You're no doubt aware that the more financially secure you are going into retirement, the better you're likely to fare once your career actually comes to a close. But a new survey by real estate company Clever reveals that a large chunk of today's baby boomers are making one big mistake that could compromise not only their near-term finances but their long-term finances as well: They're not setting money aside for emergencies.

A frightening 31% of baby boomers, in fact, do not have an emergency fund. If you're part of that statistic, it's imperative that you accumulate some cash reserves -- before an unplanned expense drives you into debt at the worst possible time.

Gray-haired man sitting at a table, covering his face.


You need money in the bank

You never know when you might encounter a costly home or vehicle repair that pops up out of the blue. Similarly, you could get injured and rack up a host of medical bills or even lose your job for a period of time and therefore go without a paycheck. That's why you need an emergency fund -- money in a savings account that you're able to tap in a pinch.

Ideally, your emergency fund should contain enough cash to cover three to six months of essential living expenses. If you own a home and a vehicle, you're generally better off sticking to the higher end of that range, since there's more potential for sudden expenses to creep up.

If you don't build an emergency fund, when a bill catches you off guard, you might be forced to charge that expense on a credit card, at which point you'll start accruing interest when that balance doesn't get paid in full. That interest will then continue to build, costing you more money and preventing you from using your cash for more important purposes, like building retirement savings.

Worse yet, if you take on debt later in life, you risk carrying it with you into retirement. That can quickly become problematic when you're living on a fixed income and you're forced to use some of it to keep your credit card company at bay.

A better bet? Cut back on some expenses in your budget to build savings as quickly as you can. That could mean selling a car you can technically get by without to avoid paying for insurance and maintenance, or it could mean canceling the cable service you rarely watch and cooking at home for several months rather than dining out. Getting a second job for a period of time could also help you build emergency savings relatively quickly, and you're never too old to get one. In fact, it's a good idea to take on a second gig a bit later in life, because if you succeed at it, you'll have the option to carry it with you into retirement and use it to supplement your income.

Going without emergency savings is a big mistake at any age, but when you're nearing retirement, it can hurt you even more. Rather than continue to put your financial well-being at risk, take steps to build some cash reserves, even if it happens slowly but surely. Not only will it give you peace of mind in the near term, but it could prevent you from wrecking your golden years.