Income Across the USA – What Does It Take To Be In The Top 5%? Top 1%?



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As the income of the GYFG household has continued to grow, being the data-obsessed fellow that I am, I started to wonder where we ranked against other earners across the United States. Most people benchmark their investment returns, so why not benchmark our income?

Lucky for us, the NY Times has made this extremely easy with the interactive tool they created (based on data from 2012, a little dated, but should be close enough).

(Sidebar: I continue to believe that we live in the best time in history for making money. It has never been easier. THE INTERNET HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING!!! Although I recognize that inequalities still exist, the entry barrier to earning big has never been so low, nor has the playing field ever been so level.)

So…what triggered my curiosity in top incomes across America, you might ask?

Well, as I reflect back on 2016, and really the past eight years, it’s almost shocking to think about how far we have come in a relatively short period of time (considering we likely still have decades of life ahead of us). My wife and I graduated college in 2008, in the middle of the worst financial recession our generation has ever witnessed.

We came out of school earning a combined income of about $90,000. At the time this seemed like an incredible sum of money, and to be fair, to most people this is still a lot of money (and I do mean a lot, as 50% of American households are making $50,000 or less). I didn’t realize this at the time, but based on the stats from the graphic below, our straight-out-of-college number put us in the top 25% of household incomes across the USA (really???).

Then….just eight years later it’s even more mind-boggling…

Our income for 2016 finished the year out at $340,000. As you can see from the graphic below, this puts us in the top 2% of household incomes in all of the USA.

Take a moment to absorb the graphic below to see where your household income falls. Jot that down. Then right next to it or right below it, jot down where you would like to be.


To be honest, I had no idea where our income would fall when ranked against the entire USA, but I sure didn’t think we would be in the top 5% (yet!!!). However, not only are we in the top 5%, but we are within arm’s length from the top 1%.

This is truly mind blowing!!!

Mind Blown

The next question that pops into my head as I absorb this reality is “how did we get here so fast?

What did we do to get here? And more importantly, what can you do to get where you want to go?

My hope is that by sharing this stream of consciousness below, you will be able to use some of these factors as tools in advancing your own income.

  1. We worked our asses off (long hours, while our friends were out at happy hour). I was not born innately gifted, but I realized early on that most people were lazy, and that I could outwork all of my peers (even the gifted ones).
  2. We asked for more money every opportunity we could (even after a raise, we never settled for 3% adjustments). The reality is that those who ask for more money, make more money.
  3. We made some strategic jumps from one employer to another. Sometimes you have to jump employers to extract your true value from the market place. You need to be careful with this one though and be very strategic in your moves (otherwise it could backfire on you).
  4. We invested in ourselves (you have to be a perpetual student).
  5. We helped others get what they wanted, and in the end we always got what we wanted. This is a Universal Law that just works!
  6. We set goals and crushed them (we under-promised, and over-delivered).
  7. We found great mentors (people that already were where we wanted to be).
  8. We said YES to just about any request (you have to early in your career).
  9. We obtained a rare and valuable skill set in the market place (you need to be marketable).
  10. We marketed ourselves within our respective organizations (you need to be able to market yourself).
  11. We were proactive in defining success with our managers (get expectations for advancement in writing).
  12. We leveraged the power of compounding and lived by the code of The Slight Edge (the book that changed our lives).
  13. We realized that if we were willing to live our life like most won’t, that we could live the rest of our lives like most can’t.
  14. We found creative ways to increase our income outside of our day jobs, more popularly known as the “Side Hustle.” Not only did this allow us to continue growing our income, but it also helped us develop new skills that we could deploy at work, that once again made us more valuable (so then we asked for more money).
  15. We also got LUCKY. But not in the lottery sense of luck. Rather in the sense of being prepared for that unpredictable moment when opportunity comes knocking: luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity (see #4).
  16. We were willing to live outside of our comfort zone and disrupt the status quo. We convinced management to value grey matter over grey hair.
  17. We learned very early on to place a dollar value on our big accomplishments within an organization. When you can show management that you just saved them $250,000 it’s pretty hard for them not to give you your $25,000 raise. Quantify everything you do in terms of impact to the bottom line of the company. The goal is to deliver 10X your compensation.

