How Much Money Is ‘Enough’? This Simple Thought Experiment Gives You an Exact Number to Aim For

Jessica Stillman
4 min readFeb 3, 2021


Have you ever read those articles where some extremely well-off family details their budget and then bemoans that they’re barely getting by?

It’s ridiculous that anyone could complain about raking in $350,000 a year, and it’s clear many of these folks are wildly out of touch with how privileged they are. But while these families may be extreme (and annoying), they aren’t alone. It’s not just the wealthy who fall into the trap of earning more only to spend more and feel just as dissatisfied.

How do you get off this treadmill?

The answer is not to compare yourself with others (Jeff Bezos will always be there to make you feel bad), or to blindly try to keep making more (there will always be some shiny, new thing to covet). The answer is to take a hard look at your own financial realities and aspirations and come up with a goal number. How much money is enough for you?

The science of money and happiness

That number will be different for everyone, depending on your circumstances and values, but science is trying to help you decide. Researchers are currently embroiled in intense debate about whether there is a cut off point above which additional income stops having an impact on happiness.

One very prestigious study showed that above about $75,000 dollars a year, give or take a bit depending on cost of living, more money doesn’t mean more life satisfaction. Other, newer research found no such cut-off point.

But while the details are still being studied, just about everyone in the field agrees that if you’re actually poor, making more will likely make you significantly happier. There is also consensus that each additional dollar adds a little less to your life and there exists a level of wealth way before Bill Gates status that trading more effort and time for more money ceases to make sense (even Bill Gates says so).

Name your number

One way to calculate that point is to figure out how much money you’d need to make decisions based entirely on enjoyment and impact, without pressure to earn. This is the goal of the catchily named FIRE



Jessica Stillman

Top columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast.