Everybody wants to be considered wealthy. But how big of a net worth is required to be considered wealthy in some of the biggest cities in America?
Charles Schwab’s annual Modern Wealth Survey shares its insights for 2022. In the U.S. overall, the survey says it takes a net worth of $2.2 million to be considered wealthy, up from $1.9 million in 2021. Up 15.8% is a significant increase, but it makes sense due to high inflation and a rise in home prices.
What’s interesting is that the net worth minimum thresholds required to be wealthy or financially comfortable were much higher in 2018, 2019, and 2020. It’s nice to see our overall expectations haven’t surged to unreasonable levels.
The online survey was conducted in early February 2022, with a sample of 500 to 750 local residents for each metropolitan area, between the ages of 21 and 75.
Sadly, since then, U.S. stocks have lost all their 2021 gains in 2022. Hence, the overall net worth required of $2.2 million to be considered wealthy might be lower now if the participants were surveyed again.
Net Worth Required To Be Considered Wealthy In Various Cities
Here are the minimum net worth thresholds by city to be considered wealthy.
- San Francisco: $5.1 million
- Southern California (includes Los Angeles and San Diego): $3.9 million
- New York City: $3.4 million
- Washington, D.C.: $3.3 million
- Seattle: $3.2 million
- Phoenix: $2.7 million
- Boston: $2.7 million
- Dallas: $2.6 million
- Houston: $2.6 million
- Atlanta: $2.5 million
- Chicago: $2.5 million
- Denver: $2.3 million
Unfortunately, my city of San Francisco takes the cake where one needs about a $5.1 million net worth to be considered wealthy. The figure is up from $3.8 million in 2021, or up 35%! However, given tech stocks have crashed by 30% – 80% in 2022, the net worth figure is surely lower for San Francisco today.
To be considered “financially comfortable,” a San Francisco resident would need a net worth of at least $1.71 million, the survey finds. As a San Francisco resident, that seems reasonable depending on the composition of the net worth.
The net worth results in the survey buttress my belief that $3 million is the new $1 million to be considered a real millionaire. And a net worth of $2 million is probably the lowest threshold to be considered rich or wealthy in America today.
Surprises About The Various Net Worth Levels By City
There are several surprises about the various minimum net worth thresholds by city above.
1) New York City Requires A Lower Net Worth Than Expected
The first surprise is how New York City is only ranked third with a net worth threshold of $3.4 million. Anybody who has ever been to New York City knows it’s one of the most expensive cities in the country. But most people who visit NYC mostly just visit Manhattan.
However, New York City has five boroughs that geographically make up over 300 square miles. The cost of living in Staten Island, Queens, and The Bronx are much more affordable than in Manhattan. Hence, commuting to Manhattan, if required, is a much more affordable option. The subway system is excellent.
San Francisco, on the other hand, only spans over 49 square miles. There are definitely more affordable neighborhoods in San Francisco. I moved to one of them three miles west in 2014 and saved 40% on housing. However, the most expensive neighborhoods in San Francisco are still cheaper than Manhattan (22.7 square miles).
2) Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, And Chicago Net Worth Thresholds Seem Too High
The median home prices in Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston and Chicago are all much lower than the median home prices in San Francisco (~$1.7 million), New York City (~$770,000), and the other major cities.
- Phoenix median home price ~$485,000 (+32% YoY)
- Dallas median home price ~$330,000 (+30% YoY)
- Atlanta median home price ~$398,000 (+19% YoY)
- Chicago median home price ~$318,000 (+9% YoY)
- Houston median home price ~$267,000 (+22% YoY)
We can take the respective net worth thresholds for each city and divide each by the local median home price to get a ratio. Let’s call this the Financial Samurai Wealth Reality Ratio.
The reason why is because their net worth target is too high versus their wealth potential. The farther away reality is from expectations, the less happy you will be!
