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How much to be wealthy? Depends where you live

Victorian houses along Alamo Square in San Francisco at Twilight
Rudey Sulgan | Getty Images

Everyone's definition of "wealthy" is different, depending on their bank account and values. But a new series of surveys shows that where a person lives can be as important as how when determining the amount of money it would take for them to consider someone "wealthy."

When asked what a person's net worth would need to be for them to earn that designation, a series of studies from Charles Schwab found the average answer was $2.15 million. But the dollar values could be less than half that amount — or more than twice it — depending on the city where the respondent lived.

Five cities — Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and Washington, D.C. — were surveyed separately during different periods over the past year, starting with Chicago in July and wrapping with San Francisco in January. About 1,000 people were surveyed in each city. Charles Schwab plans to continue its study by surveying more cities in the future.

In the San Francisco Bay area study, home to wealthy tech workers and hyper-priced real estate, the average amount needed to be "wealthy" was $6.4 million. Seattle is also expensive when it comes to definitions of wealth, with respondents there saying it takes $3.03 million to be considered wealthy.

If you're looking for more modest definitions (or a cheaper place to become "wealthy") you might try Dallas. Respondents there said it only took a net worth of $670,000 to earn that designation. Chicago was about in line with the national average, at $2.5 million.

Because Schwab has only surveyed a handful of cities so far, it hasn't yet determined what it takes to be "wealthy" in New York, Boston, Miami or Los Angeles. The nation's capital, however, is a good place to live if you want to become wealthy for less. In Washington, D.C., respondents said those with a net worth of $1.25 million are wealthy.

Of course, some would say that only the top 1 percent are wealthy — and it takes at least $8 million to make the cut. But locally, wealth is all relative.