TIME Markets

European Stocks Tumble as Market Rollercoaster Ride Continues

Dow Jones Industrial Average Drops Over 200 Points
Andrew Burton—Getty Images An information board on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows stocks dropping on Oct. 1, 2014 in New York City.

‘Dead-cat bounce’ fails to hold, despite better-than-expected data from China

European stock markets turned lower again after a bright opening, as the prospect of deflation in the Eurozone returned to center stage.

Consumer prices rose only 0.3% in the year to September, Eurostat said, reinforcing fears that neither the European Central Bank nor Eurozone governments are doing enough to stop the 18-country currency union from falling into a deflationary spiral.

The figures instantly wiped out the gains of a “dead-cat bounce” at the market opening, which followed the general rout on Wall Street Wednesday.

U.S. stocks were down sharply again Thursday morning, but were lately working off their early losses.

In what was a roller-coaster ride for the U.S. markets on Wednesday, the Dow Jones index fell over 300 points at the open, and then recovered, only to dip about 460 points at one point in afternoon trading, finally closing down more than 173 points, or 1.1%.

By mid-morning in Europe, the U.K.’s FTSE 100 and Germany’s DAX were both down 2.0%, while yields on ‘safe haven’ government bonds such as Germany plummeted to new all-time lows. Oil prices also stayed close to three-year lows at just over $80 a barrel.

Data out of China earlier had given a modest degree of encouragement, suggesting that the world’s second-largest economy isn’t about to fall off a cliff. But it didn’t take long for fear to reassert itself at the expense of greed.

Analysts at Bank 0f America Merrill Lynch said in a note to clients that the markets have started to price in another recession and/or “a financial event” such as the collapse of a major market player. They said that markets were only likely to stop panicking “when policymakers start panicking.”

The day had started with the modest hope that there could be some progress in de-escalating the Ukraine crisis when Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko at a summit meeting in Milan, Italy later in the day. Putin is also due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders there.

In a sign that investors may be starting again to bet on the Eurozone breaking up, bond yields have risen far more sharply in those countries where the combination of high debt and low growth is most acute–particularly Greece (and, to a lesser extent, Portugal and Italy).

Greece’s 10-year borrowing costs have risen by a shocking 2.43 percentage points since the end of last week, as markets signal they’ll refuse to finance a government that wants to dispense with the safety net of Eurozone and International Monetary Fund funding.

The tone in Asian markets earlier Thursday had been equally rough, with the Japanese Nikkei falling over 2% to a six-month low in the pull of Wall Street. Tokyo’s mood was still clouded by data on Wednesday showing that industrial output had fallen nearly 2% in August, adding to fears that a big rise in the country’s sales tax in May had after all been too much for the economy to withstand.

However, figures from China later underlined that the economy is only slowing moderately, rather than facing a “hard landing”.

Figures released by the People’s Bank of China showed that new loans by the official banking sector rose to 857 billion yuan ($140 billion) from 702 billion yuan in August, comfortably beating consensus forecasts of 750 billion.

However, there was no euphoria, as other elements of the PBoC’s figures were less reassuring. Foreign reserves fell, suggesting that capital has been leaving the country amid falling investment by foreign companies.

Moreover, aggregate financing–a measure of lending that takes in the vast ‘shadow banking’ system which has more exposure the country’s shaky real estate sector–stayed at historically low levels. Analysts at ANZ said that, overall, the figures suggest “shadow banking activities have been diminishing amid property weakness, and the genuine demand for credits still remains soft.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Retirement

Millennials Actually Have an Edge on Retirement

The surprising advantage of the younger generation

Every generation likes to think it’s nothing like the one that came before it. As for retirement, millennials might actually be right. Twenty- and 30-year-olds make up the first postwar generation with almost no shot at getting a traditional pension from a private company. Today fewer than 7% of Fortune 500 companies offer such plans to new hires, according to the consulting firm Towers Watson. In 1998, when members of Generation X entered the workforce, 50% of Fortune 500 companies offered such plans.

It’s not all long odds. Here are some things to remember as you prepare for your sunset years.

Relax, you’ve got time. According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, if you can start setting aside money at age 25, you’ll need to save only about 10% of your annual income to retire at 65. Start at age 35 and your target is a manageable 15%. But wait until age 45 and you’ll be stuck socking away 27% of your annual income.

You can also spend money to improve your chances of a happy retirement. In your 20s it can make sense to forgo some saving to invest in your future earnings potential, says financial planner Michael Kitces of Pinnacle Advisory Group in Columbia, Md. Think education–not only degree programs but also short courses that teach marketable skills. You should also pay off high-interest credit-card debt and build a cash reserve. That can cover emergencies, Kitces says. It can also provide greater flexibility, like the ability to finance a move to another city for a better job.

