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Net worth is on the rise

While many Americans are struggling with rising interest rates and inflation, the Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) found that the median net worth of U.S. households jumped 37% to $192,900 and mean net worth increased 23% to $1,063,700 between 2019 and 2022. (These amounts are adjusted for inflation and express in “2022 dollars.”)

This growth in median net worth “was the largest three-year increase over the history of the modern SCF, more than double the next-largest one on record,” according to the report, which was published in October 2023. Growth was experienced across all age groups.

If so many Americans are struggling, how are both median and mean net worth up? The numbers reflect “elevated levels of saving” earlier in the pandemic, with 28% of respondents reporting “unusual income” that deviated from the norm during the 2021 calendar year.

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Net worth by age group

Before searching for your place in the wealth spectrum, it’s important to understand the difference between average worth and median worth. Keep in mind that the average will usually be higher, since that figure is heavily impacted by wealthy outliers whose totals raise the average even if most people in the group have considerably smaller sums.

Here’s the latest data, released in October 2023.

  • Under 35: $39,000 (median); $183,500 (average)
  • 35-44: $135,600 (median); $549,600 (average)
  • 34-54: $247,200 (median); $975,800 (average)
  • 55-64: $364,500 (median); $1,566,900 (average)
  • 65-74: $409,000 (median); $1,794,600 (average)
  • 75+: $335,600 (median); $1,624,100 (average)

Both median and mean net worth rose for all age groups, according to the report, though the largest growth came from the under-35 crowd, who “saw their median and mean net worth more than double between surveys but remained the least wealthy age group.”

The wealthiest group noted in the report was, perhaps not surprisingly, those aged 65 to 74: their median and mean net worth jumped 33% and 27%, respectively. At this point in life, many would be benefitting from decades of compound growth on their retirement investments. After age 75, net worth starts to drop, which makes sense, since much of that cohort would be retired or semi-retired.

How to climb to the net-worth ladder

If all thse numbers leave you feeling a bit behind, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Millions of people struggle to save money and build wealth. But there are simple and important steps you can take to get back on track and boost your net worth.

Reduce debt, and start living below your means. If you're spending more than you earn, you'll never be able to save money or build wealth. So start by focusing on trimming and erasing debt and cutting back on your expenses. There are many ways to do this, like cooking at home more often, canceling unnecessary subscriptions, and shopping around for better deals on insurance and other services.

Make a budget and stick to it. A budget will help you track your spending and make sure you're not overspending. There are many different budgeting methods out there, so find one that works for you and stick with it. Consider starting here.

Start saving in earnest. Consider putting away a designated percentage of your monthly income in a high-yield savings account, a certificate of deposit (CD), or an investment account. Take advantage of retirement accounts like 401(k)s or IRAs, which offer tax advantages and potential employer matching. Automate your savings by setting up regular contributions, even if they’re small. The power of compound interest can work wonders over time, so the earlier you start, the better.

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Working toward financial freedom

While net worth is a useful measure of financial health — and how you stack up to your peers (or Taylor Swift’s cat) — it’s simply another tool in your financial toolbox. An online calculator, like this one from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., can provide an immeidate sense of your situation.

“What matters most is that you’re building a net worth that allows you to live the life that you want to live,” says Erin Moriarity in an episode of Erin Talks Money. That starts by understanding your "financial freedom" number and coming up with a corresponding budget.

“You can’t improve what you don’t measure,” she says, adding that the only way to grow your net worth is to invest consistently over time — no matter what your level of income.

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Vawn Himmelsbach Freelance Contributor

Vawn Himmelsbach is a journalist who has been covering tech, business and travel for more than two decades. Her work has been published in a variety of publications, including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, CBC News, ITbusiness, CAA Magazine, Zoomer, BOLD Magazine and Travelweek, among others.

Disclaimer

The content provided on Moneywise is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.