How Do You Know When You Have Enough Money?

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enough money

The New York Times reported earlier this year that the American middle class is no longer the wealthiest middle class in the world. In fact, middle class people in other countries like Canada have had better luck with raises and increasing their overall income over the past few years.

The wealthiest people in our country are still doing just fine when you pit them against our global counterparts, but the middle class seems to be stuck – neither growing nor really doing too badly either. I have to ask though, is a richer middle class really the goal?

To put it another way, how do you know when you’re wealthy? How do you know when you have enough money? Is the goal for the middle class in America to just grow and do better and better until there is a larger upper class?

It seems like people are always striving for more – more money, bigger houses, a raise, more trips, and more recognition when really there are far bigger wealth inequality problems, on a global scale. In fact, those who are poor in America are actually living better than most people around the world.

WheN I Will Be Wealthy


So, do I consider myself wealthy? No, not really. Here are some things I’d like to have checked off the list to actually call myself that:

  1. A positive net worth (or really, no debt whatsoever)
  2. An ability to travel once or twice a year without obsessing about cost.
  3. Working because I want to not because I have to.
  4. Able to pay for my children’s wants and needs within reason including their college tuition.

If I can accomplish those four things above at some point in my life, I will consider myself to have enough. For me, there is no magic number. I won’t consider myself wealthy just because my net worth hits 1 million. To me, true wealth is true freedom – the ability to make most decisions without really obsessing over the details too much. Of course, that’s just me. I’m very interested to hear if you think you’re wealthy or if there’s a list of things you want to accomplish before you feel like you deserve that title.

How Much Is Enough Money for Me


To take the second question, how do you know when you have enough money, here’s my list of requirements for that:

  1. I can make all of my bill payments without stress or moving money around.
  2. I have money left over to use for fun things (Right now, it’s a fine balance. Anything left over goes directly into my husband’s residency application fund. There is not much extra for gifts, clothes, or things for the house.)
  3.  I can send my kids to the school of my choice, even if it’s private. Having enough money means having more options.
  4. I can invest and save a large portion of my income, including using it to invest in myself and new ideas and business pursuits.

Again, those are just my thoughts for when I’ll feel like I really have “enough” money. I suppose right now I technically could say I have enough. Things are a bit tight, but I can still pay my rent, all my bills, buy formula, etc. and I know that makes me wealthier than many people in our country and the world, but I’d personally feel better with some more wiggle room.


So, what is your opinion of wealth in our nation? What’s your own personal metric for whether or not you have enough money? Do you feel like you have arrived financially?

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Catherine Alford is the go to personal finance expert for parents who want to better their finances and take on a more active financial role in their families.


  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    Great post as always, Cat. I think we are MUCH wealthier in America than we realize: we’re just better at piddling all of our cash away on stupid stuff, unfortunately. When our debt is gone, and we’ve got enough in savings to not have to worry about money, even if we do have to stick to a limited budget, I’ll consider us wealthy.

  • Travis @debtchronicles says:

    That’s a tough question to pin down…..goals change as you go through life, so the question and the answer changes. I have “enough” money right now….BUT I’m going to work to have more – because that’s what makes life fun – the constant desire and drive to do better!

  • Robin says:

    I would agree that we are already wealthy simply because we live in America.
    But I think I will consider myself wealthy enough when I can choose to work on things I truly want to work on and not just because I need a paycheck.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    I just want to be financially independent. I want to work because I want to work, not because I have to pay the bills. I also want to help my kids with college and travel freely and often!

  • Al | Saving the Crumbs says:

    This is such an important question, since we all need to know where the “finish line” is if we’re gonna break our backs to get out of debt/live frugally/save lots of money/etc. Otherwise, it’s just hoarding an ever growing pile of cash with no purpose in mind (aka greed). I think pretty much you nailed it, and that’s to determine what our NEEDS are, then figure out the best financial position to be in in order to meet those needs. It’s going to be a subjective thing and thus different for everyone. But we’ve gotta have those goals!

