When you're in your 20s or early 30s, recognizing that you don't have much in the way of retirement savings can most certainly be a wake-up call, but it's not necessarily cause for panic. After all, at those ages, you can expect to have multiple decades ahead of you in the workforce during which you can catch up and boost your savings to a healthy level.

But when you're only a few years away from retirement, being short on assets is far more problematic. Unfortunately, that's the reality many of today's baby boomers are facing. In fact, the average boomer only has $136,779 in retirement savings, according to a new survey by real estate company Clever.

Senior couple seated at a table, staring at a laptop with worried expressions


Now that may seem like a decent chunk of money at first glance. But remember, seniors are living longer these days, and those who leave the workforce in their 60s could easily be looking at a 30-year retirement. Meanwhile, if we follow the 4% rule, which states that if you begin by removing 4% of your savings balance your first year of retirement and then adjust subsequent withdrawals for inflation, your nest egg has a strong chance of lasting for 30 years. But when we apply a 4% withdrawal rate to boomers' average $136,779, we get just $5,471 of annual income -- not a whole lot of money.

Even if we take today's average yearly Social Security benefit of $17,532 and factor it into the mix, that's still a mere $23,000 in annual income. That may be enough to cover some basics, but it certainly won't make for a comfortable lifestyle. Therefore, if you're an older worker whose retirement savings balance is hovering in the ballpark of $136,779, it's imperative that you take steps to address that shortfall. If you don't, you'll risk struggling financially once your career does come to a close.

Improving your financial picture in retirement

Nearing your golden years without much savings isn't a great spot to be in, but if that's your reality, know that all is not lost. First of all, if you immediately start slashing expenses in your budget, you can free up money to put into your IRA or 401(k), and rest assured that every little bit will help. Imagine, in fact, that you're able to lower your spending to the point where you ramp up your retirement plan contributions by $300 a month over a three-year period. That's an extra $10,800 for your golden years right there, not including growth on your savings.

Another option to consider? Get yourself a second job. Doing so will put cash in your pocket that isn't earmarked for existing expenses, thereby affording you the option to save it all. Incidentally, if you're nearing retirement with less than $137,000 socked away, you may have no choice but to work part-time during your golden years to supplement your income -- in which case lining up a side gig ahead of time could serve you well down the line.

Finally, you may need to consider postponing retirement by a few years if your savings aren't particularly robust. The longer you work, the more opportunity you'll have to pad your nest egg, all the while leaving your existing balance untouched. Extending your career might also allow you to hold off on filing for Social Security, and that's important, because for each year you delay benefits past your full retirement age, you get to boost them by 8% a year, up until you turn 70. And when you're sitting on under $137,000 in your IRA or 401(k), a higher monthly benefit can make a huge difference.

In an ideal world, you should have more than $136,779 set aside for retirement by the time the latter stage of your career rolls around. If that's not the case, make an effort to compensate. As long as you're still collecting a paycheck, you have a solid opportunity to improve your financial picture and avoid problems during your golden years.