Even so, if you have a 401(k) plan, try to save enough (typically 6%) to get your maximum employer match. That’s like free money, says Anthony Webb, an economist at the Center for Retirement Research. If you save 6% and your company matches 50¢ on the dollar, you’ll save 9% of your income, nearly what a millennial should be doing.

You have the best tools ever. One advantage today’s savers have over previous generations is that investing can now be simple and cheap. An index fund that holds a representative slice of the U.S. stock market–like the giant Vanguard 500 or newer cut-rate competitors like Schwab Total Stock Market Index–charges investors 0.17% of assets or less per year. Compare that with the 1% or so charged by typical fund managers, who tend to perform worse than index funds after fees. Index funds are now common in 401(k)s. Why stress about a measly 1% charge? William Sharpe, the Nobel Prize–winning economist, recently projected the returns of indexers vs. expensive funds over a lifetime and found that the low-cost funds could deliver over 20% more wealth in retirement.

You can handle some risk. At your age, a big market loss represents a tolerable drop in your true lifetime wealth, says investment adviser William Bernstein. Consider investing much of your 401(k) in a stock fund, which should earn a higher return than bonds or cash over time, though with greater risk.

But be ready for large swings. “A 30-year-old who sees a $19,000 portfolio cut in half is going to feel devastated,” Bernstein says. If you don’t know how much risk you can handle, consider a 60-40 split. Sixty percent can be divided between a U.S. stock-market index fund and, for diversification, a similar fund holding foreign stocks, such as Fidelity Spartan International or Vanguard Total International Stock. The rest can go into a bond fund, like Vanguard Total Bond Market. If your 401(k) doesn’t offer index funds in all three areas, look for options with low costs and a broad mix of assets.

After you set up a simple portfolio, try to leave it alone. You are unlikely to correctly time the twists and turns of the market. And at your age, you have better things to think about.

TIME Media

CBS Launches On-Demand Digital Subscription Service

Premiere Of CBS Films' "Extant' - Arrivals
Jeffrey Mayer—WireImage President and CEO of CBS Corporation Leslie Moonves

One day after HBO announced it will begin offering standalone web subscriptions in 2015

Your laptop binge-watching options are about to expand.

CBS announced the launch of a new digital service on Thursday that allows subscribers to access thousands of on-demand video options — including classic shows (like Cheers and Star Trek), past and current seasons of on-air series and live-streaming capabilities in 14 of the largest U.S. markets. CBS All Access will cost $5.99 per month and cater to who CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves calls “our biggest fans.”

The news hits one day after HBO announced it will begin offering standalone web subscriptions in 2015, banking on the many millennials whose eyes have moved from television screens to their computer screens. Still, Nielsen recently released a report that found 24% of 18-to-34-year-olds don’t shell out for subscription television.

Moonves also signaled that Showtime is planning to go down a similar route like HBO, Re/code reports.

Read next: Young Americans Won’t Pay for TV. Will They Ever?

TIME Money

See How Tech CEOs Spend Their Money

Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan pledged $25 million to help fight Ebola this week. Here are some of the ways other tech CEOs spend their money.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Meet the 12-Year-Old CEO Who Runs a $150,000 Business

ABC's "Shark Tank" - Season Five
Michael Ansell—ABC/Getty Images

We could all learn a lot about business and life from Moziah Bridges

Inc. logo

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

In the past three years, while his classmates were doing homework and playing sports, Moziah Bridges built himself a $150,000 business.

That’s right–he started his business when he was 9 years old. Not yet a teenager, Bridges now has five staff members and has received a ton of media attention, from an appearance on the TV show Shark Tank to features in O magazine and Vogue.

“I like to wear bow ties, because they make me look good and feel good,” Bridges writes on his website. “Designing a colorful bow tie is just part of my vision to make the world a fun and happier place.”

Ever the fashionista, he’s reveled in style from a young age. At four years old, Bridges wore a suit and tie whenever possible and insisted on dressing himself.

His business, Mo’s Bows, was born of his love for bow ties and his dissatisfaction with the selection available for kids his age. Even worse than the poor color selection, they were all clip-ons–Bridges believed real men should tie their own ties. His grandmother taught him to sew by hand and to use a sewing machine, using scraps to create his favorite neckwear.

Within a few months, he had created his own collection of more than two dozen bow ties. Friends and family fell in love with his creations. Bridges upped his production, fashioning tidy bow ties from his grandmother’s vintage fabrics in an array of floral and African prints, and even scraps of old taffeta dresses.

Word of mouth worked its magic, and soon Bridges was taking orders through Facebook and selling on his own Etsy store. As demand increased, his mother, grandmother, and other family members came on board to help with production.

