It's been a tough year for 401(k) savers -- and investors across the board. The stock market has been horrendously volatile since the start of 2022. And as a result, a lot of retirement savers are sitting on lower balances now than they were a year ago.

Fidelity reports that the average 401(k) balance during the third quarter of 2022 was $97,200. By contrast, the average 401(k) plan balance during the second quarter of the year was $103,800.

Now that quarterly decline doesn't look so steep. But when we compare the most recent average balance of $97,200 to the average $126,100 balance savers had during the third quarter of 2021, it paints an uglier picture.

A person looking down at a laptop.

Image source: Getty Images.

Of course, if you're seeing losses in your 401(k), you're in good company. And you shouldn't rush to kick yourself for making poor investment choices, because many investors are down money this year due to the state of the market.

That said, your 401(k) balance may be a lot lower than $97,200 not because your investments have lost value, but because you've perhaps prioritized other expenses over your retirement savings. If that's the case, there are a few steps you can take in the near term to try to catch up.

Get back on track

You'll need income outside of Social Security to live comfortably as a senior. And if you have access to a 401(k) plan through work, you have a prime opportunity to build yourself a nice nest egg.

If you're unhappy with your 401(k) balance, first things first -- figure out what your employer's matching program looks like, and pledge to contribute enough money to claim your match in full. If you don't, you're effectively giving up free money that could get you closer to your savings goals.

Next, see about ramping up your savings rate in general. If you're getting a raise at the start of 2023, try allocating all of it to your 401(k). Since it's not money you're used to having now, it's money you may not miss if it never actually lands in your checking account.

Finally, make sure your 401(k) is invested aggressively enough. Playing it too safe could limit your money's growth and result in a lower balance.

This advice, however, assumes that you're still a number of years away from retirement. If that milestone is coming up soon, you may want to do the opposite -- invest less aggressively and put more of your 401(k) into safer assets that aren't as likely to see steep declines during periods of market volatility.

Don't despair

If you're looking at losses in your 401(k), you're definitely not alone. And if you're in serious need of a 401(k) ramp-up, you have options in that regard, too.

But do yourself a favor and recognize the difference. The average 401(k) balance is down 22.9% from a year ago, as per Fidelity. And if your balance has taken a similar hit, you don't necessarily need to stress yourself out to increase your savings rate or change your approach to investing. You may just need to wait out this period of ongoing turbulence.