  • Kathy says:

    I have to say that when I see people who already have an I-phone standing in line to get the newest I-phone then they must have enough wealth. That’s not something you see in a third world country.

    • Cat says:

      Yeah I was in NYC recently and there were people literally paying other people to wait in line for them for the iPhone 6. Now, I love me some Apple products just as much as the next person but seriously?!

  • Liz says:

    I believe that “wealth” shouldn’t be solely measured by how much we have financially and how much our purchasing power is but needs to include other factors like your family or your health. One can have a lot of financial wealth but be poor in health and alone. I think it is a fine balance that we all need to keep.

  • Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way says:

    You’re absolutely right Cat that those who are poor in America are actually living better than most people around the world. You have a very high currency exchange rate mostly in all countries and that includes my country.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says:

    Right now I don’t even have “enough” to have children. I don’t say that jokingly or lightly, I would be below the poverty line. I think “enough” for me would be freedom to make basic lifestyle choices- like having children or buying a home (at a reasonable price point)- without being completely restricted by my income.

  • Tonya@Budget & the Beach says:

    I do not consider myself wealthy at the moment. It will be when I can travel when I like, not stress about income, have a comfortable retirement, and be able to do some leisure things that I love without too much thought. long way to go…long way to go…:)

  • Amy says:

    I agree with your criteria for both feeling like I’m wealthy, and like I have enough money.

    Although my husband and I have a good income, we have a lot of debt. I’ll feel much more secure when at least the credit card debt is paid off…

  • Aldo @ MillionDollarNinja says:

    I personally don’t want to have all the money in the world. I just want enough to be able to do the four things you mentioned above: zero debt, not have to work, a few trips, and pay for my kids education (okay maybe this one).

    Some people just want more, more, more, and that’s okay too, but that’s just not me.

    • Cat says:

      Yeah I’m like you —- too much money and all that seems like too much responsibility or too many people constantly nagging you and asking you to donate to things. Just a nice, normal quiet life is good for me too.

  • Miriam says:

    Many years ago when I was a struggling single mother I decided that I would be well-off when I could spend $100 without worrying about it or feeling stress. Later it became $500. Now it is more like your list – I can pay all my bills each month and have some left over; I can take a ‘big’ vacation every two years and a ‘medium’ vacation every year; I have no debt. Now that I’m retired and living on a fixed income, I focus on ways to spend less on so-called necessities, leaving more for the fun parts of life.

  • Lance @ Healthy Wealthy Income says:

    Those four are dead on. I know millionaires that are dead broke which is ironic…but they are living life like their money will never end and eventually the spending has to come to an end. I live next to a very wealthy neighborhood and it gets really old helping people move out because they have lost it all. It’s hard to help others that won’t help themselves with their spending. You are not wealthy if you can’t control your spending and expenses…no matter your income!

  • Kim says:

    I think I’ll feel wealthy when we don’t have a mortgage and can cover our expenses with passive income,plus do all the hobbies and travel that we like to do. I think until our daughter is self sufficient, I’ll always feel like I need to work and save.

    I think we’ll be able to help her with an instate college, but what if she does awesome in school, wants to be President and says she needs to go to Yale? Could I really squish that dream because it’s expensive? Unlikely it would happen, but what if?

    • Cat says:

      Ah you make a good point. Of course ivy league schools are overrated. 😉 Just kidding…. I want to get to the point of being able to let my kids make that choice too in 18 years or so.

  • Erin @ Journey to Saving says:

    Right now, we don’t have enough. I’ll feel much better once we have our student loans paid off, and are able to invest more for retirement. I equate freedom with wealth as well. It’s nice to have choices and not have to stress over the implications your decisions will have on your financial situation!

    • Cat says:

      Yeah those pesky student loans get me too. I was really killing it for a while there paying $1,000 a month towards them sometimes but the kiddos brought all that to a screeching halt.

