This Is the No. 1 Financial Setback Among 30- and 40-Somethings

We all experience our share of money-related setbacks in life. For some of us, it's high levels of credit card debt. For others, it's student loans. But if you ask adults in their 30s and 40s what their top financial setback has entailed, it's none other than the loss of a job. This data comes from an Ameriprise study, which found that losing a job is also 30- and 40-somethings' biggest financial fear.

Unfortunately, even the most diligent, responsible workers among us can fall victim to layoffs, and at any age. But if you're worried about losing a job, or have experienced it in the past, you should know that there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

1. Continuously boost your skills

It's easy to grow complacent when you've been at the same job or in the same industry for a number of years, and such might be the case if you're in your 30s or 40s. But if you want to lower your chances of being let go, it pays to work on expanding your skill set and staying current on industry changes. You can accomplish this in a number of ways, whether it's taking courses online or attending industry events and seminars. They key is to keep making an effort, even if your job is seemingly secure.

Not only will improving your skills lower your chances of losing your current job, but it'll put you in a better position to find a new one if you are let go -- and perhaps a higher-paying one at that.

2. Carve out a unique role for yourself

It's hard for a company to lay off that one person who's truly indispensable. So, be that person. Identify a need your company has that no one else is filling, and develop your role around it. This could mean learning a software program your peers aren't familiar with, and integrating it into your employer's operations so that management comes to rely on that program -- and your ability to oversee it.

3. Have a fully loaded emergency fund

Because layoffs can sometimes happen to otherwise solid workers, a good way to protect yourself from any ensuing financial upheaval is to have a solid emergency fund. At a minimum, that account should contain enough money to cover three months' worth of living expenses, but for better protection, you'd be wise to sock away six months' worth of expenses in the bank. This way, if you do lose your job, you'll have a safety net to tap before feeling the need to resort to debt.

Having a robust emergency fund will also buy you a little more time to find the right replacement role in the event that you lose your current job. Without that safety net, you might feel compelled to rush through your search and accept the first offer that comes your way, even if it's a role you don't want or that doesn't pay well. And that's a move that could hurt you financially in the long run.

4. Keep your living expenses low

Sometimes, when we lose a job, we are forced to take a lower-paying role afterward. But if that happens to you, and your new paycheck can't cover your existing expenses, you're going to run into financial trouble. That's why it's wise to live below your means rather than max out the paychecks you're used to collecting. If you keep your fixed living costs, like your rent and car payment, as low and manageable as possible, you'll have an easier time covering them if you're let go at work and your next job doesn't pay quite as well.

The idea of losing your job is undoubtedly stressful, so take steps to protect yourself accordingly. Boost your skills, bring some unique talents to the table, establish an emergency fund, and keep your living costs modest to buy yourself more leeway as far as future paychecks go. This way, if the worst-case scenario does come to be, you'll be better equipped to handle it.

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