We all experience our share of setbacks in life, whether they're personal, career-related, or financial. But if you suffered a setback in the latter category last year, you're certainly not alone. A good 68% of Americans experienced a financial setback in 2018, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education. Topping the list were transportation problems (23%), home repairs (21%), and medical issues (17%).

But while financial setbacks aren't uncommon, Americans' struggle to pay for them is cause for concern. In fact, 32% of U.S. adults say they'd need to rely on a credit card to tackle an unplanned bill or other unpleasant financial surprise. Furthermore, 28% of U.S. adults feel that the current quality of their financial life is worse than they would've expected it to be.

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Even if you managed to escape 2018 financially unscathed, you never know when you might fall victim to a money-related setback going forward. And the best way to protect yourself is to have a healthy emergency fund at the ready.

You need emergency savings

Without emergency savings, you might have no choice but to rack up costly debt the next time something goes wrong in your life that relates to money. That "something" could be a leaky roof, a busted car engine, a costly hospital stay, or a layoff. And it could hit you absolutely out of nowhere.

That's why it's a smart idea to amass an emergency fund with at least three months' worth of living expenses (though six months' worth would be even better). Of course, you're not going to build that level of savings overnight, but if you start slowly and work your way up, you'll put yourself in a better position to grapple with unplanned setbacks.

So where will that money come from? You can start accumulating some by looking at your budget -- or creating one if you don't already have one -- and identifying expenses you're willing to cut back on. That could mean downsizing your living space, getting rid of a car if you can manage with public transportation, or eliminating nonessentials like restaurant meals.

At the same time, it pays to look at getting a side job if you really have little to no money in the bank. The beauty of getting a second gig is that the money you earn from it won't be allocated to existing expenses, like your utility or cellphone bill. As such, you should have no problem banking all of it.

Being responsible with extra money that comes your way will also get you closer to your emergency savings goal, so rather than blow a work bonus or your tax refund, put that money in the bank. Once your emergency fund is complete, you'll be free to spend your windfalls on fun things, but for now, you need that safety net more so than anything else.

Financial setbacks can happen to the best of us, and at the least convenient times. The best way to avoid suffering long-term repercussions from a single setback is to establish a healthy level of cash reserves. Doing so won't just help your finances, it'll also give you peace of mind in the face of whatever financial upheaval manages to come your way next.