Both the shelves of your local bookstore and the internet are full of sensible financial advice on how to budget, invest, and spend your money. Much of it is totally useful, but according to several leading experts much of it also misses an essential first step. 

Before you can chart your financial course, they insist, you need to know where you're headed. And that goal shouldn't just be some vague desire to "get rich," "make more," or "live comfortably." 

"Most people have never been asked what a rich life looks like to them," I Will Teach You to Be Rich author Ramit Sethi claimed in a recent interview. And if pressed on the question, they can only offer only random numbers or sketchy daydreams in reply. Instead, Sethi urges readers to come up with very specific answers before making any financial plans. Similarly, ​​writer Brad Stollery suggests a simple but powerful thought experiment to pin down an exact numerical financial goal. 

You can't make quality financial decisions unless you know what you're aiming for. And according to a big new international study, what you're aiming for, if you really think about it, might be far less stressful and more doable than you sometimes fear. 

Who actually wants to be a billionaire? 

For the study a team of researchers polled 8,000 people on every continent (minus Antarctica) and asked them to imagine their "absolute ideal life" where all their material wants were fulfilled. Then, the researchers asked how large of a lucky lottery win would it take to achieve that dream, offering a range of prizes from $10,000 (or the equivalent in local currency) all the way up to the Elon Musk-scale sum of $100 billion. 

After mulling the question, what answer proved most popular among participants? The modesty of most people's dreams might surprise you. 

"In all 33 countries, only a minority chose the top prize (8% to 39% in each country). In most countries, including the UK, the majority of people chose a lottery equivalent to US$10 million or less, and in some countries (India, Russia) the majority even chose US$1 million or less," Paul Bain, a psychologist at the University of Bath who participated in the research, reports on The Conversation

The rest of Bain's article digs into demographic differences in the responses (younger people tended to want bigger payouts, particularly in developed countries, and the truly huge sums were most popular in countries with a high tolerance for inequality). He also discusses the relevance of the findings for economic policy. 

But for the average entrepreneur, the results just draw a thick black line under the advice offered by Sethi and Stollery above. When prompted to think about their financial dreams in detailed, concrete terms, people's wants are often more on the doable end of the spectrum than on the Jeff Bezos end. If we leave our financial ambitions unexamined, we probably often overestimate how much we need to live our ideal life. 

Taking the time to come up with concrete financial goals is likely to make your financial situation not just clearer but also more manageable. Not only is that a more realistic basis on which to plan your business and financial future, it's also less likely to lead to unnecessary stress and wasted effort. 

The first step to financial freedom isn't making more or spending less. It's knowing how much is 'enough' for you. This new research suggests that number might be far less intimidating than you first think.