  • dojo says:

    We are not wealthy and will probably never be. Sure, compared to how little others make in my country, were doing great, but we’re just earning a decent ‘wage’.

    We have no debt, we can travel where we’d like, but we need to work more on saving money for our retirement and also for our daughter’s future.

  • Mario says:

    That’s a tough nut to crack. Perhaps I shouldn’t care how others are doing as long as I get enough to live comfortably. But should I care if I work harder than people did a generation ago to get less pay? And should I care if the cause is largely rules meant to build others up at my expense? This doesn’t all occur inside of a vacuum, after all

    • Cat says:

      You bring up some good points and really what popped into my mind is physicians’ salaries just because my husband is in med school. He’ll certain work the same amount as doctors in the past but will get paid less.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor says:

    Enough to me means the freedom to say ‘no’ to something for which I’d receive money purely because I have other things I’d rather spend my time doing.

  • Myles Money says:

    Kurt nailed it for me: you have enough when you are financially independent enough to be able to turn paid work down because you don’t need additional cash to live. It’s about financial freedom. Freedom to choose.

    • Cat says:

      Hmm that’s definitely interesting. Freedom to choose is interesting. I’m at a point where I am finally turning work down but it’s mostly due to time constraints as opposed to financial freedom.

  • Prudence Debtfree says:

    I saw that study indicating that Canada has the wealthiest middle class too, and as a Canadian, I find some irony in that idea. Our average household debt-to-income ratio is 165% – way higher than it’s ever been before. 60% of Canadians retire in debt. When people squander wealth, they sure don’t feel wealthy. As I become more and more frugal, I’m getting a clearer vision of financial freedom. I’ll feel wealthy when I can make choices without reference to money. Work for an income? Volunteer? Take piano lessons or a university course? Travel? Visit friends and family? I really look forward to that freedom!

    • Cat says:

      Huh that is interesting – and it’s an interesting comparison. I like the examples you gave – I feel the same way – getting to do what you want is great even if it’s something small. 🙂

  • Rachel says:

    I feel pretty wealthy currently. I don’t feel like wealth is just monetary though.
    I have a college education and we pay for my husband’s without loans.
    I have a job using my degree less than a year out of college with better pay then most with the same degree as well as benefits.
    I have a manageable mortgage in an expensive area.
    I have amazing family who are present in my life.
    I was raised with morals and values and life my life with integrity.
    And I have my health and we eat good foods.
    There is information at my fingertips. For all that I am wealthy.

    I guess my enough is enough for wealth is when my husband and I are both in jobs that follow our passions. We start a family and teach our kids to live life with values and morals. And provide our kids with an education including college.

    I am wealthy as long as I have people who love me, a roof over me head, healthy food to eat and ability to pay my bills.

  • Derek@LifeAndMyFinances says:

    With no debt, one barely needs any money at all to live and live well. That’s why I’m pursuing total debt freedom (I’m almost done paying off my house).

    By paying off all of my debt, an average month’s expense for me will be less than $500. Now THAT’S cheap!

    With less than $10,000 in total yearly expenses, I could easily survive with a take-home pay of $30k. And, if I can do this through real estate investments, then I can earn money in any way I want beyond that!

    Life can be fairly simple if we structure it that way.

  • Abigail says:

    I struggle with this because, between oral surgery and the need (in Arizona) for double pane windows, we’re looking at around $35,000 in costs over the next two to three years. So despite having a decent savings account… it’s not really padding so much as a fund for those goals.

    I think I’ll probably never feel completely secure, having been on disability before and having my husband on disability now.

    But I’d like to think I’ll feel less anxious once we’ve dealt with Tim’s teeth, can max out our IRAs and have a healthy savings account.

  • Amy says:

    When you say “travel twice a year,” do you mean week-long (or longer) trips that most likely require airfare?

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