice? Your neighbor may want a yacht to satisfy his American dream ... your office-mate to travel wherever and whenever she wants.

get rich

Who's rich? Are you rich? Is your neighbor? How about your boss? Americans' definitions vary widely from earning $74,000 a year to needing at least $5 million.

But there is one tie that binds most all American Dreams together, and that is wealth. It takes money to live a dream-life, and a lot of it. While we're all so busy fascinating about living the good life, planning what we'll do when we strike it rich, and, perhaps, envying those who are already there, has anyone stopped to consider what being wealthy really means?

How Much Does it Take to be "Rich"?

It takes an annual income of $120,000 to be rich. If you have assets that total $1 million, you also qualify.

Surprised? Did you think it took more? Less? The above definition of rich comes from a 2003 Gallup poll, and is the median definition of rich, according to those who responded to the poll. About 8 percent of respondents kicked things up a notch: they said it takes an income of $1 million a year to be rich.

But "rich" is clearly relative. A poll of over 11,000 people by MSN Money found that majority thought you'd need at least $5 million before you're rich.

And here's some interesting food for thought -- it appears that the more money you earn, the more you need to feel rich. Among those who earned under $30,000, a household income of $74,000 was "rich." For those who earned between $30,000 and $50,000, it took $100,000 a year to be rich.

And those who were in the top half of income earners already? They were more likely to think it took an income of $200,000 to join the ranks of the rich.

"I'll Be Rich One Day"

About a third of Americans (31 percent) expect to get rich at some point in their lives, according to the Gallup Poll (a lucky 2 percent say they already are). But is getting rich really likely, or are we all just chasing the proverbial white rabbit?

What Kind of SUPER Rich Person Would You Be?

get rich

Just for fun, let's say you are suddenly in possession of a lot of cash. Not just enough to splurge on a new pair of shoes or golf clubs, but serious money.

Given the opportunity, what kind of "big spender" do you think you would be? A "Paris Hilton"... a "Bill Gates"... a "Warren Buffet"... or a "George Soros"?

Find Out What Kind of SUPER Rich Person You'd be Now!

If you ask Americans under 30, the chances of getting rich are pretty good: 51 percent of them believe they may very well be rich one day. Ask someone over 65 and the odds go down -- only 8 percent in this group think they'll become wealthy.

Who's right? If you ask Thomas DiPrete, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, the more mature Americans may have it.

DiPrete analyzed income levels back to 1968 to find out how likely different salary earners were to become rich. You may want to cover your ears here: He found it was extremely unlikely that most people will one day earn $1 million a year, even for those who would be considered above-average earners. For instance, those who earn $120,000 a year today have only a 19 percent chance of raising their income to $340,000 in the next 15 years.

The chances seem to grow even slimmer when you consider these statistics reported in an MSN Money article:

  • People are saving at the lowest rates ever since the U.S. Federal Reserve began tracking it in 1946.

  • Consumer debt in the United States is at a high of $2.1 trillion -- not including mortgages.

  • From 2001 to 2003, Americans spent 51 percent of $333 billion worth of cashed out equity from their homes on paying down debts and covering living expenses like rent and groceries.

'What about all of those rich and famous celebrities out there?' you may be thinking ... 'If they can make it big, why can't I?'

Well, according to Edward Wolff, a professor of economics at NYU, even those we think of as fabulously wealthy may not be all that rich.

"These are people with big incomes, but that doesn't necessarily translate to big wealth," he says. "Just getting it is half the battle -- then you have to maintain it, and that takes a continuous flow of big income."

Creating Wealth in Your Life (Money Optional)

Hopefully hearing these statistics does not leave you feeling discouraged but rather more in touch with reality. Because the bottom line is, if you're waiting to be happy until you earn a magic amount of dollars (and it's easy to get caught up in this mentality), you may never be truly happy.

Rather, we recommend that you count your riches right now -- those that come from your character, the smiles on your kids faces, and the satisfaction you have with your life right now -- and then decide for yourself how wealthy you really are.

Recommended Reading

Why Your Income Has Very Little to do With How Happy You Are

Spending Your Money on Doing Things vs. Owning Things Will Make You Happier


The Gallup Poll

MSN Money: Just How Rich is Rich, Really?

Taipei Times: Americans Cling to Alluring Myth of 'Getting Rich'

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