Today, each bow tie is still sewn from scratch, though Bridges has expanded from vintage materials to tweeds and ginghams, with a formal line of satins and silk. His bow ties are available in his own webstore, on Etsy, and in boutiques throughout Texas, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

When asked who his role models are, he said he looks up to Daymond John, who became his mentor as a result of the Shark Tank appearance.

As if his early success in business weren’t enough, Bridges has also become something of a young philanthropist. This summer, he donated $1,600 to send 10 children from his hometown of Memphis to Glenview Summer Camp.

In a post on his blog, Bridges wrote, “Memphis is ranked the highest of child hunger; most kids only get a meal when school is in session. At the community center, the kids get a meal and play time. Giving back to my community really helped me feel humble. It also makes me smile because I see other kids smiling and enjoying the camp.”

What’s next for this inspirational kidpreneur? In a recent interview, Bridges said he wants to go college and start a full clothing line by the time he’s 20.

He’s got it all figured out, folks; Moziah Bridges has a happy, colorful life filled with business successes, social good, work-school-life balance, and solid goals for the future. And he still gets to bed at 8:30 every night!

TIME Careers & Workplace

9 Essential Habits of Remarkably Effective People

Business person
Monty Rakusen—Getty Images/Cultura RF

You don't have to be born able to execute at a high level. Here's how you can develop that vital skill

Inc. logo

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

There’s a huge biggest difference between being efficient and being effective. (Just ask Stephen Covey.)

Efficient people are well organized and competent. They check things off their to-do list. They complete projects. They get stuff done.

Effective people do all that … but they check the right things off their to-do list. They complete the right projects. They get the right stuff done.

They execute and produce what makes the biggest difference for their business … and for themselves.

Here are some of the traits of remarkably effective people, and why they’re so successful:

1. They always start with goals.

Effort without a genuine purpose is just effort. Effective people don’t just know what to do–they know why. They have a long-term goal. They have short-term goals that support their long-term goals.

In short, they have purpose–and that purpose informs everything they do. That’s why remarkable people appear so dedicated and organized and consistently on-task. They’re not slaves to a routine; they’re simply driven to reach their goals and quick to eliminate roadblocks and put aside distractions that stand in their way.

Remarkably effective people set their goals first. So decide what success means to you. (Your definition of success is and should be different from everyone else’s.)

You’ll find it’s easy to stay focused and be effective when you truly care about what you hope to achieve.

Even so, once they establish a goal, remarkably effective people don’t focus solely on that goal; instead …

2. Then they create systems.

If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a successful business. Your system consists of your processes for sales, marketing, fulfillment, operations, etc.

A goal is great for planning and mapping out what success looks like; a system is great for actually making progress toward that goal.

Remarkably effective people know a goal can provide direction and even push them forward in the short term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win.

Everyone has goals; committing to a system makes all the difference in achieving that goal.

3. They believe in themselves.

Diligence isn’t easy. Hard work is hard. Pushing forward when successes are few and far between takes optimism and self-belief.

That’s why busy people quickly give up and effective people keep going.

Remarkably effective people embrace the fact (and it is a fact) that the only way to get to where they want to go is to try … and keep on trying. They know that eventually they will succeed, because …

4. They believe they are in control of their lives.

Many people feel luck–or outside forces–has a lot to do with success or failure. If they succeed, luck favored them; if they fail, luck was against them.

Luck certainly does play a part, but effective people don’t hope for good luck or worry about bad luck. They assume success is totally within their control. If they succeed, they caused it; if they fail, they caused that, too.

Remarkably effective people waste zero mental energy worrying about what might happen to them–they put all their effort into making things happen.

They know they can never control luck … but they can always control themselves.

5. And yet they also embrace “random.”

When your nose is to the grindstone, all you can see is the grindstone. And that means you miss opportunities to spot something new, try something different, or go off on a fruitful tangent.

Effective people stay almost totally on-task. Remarkably effective people build in time and opportunity to experience new things, try new methods, and benefit from happy accidents.

They’re not always trying to reinvent the wheel. But they’re more than happy to adopt someone else’s perfectly functioning wheel.

6. They find happiness in the success of others.

Great teams win because their most talented members are willing to sacrifice to help others succeed.

That’s why great companies are made up of employees who help each other, know their roles, set aside their personal goals, and value team success over everything else.

Where does that attitude come from?

You.

Focus only on yourself and ultimately you’ll be by yourself. To be remarkably effective, find fulfillment in helping other people succeed. In the process you will succeed, too–in more ways than one.

7. They use their goals to make decisions automatic.

In a podcast, Tim Ferriss described how Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, makes so many decisions every day. Kelleher applies a simple framework to every issue: Will this help Southwest be the low-cost provider? If so, the answer is yes. If not, no.

Remarkably effective people apply the same framework to the decisions they make. “Will this help me reach my goal? If not, I won’t do it.”

