This is how much the 'American Dream' costs in California

The American Dream means something different to every American. For some, it means the old cliche of the white picket fence in front of the suburban home with a nuclear family. For others, it could be as simple as working hard to end up with a better life than you had. But a new study from GOBankingRates shows that the American Dream comes with a hefty price tag, especially in California.

In order to put a value on it, though, researchers first had to define it. Whether it's your definition of the American Dream or not, for their study, GOBankingRates defined the American Dream as a married couple that owns a home and a car, that has two children and pets. Then, the study figured out how much all of that stuff costs per state annually — from groceries and a mortgage, to monthly bills like utilities, to child and pet care and more.

Then they took that total cost and doubled it, to account for savings and a general spending budget. All told, the study found the cost of the American Dream in California is $245,734 per year. That number makes California the second-most expensive state for "achieving" the American Dream. Only Hawaii comes with a higher price tag, of just over $260,000 a year.

Here's how the study broke it down:

  • Groceries: $9,306
  • Pet care: $1,759
  • Car: $8,694
  • Median home price: $785,294
  • Mortgage: $55,389
  • Healthcare: $8,018
  • Utilities: $7,553
  • Education: $3,721
  • Child Care: $28,420
  • Total: $122,861
  • "Cost of the American Dream": $245,723


If that number seems high to you, that's not surprising. While the American Dream is something to work toward, many Californians are falling well short.

A Nov. 2023 report from Axios found that many Americans are saving less, so having 50% of your money available for saving and discretionary spending simply isn't an option for many in California. In fact, the average Californian can't even cover those basic costs, at least according to the Department of Justice. Their stats from 2022 on median income by state show the average Californian family of four makes just over $111,000 a year. In LA County that number is $98,200.

So if not the American Dream, how about just a "happy living?" Well, more rough news for Californians. Another GOBankingRates study found that you need a minimum annual salary of $143,220 to be happy in California, citing "California’s notoriously high cost of living." 

You can see how much the American Dream costs in each state in GOBankingRates' full study, by tapping or clicking here.