- Phoenix $2.7 million net worth / median home price ~$485,000 = 5.56
- Dallas $2.6 million net worth / median home price ~$330,000 = 7.87
- Houston $2.6 million net worth / median home price ~$267,000 = 9.73
- Atlanta $2.5 million net worth / median home price ~$398,000 = 6.28
- Chicago $2.5 million net worth / median home price ~$318,000 = 7.86
- San Francisco $5.1 million net worth / median home price $1.7 million = 3
3) Dallas, Houston, And Chicago Residents Are The Most Frustrated Financially
Based on the Financial Samurai Wealth Reality Ratios, the expectations for what is considered wealthy for Dallas, Houston, and Chicago residents are much too high.
Home prices are a reflection of economic opportunity, namely income levels and income growth. You can’t have a high median home price and a low median income over the long run. That is unsustainable unless your city also faces an international demand curve.
Chicago, Houston, and Dallas residents should consider relocating to a city like San Francisco with a Financial Samurai Wealth Reality Ratio of only three. Or, more conveniently, Chicago, Houston, and Dallas city residents should lower their expectations of what is the minimum net worth to be considered wealthy.
Conversely, San Francisco residents may be the most satisfied financially in the entire country. San Francisco residents are more realistic with their wealth goals, yet have a higher chance of achieving their stretch net worth goals as well.
A $5 Million Net Worth Is Reasonable After All
In a previous article, I wrote that having at least a $5 million net worth is required to retire early with a family. Even if 100% of the $5 million was invested in income-producing assets, it would only generate a realistic $150,000 – $200,000 a year. A handsome amount for most, but relatively middle-class in an expensive city.
Of course, the article was met with a lot of pushback because most people don’t live in San Francisco or a similarly expensive city. Most people don’t retire before age 60 either. However, it’s nice to see Schwab’s Modern Wealth Survey reflect the true feelings about wealth from some San Francisco residents.
The biggest reminder from the survey is that San Francisco really is one of the cheapest international cities in the world due to its high income-generation potential. I’ve been to many of the world’s great international cities. And time and time again, I’ve come home to realize what good value San Francisco is compared to cities such as London, Paris, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
It’s also nice to see more reasonable expectations for what is considered wealthy in San Francisco. Using the Dallas Financial Samurai Wealth Ratio of 7.87, San Francisco residents would require a minimum net worth threshold of $13.4 million to be considered wealthy!
Although, the ideal net worth to retire is over $10 million, $13.4 million as a minimum net worth to be considered wealthy seems a little too high.
Alas, San Francisco residents only require a $5.1 million minimum net worth to feel rich. Therefore, San Francisco is either much cheaper than everybody thinks or residents are much happier than everybody thinks. It’s likely a combination of both.
If America Was More Realistic About What It Means To Be Wealthy
It is important to have realistic expectations about wealth. If you’re always thinking you need more and more you will never be happy with what you have. Please have reasonable expectations.
Let’s accept 3:1 as a realistic Financial Samurai Wealth Wealth Reality Ratio. If we do, the the minimum net worth required to be considered wealthy in America overall is about $1.2 million since the median home price in America is about $400,000.
The great thing about amassing a $1.2 million net worth is that most people who are personal finance enthusiasts will get there. Heck, I expect everyone reading Financial Samurai to eventually become 401(k) millionaires alone! Now add on the growth of your taxable investments and becoming wealthy may be an inevitability.
Let’s embrace our wealth. If we’re on the right path, we’ll eventually become wealthier than our wildest dreams. And if we never get technically wealthy, at least we can always feel wealthy by appreciating more of what we have.
Invest In Real Estate Strategically
Personally, I’m happy living in expensive cities like San Francisco, Honolulu, and New York City due to the food, culture, and overall lifestyle. However, I’m actively investing in the cheapest cities in the country which require the lowest net worth to feel wealthy.
I do so via a private real estate investing platform like Fundrise, which specifically invests in the heartland. Fundrise invests in single-family and multi-family homes in places like Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta.
I love earning more 100% passive income as more Americans migrate to lower-cost areas of the country. The older I get, the less I want to own physical real estate due to the maintenance and tenant hassles.
Buy The Best Personal Finance Book
To get wealthier, pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom.
The book provides frameworks to help you build way more wealth than the average person. Further, my book also helps you tackle some of life’s biggest dilemmas in an optimal way.
Buy This, Not That is currently available on Amazon for a huge discount! Education is the best investment you’ll ever make.
Join 50,000+ others and sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites that started in 2009.