If you were a success, what could you buy that you can't buy right now? The financial company Discover posed this question to 1,000 Americans, weighted to represent the population at large. The answers might surprise you. In general, respondents didn't think in terms of private jets or yachts. To most people, success seems to mean having just a little bit more than you do today. 

That's good news, because it means that a small financial stretch or modest increase in earnings might be all you need to gain some of the trappings of wealth you're dreaming of. And that means you can start planning now to start living the "successful" life you want next year or maybe even next month. There's no need to keep waiting till someday so you can afford the things that make you feel you've arrived.

Here's what people said they wanted:

1. A bigger house.

Respondents didn't seem to want to live in a mansion, what they wanted was house worth about twice as much as the one they are in right now. This varied by region: People in the Great Lakes region wanted houses that were worth 2.8 times the value of their current homes, while in New England, home of Puritan ethic, respondents would be happy with only 1.3 times their current home's value.

Specifically, respondents valued their current homes at an average $203,000 and wanted homes with an average value of at least $409,000 that had four bedrooms and three bathrooms. That a success dream that's accessible to many people--you don't need to be a millionaire to own a $400,000 home. 

2. A better car.

They didn't need a Jag or even a Tesla. The ideal car, respondents said, would cost an average twice as much as their current vehicle, or about $53,000. Admittedly, that's not chump change, but you don't need to be Bill Gates to buy a $53,000 car. 

Respondents are on to something. A recent survey found that even wealthy Americans who can afford to buy whatever car they want tend to opt for Jeeps and Fords and pickup trucks. There's good reason for that: Unlike your house which will probably gain value over the years, a non-antique car loses value every minute you own it and every mile you drive it, so spending a lot of your available cash or going into heavy debt to own a super-nice car is not a great investment.

3. A house cleaner.

More than half the respondents, 53 percent, said that if they were successful they would hire someone to clean their homes. Forty percent said they would hire a financial advisor, 39 percent said they'd hire a gardener, and 30 percent wanted a personal trainer. All these forms of help are ones many people can afford without needing great wealth. You might think having a butler would be the ultimate proof that you're successful, but only 7 percent of respondents said they wanted one. 

4. More travel.

A whopping 87 percent of respondents said that if they were successful they would take more vacations. That's a perfect illustration of Americans' talent for self-denial since in fact the majority of us don't take the vacation time we're already entitled to. So for most of us, this particular trapping of success is well within reach--all we have to do is tell our employers that we're actually going to use the paid time we have coming. 

Fifty-one percent also said that buying expensive electronics would make them feel more successful. That's fine--I would never discourage anyone from indulging in the latest gadget. But research shows that spending money on experiences will make us happier than spending it on things. And while travel takes funds, it's also within reach for most of us--a camping or driving trip or off-season hotel stay and flight are usually quite affordable.

So if like most Americans, you hanker for more vacations and more travel, then stop waiting. Book a holiday or post-holiday excursion right now. You'll soon find yourself sitting on a beach, or in a new city, or looking out at the snow, relaxing with family members or friends or even on your own. I guarantee, it will make you feel at least a little more like a success.

Published on: Oct 29, 2017
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