If you feel like you’re constantly struggling to make decisions, take a step back. Think about your goals; your goals will help you make decisions.

That’s why remarkably effective people are so decisive. Indecision is born of a lack of purpose: When you know what you truly want, most of your decisions can–and should–be almost automatic.

8. They don’t multitask.

Plenty of research says multitasking doesn’t work. (Some research says multitasking actually makes you stupid.)

Maybe you don’t agree.

Maybe you’re wrong. Try to do two things at once and you’ll do both half-assed.

Remarkably effective people focus on one thing at a time. They do that one thing incredibly well … and then they move on to whatever is next. And they do that incredibly well.

9. They freely ask for help.

Busy people ask for help getting something done. Remarkably effective people ask for help not just because they need help but also because by asking they show respect for the other person and trust his or her experience, skill, or insight.

Mutual respect is the foundation of every solid relationship–and the best way to create mutual respect is to first show respect.

Want to be remarkably effective? Surround yourself with people who trust and motivate and inspire you–and in turn are inspired by you.

Even if you don’t achieve all your goals, your life will be infinitely richer.

TIME Economy

What You Need to Know About the Stock Market Sell-Off

For the last few years, markets were from Mars, and the real economy was from Venus. The two literally occupied different worlds, as stock prices kept rising, even as wages were stagnant and growth was slow. As of yesterday, that divide has been bridged. Stock prices finally plunged into a real correction of the kind we haven’t seen since the apex of the European debt crisis three years ago.

The question is, why now? The answer comes in two parts. First, with Europe in danger of tipping into recession, and China’s growth much lower than the official statistics would indicate (that’s one of the big reasons oil prices are down since China is now the world’s major consumer of energy), investors have realized that a wimpy recovery in the U.S. isn’t enough to buoy global growth. Sure, growth numbers were a bit better this year than last, but we’re still in a 3 percent economy that doesn’t look or feel much different than the 2 percent economy (see my Curious Capitalist column on that topic). If you think of the global economy as three legs on a stool, the legs being the U.S., Europe, and the emerging markets led by China, what’s becoming very clear to markets is that a 3 percent economy in the U.S. isn’t enough to sustain global momentum. Indeed, the U.S. may grow faster than the world as a whole this year, which is an odd thing for a developed market. It speaks to how weak the global economy as a whole still is.

Second, markets have realized that this recovery has been a genetically engineered recovery. It’s been engineered by the monetary scientists at the Fed, who’ve pumped $4 trillion into the economy since 2009 in an attempt to strengthen an economy that is fundamentally not as strong as it looks. Despite the Fed’s best efforts (and I agree that they needed to do something, especially in the beginning), the real economy simply hasn’t caught up to the markets. Unemployment has ticked down, but wages still haven’t ticked up. It’s no accident that weak retail sales in the U.S. were one of the economic indicators that triggered the sell-off. As I’ve said many times before, you can’t have a sustainable recovery, one markets can really believe in, until you have the majority of the population with more money in their pockets.

The reality is that this hasn’t happened in the last few years, and for many people, decades (the average male worker today makes less in real terms than he did in the early 1970s).

So does this mean we are in for a long, slow slide? Not exactly. I’d bet more on increased volatility (if you are a subscriber, you can read this piece I wrote on the coming Age of Volatility, back in 2011). Markets will go up and down, but as long as the U.S. is the prettiest house on the ugly block that is the global economy, money may stay parked in the largest American multinationals longer than you’d think. Whether or not our economy deserves the vote of confidence is another question.

TIME Companies

Amazon to Add 80,000 Seasonal Jobs During the Holidays

That's a 14% increase over last year

Amazon has announced plans to add 80,000 seasonal jobs across the U.S. to help meet the growing customer demand for orders during the holidays.

That’s a 14% increase over the 70,000 seasonal jobs the company created last year, CNET reports, which was already a 40% increase over the previous year. The e-commerce giant currently has 50 fulfillment centers and plans to have more than 15 sortation centers by the end of the year.

Mike Roth, vice president of Amazon’s North America operations, said the company expects many of the new hires to transition into full-time regular employees, as has been the case this year with 10,000 seasonal jobs.

TIME Retirement

5 Things Every Millennial Should Know About Retirement

Save, get lucky or wait for the robots

In this week’s TIME, I, an employed barely 24-year-old with little to no reason for confidence about my future, stare down my sunset years, exploring the world of retirement today and envisioning what it might look like 40 years from now. But I’m told millennials dig lists. So here’s what I learned.

Read the full story in this week’s magazine.

