"Making it" in America means different things to different people: Landing your dream job. Getting married and having kids. Buying a home. But the No. 1 answer for many, it turns out, is reaching a certain salary.
In ThermoSoft's 2018 "Making it in America" survey, the corporation asked 2,000 Americans: "If you haven't yet 'made it,' what's missing?" Two-thirds of respondents, or 67 percent, said "income."
To feel like they have "made it," respondents said they would need an average annual income of $147,104.
That's an income of more than double the national median ($57,617 as of 2016). But it's not unattainable. In fact, depending on where you live and the size of your household, a salary around $150,000 can put you squarely in the middle class .
And while many people want to earn more, immense wealth isn't necessarily the goal: 77 percent of respondents would not want a salary of more than $1 million, even if it was offered.
After all, a separate study found that just 11 percent of Americans say getting rich is essential to achieving the American Dream . Instead, Americans prefer goals like freedom of choice, having a good family life and being able to retire comfortably.
To be fair, all of those require having funds, since money can offer options and flexibility. Still, as both surveys suggest, it isn't everything. Grant Sabatier, a web designer in his 30s who went from broke to seven figures in five years , learned this the hard way.
"I have lost a few friends and strained other relationships because I've spent too much time staying late in the office or hustling on the weekends," he told CNBC Make It .
As a solution, Sabatier decided to set lifestyle goals instead of monetary ones, by asking questions like, What do you want to do with your money? How many hours a week do you want to work? How much do you want to travel?
While money can pave the way to the American dream by allowing home ownership and a comfortable retirement, as Sabatier learned, it's best seen as a means to an end: "Even though I truly believe that having money is freedom, money is really just a tool to make experiences in life possible."
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