Only 11% of people say you need to get rich to make it in America

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What it means to succeed in America varies drastically from person to person, but it isn't necessarily mean making a lot of money, according to new data from Pew Research Center. Only 11 percent of Americans say becoming wealthy is essential to achieving the American Dream. Another 40 percent take a hard line and say that's not important.

The majority of Americans (77 percent) believe that the most essential part of making it in America is having freedom of choice in how to live. Having a good family life comes in second (70 percent) and being able to retire comfortably takes third place (60 percent).

However, that's not to say that the varied definitions of the American Dream have nothing to do with money. Having choices, a good family life and a comfortable retirement all require funds.

While the kind of immense wealth that can buy mansions and sports cars might not be the goal for some, money unquestionably gives you more freedom. Having enough money can mean being able to live where you want, eat what you want and travel when you want.

Money provides flexibility and options.

But, as these results show, money also isn't everything. It can't foster friendships or restore joy. Grant Sabatier, a web designer in his 30s who went from broke to seven figures in five years, learned this the hard way.

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"I have lost a few friends and strained other relationships because I've spent too much time staying late in the office or hustling on the weekends," he told CNBC Make It.

Sabatier's solution was to set lifestyle goals instead of monetary goals by asking himself questions like: What do you want to do with your money? How many hours a week do you want to work? How much do you want to travel?

Money can pave the way to the American dream: owning a home, raising a family, having a successful career, retiring comfortably. But, as Sabatier learned, it's best seen as a means to an end: "Even though I truly believe that having money is freedom, money is really just a tool to make experiences in life possible."

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