1. Every little bit of savings counts. It helps to build a nest egg. A 2010 study from the Center for Retirement Research says 53 percent of American households are at risk of losing their standard of living upon retirement; in 1989 only 30 percent of households faced such a predicament. Alexa von Tobel, the CEO of Learnvest, a firm which offers financial-planning services to the masses says you should get insurance and keep your debt down. Max out your 401(k) match, if your employer offers one, in your youth. Start an IRA. Cut out that extra coffee. It’s harder to save for retirement when you’re playing catch-up, and you never know what sort of harm could one day befoul you. She says, “Most of us work with our brains now. But how do you know you’re not going to have a brain injury, or something else happen? We just don’t know…We see all kinds of really great people that just didn’t know that something could happen.”

2. Choose your career wisely, then get lucky. And have an exit strategy. John Arnold, the energy trader turned philanthropist, managed to leave his job at 38, and with a spot on the Forbes 400 to boot. (He earned $1.5 billion at Centaurus Advisors in 2008; FORTUNE called him then “The Wunderkind Gas Trader.”) He does realize that not everyone could reasonably expect to follow his path. In his career he nonetheless found generally applicable lessons. “I fell into this job out of college, and my plan was to go to business school,” he says. But then he found that natural-gas trading was the perfect career for him. His math and problem-solving skills pushed him to the top of a cutthroat field. And then there was the money. “The one thing that money does—it allows you to follow your heart rather than do a particular job,” he says.

3. We should expect to be healthy long past the age of 65. Social Security sets the full retirement age for our generation at 67 (those born between 1938 and 1959 reach full retirement age somewhere in between 65 and 67). According to Centers for Disease Control data from 2010, though, the average 65 year-old American has 19.1 more years to live. (That’s up more than five years from 1950.) And we can expect 13.9 of those years to be healthy ones. Ursula Staudinger, the director of Columbia’s Butler Aging Center, says that the proportion of healthy years is expected to continue increasing, as the gospel of good health spreads and prescription drugs improve. All of this is to say that many of us will not need to drop out of the work force at 65 or 67 or even in our 70s, unless we want to. Living over the long-term without the structure and engagement of employment has even been shown possibly to diminish cognitive and physical health, Staudinger says. With that in mind, why don’t businesses try sabbaticals that would increase in frequency with age? What about formal hours-tapering programs? What about a government program that would engage us in civic activity when we’re elderly? I fear otherwise we’ll spend all our time on the PlayStation 37.

4. Retirement is a modern invention. The supposedly sacrosanct institution originated in Germany in the 1880s, when Kaiser Wilhelm I posited that the state ought to care for citizens who couldn’t work due to old age or disability. Germany soon established a social insurance system, and 50 years later, the United States had its own. But the conditions facing seniors during the Great Depression—the best statistics available show that about half of seniors lived in poverty, and generally in rural settings—and the conditions facing German workers in the first several decades of industrialization have next to nothing to do with the conditions in which most aspiring retirees toil today. There’s no reason we need to apportion our leisure time this way, except for that it’s tradition.

5. All of our retirement theorizing might be rendered moot by the advent of brain emulations. Robin Hanson, a futurist and economics professor at George Mason University, forecasts that at some point in the next century human-level robots will appear. Researchers, he predicts, will make cell-by-cell copies of the brains of the 100 most productive humans and implant them in robots. Then the emulations could do much of the work once assigned to humans. I can’t wait.

TIME Retirement

The Millennial Retirement Plan

Holly Andres—© 2013 Holly Andres

Staring down his sunset years, a 24-year-old goes in search of a happier, healthier ending for us all

Despite the blessings of youth–I’m 24 years old, with limber joints and without mortgage payments–I am aware that we have something of a retirement crisis on our hands.

You can’t miss it if you watch sports on TV, where financial-services firms pitch themselves to worried middle-aged men. I can’t miss it either when I call home. My parents are in fine shape, thank goodness, but like any other self-respecting late-50-something professionals, they are gaming out survival plans for so many improbable scenarios. And it didn’t take a lot of days on the job for me to notice that my employer was lowering its match on employees’ 401(k)s, leading to grumbling among some of my older co-workers, who saw their defined-benefit pension plans end in 2010.

The boomers, we’re told, might be going bust. But what–if I may be so millennial–about me? Sixty percent of American millennials, the approximately 85 million of us born from 1980 to 1999, expect to retire at age 65 or earlier, according to a recent survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Yet we came of age in an economic climate worse than any since the Great Depression, impossibly far from the postwar prosperity that greased our grandparents into the workforce. That alone seems to limit the chances of retirement’s having a future at all like its present.

More than that, we fancy ourselves a new breed. We think freely. We never unplug. We invented Pinterest. So even if we did have the financial wherewithal to retire in 40 years, should we want to? Are decades spent away from the office good for our bodies and brains? Does it make us happier to officially transition to a new phase so late in life? Perhaps retirement, this august institution that came of age in the era of World War II, has reached its own retirement date. I decided to find out.

