For a lot of us success is what we see on TV. Success is what we see from celebrities on the internet. Success can be what we see in magazines. Success is the CEO of our company. We set the bar so high that we never take the action needed to reach our own versions of success. It’s good to have stretch goals (goals that you probably can’t achieve right now but you’re pursuing long-term) but they shouldn’t be the only goals you have. We need to define success in an achievable way so we have the motivation to go after it.

I know when I was growing up one of the big problems with finding a way out of poverty was that we just didn’t have any practical examples of what being out of poverty looked like. Nothing exciting enough to chase after at least. Usually the only people you saw that didn’t seem poor were drug dealers, gang members, or people on TV.  You couldn’t idolize your parents because they got you in that situation – they definitely didn’t have the answers. You couldn’t look to your neighbors or the people working the community center, they usually had the same problems as you, if to a lesser extent. Your teachers didn’t seem to be doing much better either, so they weren’t really a good goal post. The only people that seem to be enjoying life are the athletes, celebrities, musicians, and actors. Becoming ultra-wealthy isn’t the right goal when you’re starting from zero. Setting goals too high undermines your motivation to get started. So I’m going to explain what normal success looks like, you can use these examples as stepping stones to becoming ultra-wealthy. Once you’ve made it to this level, you’re on your way.


According to 2014 census data households earning $160,000 are in the top 10% of the US. That means to get into the top 10%, both you and your spouse need to make $80,000 per year. Only 12% of the US population earn over $80,000 per year, so that’s a pretty good goal. We’re also going to assume this money is earned from working a typical job, so your tax burden is probably around $28,000 dollars. That means you actually receive about $52,000 in usable money, per year. A typical single person making this much money, at least in Pittsburgh, where I live, would probably pay $800 to $1,500 per month in rent/mortgage. We’ll assume $1,200 – so that’s around $15,000 per year. You pay auto and renters insurance, that’s another $1000. Cell phone is another $1,200. Going out to eat/drink once or twice a week is probably another $100 a week, or $5,200 per year. Groceries are probably $1200. Utilities, gas, electric, water – probably $1,500 per year. Gas for your vehicle and parking if you work in town are probably $4,000 dollars. Clothes, depending on the person are probably another $1,000 per year. You might get a new phone, computer, iPad, TV, speaker system, or video game console – $1,000 per year. Average car payment is $500 per month – $6,000 per year. Cable averages $1,300 dollars. Most people at least contribute 4% to a 401K $3,200 dollars. Lastly, health insurance, this would probably cost another $2,000 per year if you get your own plan, maybe $1,300 from an employer. We have your house, your car, your groceries, your “fun money”, your cell phone, your utilities, your cable, your insurance, and your 401K. Grand Total for this all inclusive life, $40,700 per year. That leaves you with about $10,000 per year outside of your “necessities”. That easily gets eaten up by the $500 anniversary, $2,000 dollar Christmas presents, $4,000 for two vacations, and what doesn’t get eaten up by these extra luxuries might make it into the bank. That’s what $80,000 might buy the average single-person, a really comfortable life, not wanting for anything, but also not having anything overly extravagant. Way better than being in poverty. There are millions of mid-level jobs that pay this much, so you can definitely reach this level. I was earning this much money when I was 27, starting from absolute zero.

Even though I’m earning in the top 10%, I live an extremely modest life. I’m still working toward my goal of becoming ultra-wealthy, so I’m not living a lavish life by any means. Living in a cheap way gives me a lot of opportunity to invest my income in my future. I’ve reduced my expenses (the money I spend each month) pretty low, I probably spend around $1000 dollars per month on rent/bills/food (house food)/insurance, and other necessities. The rest of my money is what is referred to as disposable income. The reason it’s considered to be disposable is because I don’t need it to survive. I use this disposable income to do basically anything I want. Just this year I traveled to Las Vegas, Sedona, The Grand Canyon, Phoenix, Punta Cana, Mexico, Disney Theme Park in Orlando and Nashville. All of these trips were vacations. The previous year was similar, Florida, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Jamaica, and New York. When I go out to eat I don’t have to look at prices – I just order what I want. If I want to buy something – I buy it. As long as it’s not more than $500 dollars and I don’t do it too often, it’s no big deal. I lost $40 dollars the other day, somewhere, and it bothers me – but it has no affect on me financially. Despite all the vacations, the dinners, nice gifts, and fun experiences that I enjoy, I still have probably $30,000-$40,000 dollars in disposable income leftover per year. I use this money to invest in myself and my future.

Another person with a household income in the top 10% might have a $300,000 dollar home, a BMW or Lexus, a swimming pool, a man-cave, or whatever other luxuries having a stable upper-middle class family can provide. Some couples get this life by combining their smaller incomes into a mid-6 figure income. You buy new appliances, you remodel regularly, eventually you have a kid, get them all the best things, and upsize your vehicle to a brand new mini-van. After adding in a couple family vacations for the year and maybe picking up some hobbies, boom – all that money is gone.  You get a little less for fun money and maybe you can’t get as expensive Christmas presents, but you’re still fine, and life is pretty darn good.


That’s it, a successful life in a nutshell. Obviously the higher you push your salary, the more lavish your life can become, or the more you can invest in your own future and freedom. You need to define what success is for you, but realize, ‘normal success’ is extremely achievable. There are more than 30 million people in the US alone that have gotten there, there’s no reason that you can’t join the ranks. To get started on your journey to success, follow me on me twitter for more tips on how to climb the ladder and check out the rest of the posts around the site.

Tweet at me @fdominek and let me know what your goals are. I’d love to hear it!

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If you want to learn more about my life and how I found success – check out my book here: What To Do About Money and Success

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