Home Retirement How much money Americans need to earn to be ‘financially independent’

How much money Americans need to earn to be ‘financially independent’

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Financial independence is a common goal for people at many different life stages. 

In fact, 67% of Americans say achieving that milestone is important to them, according to a recent survey from Empower financial services

But financial independence can have various meanings. One popular definition is having enough money to be able to stop working. A more attainable interpretation is that you don’t have to rely on someone else, such as your parents or a spouse, for money.

Regardless of how they define it, Americans say financial independence is also the most important marker of overall life success, or feeling like you’ve financially “made it,” Empower found.

It doesn’t take an exorbitant salary, either. Americans say they’d need to earn about $94,000 a year on average to feel financially independent. That’s about $20,000 more than the median household income of $74,580.

Financial independence may look different for everyone

There are several ways people may consider themselves financially independent. A young adult who moves out of their parents’ home. A subscriber to the FIRE movement — which stands for financial independence, retire early — who is able to live off passive income, with the flexibility to work for a lower salary or not at all.

Most people, however, define financial independence simply, Empower found. The most popular definition, chosen by 47% of survey respondents, is “no longer needing to receive money from family and friends.”

“Reaching a certain net worth” (44%) and “starting to contribute to a 401(k)” (42%) were also popular definitions, according to Empower. Respondents were able to select up to three definitions.

If you’re interested in achieving financial independence, the first step is deciding what it looks like for you.

“Financial independence starts with clarity,” Keith Jones, senior financial professional with Empower said in the survey release. “Establishing clear financial goals provides both direction and purpose, motivating you to work towards a more secure and satisfying financial future.”

Taking it up a level

If you’re looking to be as financially independent as possible, a FIRE mindset might be a good idea for you. Followers typically aim for a certain net worth, known as their “FIRE number,” which is the amount of money they estimate they need to have saved and invested to be work-optional.

You don’t have to adhere to a specific definition of financial independence to be part of the FIRE movement. But for many followers, it is tied to the ability to retire early, which requires you to be untethered from other people and institutions, whether that’s a supportive family member or an employer paying you to work.

There can be levels to this kind of financial independence, too. Jessica and Corey Fick, money coaches and personal finance content creators known as “The Fioneers,” identify five levels of financial freedom. Level one is being debt-free, while level five is having enough in savings to completely replace your income.

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