Preparing for Retirement

My first call goes to Alexa Von Tobel, the CEO of LearnVest, a firm that bills itself as a financial planner for average Americans. LearnVest aims to make wealth care, as von Tobel puts it, as accessible as health care, with financial-planning packages priced in the mid-hundreds. Though the business won’t disclose its client numbers, LearnVest has raised more than $70 million in venture funding. Von Tobel has been on the cover of Forbes and on the cover of her own book, Financially Fearless. The one caveat about her retirement expertise? She’s 31. But considering she was twice admitted to Harvard (she earned her B.A. in 2006 and left business school in 2008 to start LearnVest), while I was twice rejected from Harvard, I thought myself in no position to judge.

Von Tobel invited me this summer to LearnVest’s New York City offices, on two sunny floors a few blocks from Union Square. Even sunnier than the space is von Tobel herself, energetic and quick to launch into a speech confirming the nation’s collective retirement peril. “In my book, Financially Fearless,” she says, “I almost wrote a whole chapter on the history of why I believe we have a huge financial crisis looming.” She fears that the mixture of widespread access to credit and widespread financial illiteracy will doom the nation.

The numbers do cast a distinct pall. A 2010 study from the Center for Retirement Research says 53% of U.S. households are at risk of losing their standard of living when their earners retire; in 1989 only 30% of households faced such a predicament. And that number concerns only people over the age of 30. The long-term financial prospects for millennials are even gloomier: according to the Project on Student Debt, 7 in 10 college graduates from the class of 2012 carried debt, with an average per-debtor load of $29,400. They graduated into an economy seemingly hostile to young workers, with an unemployment rate for job seekers ages 20 to 24 that averaged 12.8% for the year 2013. The unemployment rate for those ages 25 to 54 was less than half that, at 6.3%. And young workers with jobs should not consider themselves especially lucky; studies show that recession-era graduates often deal with depressed wages for the first decade of their careers.

Though millennial workers began saving for retirement earlier–the Transamerica study says 22 is the median age at which my generation’s workers started saving, compared with 27 for Gen X and 35 for baby boomers–they’ve also been under more pressure. According to a recent Wells Fargo study, 47% of millennials spend more than half their monthly income paying off debt; 4 in 10 call themselves “overwhelmed” by debt. They’re saving to dispel future gloom, but they’re already in the thick of it.

Von Tobel says a change in perspective helps. To our sit-down, she brought along Stephany Kirkpatrick, the firm’s resident retirement expert. Kirkpatrick considers saving a matter of behavioral psychology. No one wants to save for retirement, she says, when it looks like a mountain in need of scaling. But when clients see the merits of incremental savings modeled over 30 years, they perk up. Kirkpatrick and von Tobel tell me I ought to sock away a little bit more in a Roth IRA. It could do so much for me, and the numbers do look good.

But, I protest, I’m young and employed. I’m supposed to spend money on frivolous things! Besides, I say, what little employability I have comes from my brain. I’m not going to break down in my mid-60s. Why would I ever need to retire?

Von Tobel looks at me, and her tone turns serious again. “How do you know you’re not going to have a brain injury or something else happen? We just don’t know. We’re in this line of business, so we see all kinds of really great people that just didn’t know that something could happen.” Nice brain ya got there, I silently translate. It would be a real shame if something happened to it.

So I guess I have no choice but to save: Save by investing in the stock market, save by abstaining from indulgence, save by any means necessary. In preparing for retirement, there is no magic, only savings and more savings. I leave my LearnVest consultation planning to act on von Tobel’s simplest tips. I sign up for a high-yield online savings account and a Roth IRA (down a cool 1.85% at press time) and vow to limit my credit-card debt, buy more insurance and plan my monthly budgets. But I also get to asking myself many questions about the savings gospel. The biggest one: What’s in it for us?

The Early Retiree

One muggy Friday morning in houston, I meet a very happy retiree a little more than two years removed from the working world. His name is John Arnold. The father of three is all of 40 years old, and with his boyish, sheepish grin, he looks younger. Per Forbes, he possesses a modest nest egg of $2.9 billion, putting him among the 200 richest Americans.

In May 2012, Arnold did what so many workers dream of one day doing. He had gotten tired of running his hedge fund and he had made enough money at it, so he quit. But in place of a gold watch and a dinner at the Elks Lodge, he earned headlines in the New York Times and Houston Chronicle. In 17 years, Arnold had reached the top of his cutthroat profession, reportedly returning more than 300% on investments in 2006, closing his fund with billions under management after opening it with $8 million and with 60 employees after starting with three.

