If you're heavily dependent on Social Security to pay the bills in retirement, then you're no doubt aware of how important your annual cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, are. Without those raises, your monthly benefit would otherwise stay the same indefinitely, resulting in a situation where you lose significant buying power year after year as inflation rears its ugly head.

But the news on the COLA front isn't so encouraging going into 2020: Seniors will only be getting a 1.6% boost in their benefits, which pales in comparison to the 2.8% COLA they received going into 2019. Considering the average beneficiary today collects $1,479 a month, that's a mere $23.66 extra on a monthly basis.

Older man and woman at a laptop looking at documents with serious expressions


But wait -- there's more to the story.

Because the standard monthly Medicare Part B premium is climbing from $135.50 in 2019 to $144.60 in 2020, we need to subtract $9.10 from that $23.66 to account for that increase (keeping in mind that seniors on Social Security pay their Part B premiums directly from their benefits). After that's accounted for, beneficiaries are looking at just $14.56 extra per month, or $174.72 per year. That's hardly enough to keep up with rising living expenses, particularly medical costs, which explains why so many seniors are no doubt extremely disillusioned with their latest raise.

Overcoming a lackluster raise

Living mostly on Social Security is difficult enough in its own right. Throw in a measly COLA, and it makes for a very stressful situation for seniors going into 2020.

If you're one of them, one of the best things you can do is get yourself on a tight retirement budget. Assess your spending and figure out which monthly expenses you have the potential to cut back on. If you're already living extremely frugally, you might consider packing up and moving to a less expensive part of the country. Your Social Security benefits are portable -- you collect the same monthly payment regardless of where you live, so if you're able to relocate somewhere with a cheaper cost of living, it could help out. That said, there are 13 states that tax Social Security benefits, so if you're not currently living in one, you may want to avoid moving to one.

Another option to consider? Get a part-time job. After spending a lifetime in the workforce, that may not seem ideal, but if you're desperate for extra money -- money Social Security clearly won't be providing -- it could be your best bet. And remember, in today's gig economy, working doesn't have to mean answering to a boss every day or showing up to work at specific hours. There's a host of things you can do independently, like consult in your former field, start a business of your own based on a hobby with income potential, or monetize your vehicle by signing up to drive for a rideshare company.

Though it's natural to eagerly anticipate a COLA from Social Security year after year, the reality is that those raises are often disappointing, and in some cases, non-existent. A better bet is to aim to keep your living costs as low as possible and boost your retirement income with part-time work so you don't spend the bulk of your golden years cash-strapped and stressed out.