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  • Don, 43, is a self-made millionaire who used to place immense pressure on himself to earn more money.
  • He said that even a six-figure salary can quickly disappear with taxes, child expenses, and a mortgage.
  • He’s now focusing on other things in his life, like his kids, that bring him more happiness than wealth ever could.
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Don, 43, is grateful for the financial position he’s currently in.

With investment assets just over $1 million, according to documents reviewed by Insider, the millennial dad — who requested his last name be withheld for privacy but whose full identity is known to Insider — said he recognizes that with inflation straining many Americans’ wallets, a six-figure salary just isn’t what it used to be.

For years, he placed significant pressure on himself to keep saving, investing, and building his wealth. But at some point, Don said, more and more wealth stops bringing more happiness. His family always did, though, and he realized he needed to ensure he was devoting enough time to them, and other key things in his life, that money could not measure.

“The last two years during the COVID era, I experienced burnout, probably for the first time in a long time. And that was regardless of my income increasing significantly,” said Don, who founded a financial planning business.

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“I thought, I don’t want to continue my work ethic like this because if I just chase the money, per se, and I feel burned out, then I’m lacking in other areas,” he continued. “So that’s what helped me rethink how I want to live my life and recalibrate so that I can focus on the joy of working without thinking, ‘if I do this, then I’ll earn this.'”

While inflation is coming down, it’s still not at the Federal Reserve’s 2% target — the latest Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation, increased 3.2% year-over-year in October, a decrease from the 3.7% reading a month prior.

With that being the case, many Americans are finding it harder to be happy — and buy what they need to buy — on their current salaries, even those making six figures. A recent survey conducted by The Harris Poll and released by financial services company Empower found that of 2,034 Americans surveyed, the average respondent thinks they need to earn $284,167 each year to be happy. For millennials, that number jumped to $525,000.

The New York Federal Reserve also found in an August survey that salary expectations have hit a record high, “most pronounced for respondents above age 45 and for college graduates,” the report said.

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Don said the $525,000 threshold for those in his age group is an amount that “can go a long way,” but quickly dwindles after taxes and the expenses many in his age group face like a mortgage, sending kids to school, car payments, and more.

It’s difficult to shift away from the sole focus of earning more money, Don said, but since he’s planning to work for at least two more decades while raising his two kids, he’s focused on making sure he devotes enough time to his family and his health so he can actually enjoy the wealth he’s built for himself.

“I want to continue learning how to be a good dad,” Don said. “Even though I’m tired from work by the time I come home, if I want to spend quality time with my daughters and help them with their homework, I don’t want to rush into it. I want to be strongly present.”

“So when I think about my money, I think about being really grateful because it’s not something I want to ultimately define my life,” he added. “I don’t want to get into the habit of obsessing about my income.”

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‘You need the humility that it can be taken away from you’

Don said his upbringing largely influenced the way he now thinks about money and wealth. While he never felt like his family was not able to make ends meet when he was a child, he said he was taught “it’s really about being rich in family, with an abundance in your household of feeling loved and safe.”

“When I look back, I don’t remember what my gifts were for Christmas or birthdays,” Don said. “But what I do remember most is the little things, like my uncle who had no one to spend the holidays with and my mom would invite him, and he would spend time with us and play the piano, and I could hear my mom laugh from downstairs.”

That’s driven Don to structure his life in terms of goals — he focuses on investing rather than impulse spending, along with intentionally setting time aside for his kids, his wife, and focusing on his health.

Of course, as the US is still recovering from the pandemic, the future of the economy’s recovery is uncertain — and many Americans are still feeling like they’re finances are not where they should be. A Suffolk University Sawyer Business School/USA TODAY poll of 1,000 Americans from September 6 to 11 found that 70% of respondents said the economy was getting worse, even as inflation continued to come down and job openings increased.

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Given the fluctuation of the economy and stock market, Don said it’s important for him to consistently ensure he’s devoting enough time to things in his life aside from money.

“I’m extremely grateful for where I am now, and you have to have the humility that it can be taken away from you,” Don said. “So what are those things that you do have in your life that money can’t measure? And once you get to that mindset, then I think you’ve leveled up to a sense of a different form of wealth that’s not tied to the numbers.”

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