The first 14 years of work he loved. Arnold, an economics and math major at Vanderbilt, started at Enron in 1995, just a few days after graduation. He says the job–a junior-trader gig that paid $35,000 a year plus a 15K bonus–suited his skills perfectly. His boffo returns in the go-go late ’90s at Enron facilitated a steady rise, and even the company’s bankruptcy and criminal downfall (in which Arnold was not implicated) barely stalled him. Then came the big returns and the big days for Centaurus Advisors, the fund he launched in 2002. The job consumed him, but he liked it. He was working straight from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., waking many mornings having dreamed about what he traded–natural gas.

By 2009 he began to question his passion as natural gas prices slumped. In 2011 he knew he wanted out. He figured his moneymaking opportunities were gone, his best days behind him. So he closed the fund just shy of its 10th anniversary. He took a summer vacation in Colorado and then got into philanthropy, which is what he spends the bulk of his time on now.

For a self-made man with such a spectacular mike drop to his credit, Arnold has little to share in the way of business maxims. His advice is simple enough: Find a career that suits you well, and try to make a lot of money at it. Then have an exit strategy concerning a passion of yours. His was public policy. “The one thing that money does–it allows you to follow your heart rather than do a particular job,” he says.

And in his retirement, one of Arnold’s primary causes is the reform of defined-benefit public-employee pensions. He wants rules mandating timelier funding for them and thinks it might be wisest for the defined-benefit plan to disappear altogether. (This change has long since been under way in the private sector, where defined-benefit pensions covered 35% of the workforce in 1990 but only 18% of it by 2011.) Since the 2008 financial crisis, six states have introduced plans with a mandatory defined-contribution component.

The story that pension politics and the expected exhaustion of Social Security’s trust fund in 2033 tells is the same one von Tobel told me: we millennials will be on our own in retirement.

Ready-Made Suburbia

Retirement, as an institution, traces its founding to 1889, when Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, promised Germans over 70 that the state would provide them with income. It wasn’t until the 1935 signing of the Social Security Act, which endeavored to lift the elderly from poverty, that America’s retirement culture began to take shape. But it took postwar prosperity and the attendant improvement in seniors’ quality of life to vault retirement up to what it is now for the fortunate many, a round-the-clock actualization of a Jimmy Buffett song.

Retirement is, after all, sold to us from both sides: it’s not only the financial-services firms’ looming horror but also the real estate developers’ well-deserved, leisure-filled reward–the shimmering twilight years spent frivolously but guiltlessly before dotage arrives. Retirees defect, free of puritan compunction, from the Northern and Midwestern metropolises that gave them grueling if remunerative careers and head to warm climes with little industry to speak of other than condominium construction and physical therapy.

Maybe this lifestyle ought to come to an end. In search of answers, I give the Pulte Group a call. Pulte, one of America’s largest homebuilders, offers homes for prosperous active adults ages 55 and over, known as the Del Webb line. This is a name with some history. TIME put construction tycoon Del E. Webb on its cover in August 1962, heralding the rise of The retirement city: A new way of life for the old. Three years earlier, Webb had started selling houses at his Sun City development in Arizona, where in 1954 the first age-restricted residential community had cropped up. (Punning developers named it Youngtown.)

Today, even though Webb himself is 40 years deceased, about 50 still-selling 55-and-older communities bear his name. Securing my piece of these developments, or whatever their 2055 equivalent may be, is just what my new friends at LearnVest have me saving for. I had to explore. That’s how I find myself sitting shotgun in a double-length golf cart, touring Sun City Carolina Lakes, a newish development 30 minutes south of Charlotte, N.C. (Base prices start at more than $200,000, out of the range of many seniors and most assuredly out of mine.) Pam, a resident who gives tours, is behind the wheel, with Shannon, a sales VP, in back.

As we roll over the roads, statistics keep coming: 11 lakes on the property (two stocked for fishing–catch and release), eight softball teams (the primary source of business for local orthopedists, one resident jokes), four seasons (more than Florida has!), $50,000 (the state’s discount on the fair market value, for tax purposes, of homes with residents over 65). All of it, especially the last part, seems well suited for convincing stickler-y seniors.

But the social climate, more than the grounds, is what draws seniors to Sun City. In conversations with so many residents, the phrase like-minded people pops up. In exchange for surrendering lifelong friendships, the kind forged by happy accident in heterogeneous communities, seniors often seek out places where the residents act the same as them and do the same things they do. (Imagine picking a college, if college had no classes and lasted 20 years.) So the people here are mostly retired professionals, mostly friendly, mostly from the East Coast, mostly active, mostly with pensions and grandkids, mostly conservative, nearly all white.

At an afternoon cocktail hour at the home of Melissa and Rich, who came here from Columbus, Ohio, the talk is of richer lives and newfound passions. It’s important, Melissa tells me, to feel like you’re doing something meaningful after you’ve moved on from your old job and community and into a place full of people your own age. She used to be a teacher; now she works as a life coach and pursues creative arts. Barb and Joe, another couple, moved there from Erie, Pa. Joe left his government job early; Barb was reluctant to leave hers. But a friend gave her a copy of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, and she soon realized she had to leave town to grow. Joe says they know more people here than they did in Erie, where they lived for 60 years. Barb misses her friends. They keep in touch through Facebook.