There may be a few other important things to remember that I am missing, but for the most part I think I have captured the most valuable. Do these 17, and you will be far and above any competition. You can see the trajectory of my career income here (I give my job and salary history from 2003 through early 2016; as of 2017 my income has jumped to $175,000 plus a $90,000 bonus). Or you can even check out the trajectory of the earnings for the GYFG household here.

(Update: Our household income is projected to finish 2018 at $450,000+, which certainly puts us in the top 1%)

Have you found any of the 17 items listed above useful in increasing your own income? Any items I left off that have been critical in increasing your own income? Do you need any clarification on any of the 17 items?

– Gen Y Finance Guy

Gen Y Finance Guy

Hey, I’m Dom - the man behind the cartoon. You’ll notice that I sign off as "Gen Y Finance Guy" on all my posts, due to the fact that I write this blog anonymously (at least for now). I like to think of myself as the Chief Freedom Officer here of my little corner of the internet. In the real world, I’m a former 30-something C-Suite executive turned entrepreneur turned capital allocator. I am trying to humanize finance by sharing my own journey to Financial Freedom. I believe in total honesty and transparency. That is why before I ever started blogging, I decided that I would share all of my own financial stats. I do this not to brag, but instead to inspire motivate, and also to hold myself accountable. My goal is to be a beacon of hope, motivation, and inspiration, for you, the reader, by living life by example and sharing it all here on the blog. My sincere hope is that you will be able to learn from me - both from my successes and my failures! Read More



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15 Responses

  1. Never being content with your situation will get you a long ways. I’ve had multiple discussions now with people who don’t have this mindset. They go along each day, just looking to get by and not growing.

    The Slight Edge is a great philosophy to live by – you can either be using it to your advantage or your disadvantage. Working each day to get towards your goals is the way to go!

    I’m in the top 25% of income earners… though it isn’t what you make, it’s what you keep!

  2. Great stuff GYFG? Movin’ like a boss 🙂 !
    Your household income is near 1% and you guys save a lot of that. Atypical for sure and very inspiring.

    I think point 9 is really critical. Working hard is not enough, you need to bring that special thing only you can bring.

    Would love to read some day on how you reached out to people to mentor you and how this affected your progression in life.

  3. Love this Dom. I think #1 has definitely been the biggest thing for us as well. Simply out working people has been a time-tested way for people to get ahead. It’s working for you obviously.

    Love this reflection. It’s always good to keep things in perspective for how we all are doing relative to others… Whether to give us inspiration or remind us of our blessings.

  4. You guys are off to a great start! Take full advantage of your status as DINKs, it’s a great time to build up a solid nest egg. #s 1 & 2 are great ways to push those income levels up. Love the entire list, shows a great focus on maximizing income potential!

    1. Thanks MYF!

      We have delayed having kids until we were 30 in order to have the focus and time we needed to get to where we are career wise and financially. The DINK status has been huge in helping achieve what we have to date.

      1. Prime earning was from 2000-2014. I retired in 2014 when I sold my company.

        Interesting question about the prime earning. It makes me think about social security, which I did analyze as part of the decision process. I’m actually geeky enough that I downloaded all my earnings record into a spreadsheet and calculated how much SS I will get at “early”, “full”, and “70” retirement ages – based on never earning another dollar. I also considered how much more I’d get if I worked longer – it wasn’t much because I was already a HENRY for so long.

  5. In my company, under promise / over deliver works very well, along with saying yes. I’ve found that working on unusual / rare assignments becomes a feather in the cap.

    Another that I’m not sure falls into one of your categories is the power of initiative within a company. If your bosses can see that you understand the big picture and can proactively pursue change or improvement without prodding, they see you as leadership material. Sometimes it’s a calculated risk (colleagues don’t often like change) but it usually pays off in my experience.

    1. Rich – I like the “power of initiative” category you suggest. This also a very important way to increase your income. I would say that this belongs near the top of the list.

    1. Thanks POF!

      Now I need to go and chase WCI, I think his income history he recently shared had him at $1.2M. I need to find a way to get my blog earnings to a fraction of what he is pulling in. I just hired a website manager, so I am hoping that will help move the site in the right direction.

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