The Sun City residents tell me that they cannot picture my generation wanting to retire there; apparently we don’t care for outdoor recreation. True enough. (Investment idea: Find a fixer-upper sanatorium next to an Apple Store.)

But it’s not just their immersion in screens that may scare millennials away from retirement communities. We’re also averse, I figure, to the homogeneous, ready-made suburbias the master builders have long sold. Instead, despite the prices, my generation has headed for cramped housing in diverse, historic cities. And we have done so largely in search of culture, which is hard to find at Sun City, even with Charlotte just a 30-minute drive away. Other communities have sprung up to corner the culture market–some universities have offered alumni the chance to retire on campus-adjacent developments–but that goes only so far. I can hardly fathom enjoying a life in which I interact only with people my own age, people largely just like me, with all the same cultural points of reference. Besides, I can get that free on Twitter.

Time to Save

I wanted, though, to square my assumptions with at least one senior. So I went to see the U.S.’s ranking consumer-advocate curmudgeon. “A healthy society,” Ralph Nader says, “provides opportunities across the board that send a message to the elderly: ‘We need you, we want you.’ ” Residential communities “put seniors out to pasture.”

Don’t even think about asking him about his own potential retirement date. Nader, 80, is no longer a frequent presidential candidate–his last campaign was in 2008, when he captured more than 700,000 votes–but he says he’s working harder than ever. He reads, writes, talks, advises, demonstrates, cajoles. Whatever it takes. He’s made just a few concessions to time, he says, cutting pastries out of his diet and surrendering his hopes for an uninterrupted night of sleep. Otherwise he’s the same Nader he was when he appeared on Time’s cover in 1969; he is still brimming with the blend of scorn and optimism that made him a civic leader. He still forgoes a computer in favor of his Underwood typewriter.

Nader laments the generational gap brought on by technology and, indeed, the whole retirement industry. “Take China. There’s no retirement. But older people, they’re revered for their wisdom and experience and willingness to help the young. Well, here, if you don’t know how to use an iPad,” he tells me, “you don’t have anything left for people your age.” Seniors feel lonely, burdensome, terrified of even the slightest hint of Alzheimer’s. And marketers, Nader says, prey on that anxiety. Seniors lose, and so does everyone else.

After my afternoon with Nader, I kick some of these matters to academic experts. Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins, predicts that the weakened American family structure will take a particular toll on retirees in the next few decades. Adult children usually serve as seniors’ most important caregivers, but fathers who are absent during their children’s formative years will struggle to enlist them later. (More than 8 million of the 33.2 million U.S. households with children under 18 are headed by unmarried women.) Yet there is some small reason for hope, from an unlikely source. According to Cherlin, the Great Recession has brought some families together, with adult children living with their parents out of necessity. Perhaps this closeness will persist into boom times.

Ursula Staudinger, the director of the Butler Aging Center at Columbia University, says the healthiest seniors are the ones who keep working. While short-term breaks from the structure and demands of a job can improve the mind, medium- and long-term absences often lead to downturns in mental and physical health, research suggests.

The average 65-year-old, ready to collect his first Social Security check, has 20 years to live, most of them rather healthy. And scientists expect the proportion of healthy years to increase. Retirement as we have long known it wastes the healthy minds of good people. A solution, Staudinger says, might be for large American employers to allow their middle-aged workers to take sabbaticals and gradually reduce their hours as they age, as some European firms have done. But we need an attitude change first.

Retirement, I’ve learned, isn’t so much an essential social institution as it is a fun-house mirror for the old generation. In middle age, we’re all more or less the same. Everybody works, and everybody’s unhappy. But when age 65 rolls around, our differences get magnified.

In retirement, those who had good jobs can play tennis all day and work part-time: consulting, advising, expert-witnessing. But those who did manual labor without the protection of a pension plan will have sore backs and need full schedules, hoping for scraps of service labor to be thrown their way.

Trends be damned, millennials should expect fairer and better–not a blessing to drop out of society and ignore its problems. Maybe it would serve us well to give up on our mythologized retirements.

Sure, I’ll save a little more cash just in case, and I’ll tell my friends to do the same. But I’m dreaming of starting a movement. My brain feels better than ever. I can keep it that way into my 80s or 90s, I bet, if I play the right games on my iPhone. With fresh eyes and a sharp mind and a renewed sense of purpose, I look forward to spending 60-some more years as I spent this one, writing for weekly magazines.


This appears in the October 27, 2014 issue of TIME.

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