Whether you are facing an onslaught of unexpected medical bills, you recently lost your job, or your 20-year-old clunker finally bit the dust, one thing is certain: You need cash, and you need it now. Unfortunately, when a financial emergency crashes into everyday life, the vast majority of us are caught completely unprepared.
More than half of Americans do not have enough emergency savings set aside to cover even minor mishaps, according to a Bankrate poll. A mere 38% of Americans said they would have enough accessible cash to pay for an unanticipated emergency room visit or even a $500 car repair.
If you need quick cash to cover an urgent expense, where do you turn? Here are six smart ways to raise cash quickly without causing irreparable harm to your finances.
Liquidate Your Assets
Does the corner of your jewelry box hold your Dad's Rolex, your mom's engagement ring or a diamond pin you rarely wear? What about goodies tucked away in your closet – that Valentino dress you wore to your sister's wedding or a few pairs of those famous red-soled Christian Louboutins?
You can also make fast cash by selling off recent-model electronics, from big-screen TVs and iPads to laptops and Kindles. If you need funds quickly, everything must go. Peddle these pieces to friends and family members, post them on Facebook and Twitter, try your hand at eBay or run an ad in the local newspaper. Depending on how many posh garments and top-of-the-line electronics you’re willing to sell, you could quickly rake in hundreds or even thousands of much-needed cash. According to a Nielsen survey conducted for eBay, the average U.S. household has $3,100 worth of unused items, mostly clothing and electronics.
Take on Odd Jobs
Don’t have any high-value items to unload? Sell your services instead. Babysit and pet-sit for friends or start up a neighborhood dog-walking service. According to PayScale, the nationwide average hourly wage for a babysitter is $9.85, and pet sitting pays an average of $16 per visit. Dog walkers typically earn between $10 and $25 per day for one dog, according to Care.com.
Let’s say you’re allergic to dogs (and kids). Offer to mow the grass and wash cars for your neighbors or drive your elderly aunt to her doctors' appointments. Go grocery shopping for busy friends or offer to repair and paint your sister’s dilapidated fence. Depending on how many jobs you take on and how much you charge for each task, you could scrape together a few hundred bucks within a single weekend. If you don't have enough people who need work done, try signing up for jobs through websites such as TaskRabbit.
Track Down Your Loose Change
At first glance, this advice may seem a little absurd – but it’s no joke. According to some estimates, there’s $90-worth of loose change in the average U.S. household. That adds up to a whopping $10 billion worth of coins stuffed in couch cushions, piggy banks and old paint cans across the nation.
Start a little treasure hunt around the house and collect all those hidden coins. Once you dig up every last red cent, haul them to your local bank or credit union. Some banks will count change for free for their customers, although others may require you to count and roll your change on your own. Either way, once you convert those coins to cash, you could have another hundred bucks to put toward your emergency expense.
Organize a Garage Sale
You know what they say: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. While garage and yard sales require a lot of work, they can bring in a decent chunk of change for some sellers. Most yard sellers bring in between $100 and $200, based on a poll by YardSaleSearch.com.
Borrow From Your 401(k)
For larger amounts of money, the first four steps may not suffice. That's when it makes sense to look at your 401(k). If you're younger than 59½, you pay a penalty for borrowing from your 401(k) funds, but there are times when it may pay to do this.
If you don't have a 401(k) but do have an IRA, this could also be a source of funds, especially if it's a Roth IRA. With a traditional IRA, your options are more limited, but even then there are some situations in which you can withdraw money at relatively little cost to you.
Part with Your Plasma
Now we're getting to the more extreme options. Plasma is a valuable resource, used for a variety of medical treatments and research. Donating plasma is similar to giving blood, according to Octapharma Plasma Inc., a company that collects plasma used to create life-saving medicines for patients worldwide. Once your blood is drawn, it’s cycled through special equipment that separates plasma from the other parts of your blood. Your plasma is then collected in a container, while the other parts are safely returned to your body in a process called plasmapheresis.
Depending on how much you weigh, you can expect to make between $15 and $40 for each plasma donation, say news reports. According to the Octapharma Plasma website, “Generally, the more you weigh, the more plasma we can collect, and the longer it takes to donate it. The amount of money you make reflects this.”
Borrow Money From Friends
We saved this one for last because it really should be a last resort. According to the Bankrate study, of the 62% of people who can’t afford to cover a financial emergency, 28% said they would either borrow from family or friends or use credit cards.
While borrowing money from friends and relatives may be a quick fix, it can lead to some seriously negative consequences. When a loved one lends you some cash, it can put a strain on your relationship – especially if you don’t pay the person back quickly. A study published in the Journal of Economic Psychology found that lenders and borrowers often have a different recollection of a personal loan's terms, and unpaid loans can lead to lingering bad feelings between the lender and borrower.
The Bottom Line
If you find yourself cash-strapped when a financial emergency strikes, you’re not alone. The vast majority of Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to pay for unexpected expenses. When you find yourself in this scenario, the worst thing you can do is drive up credit-card debt or take out a payday loan.
Fortunately, there are plenty of smart ways to raise money quickly without decimating your finances. Whether you choose to sell some of your belongings, take on odd jobs or borrow money from Mom or Pop, one thing is certain: As soon as you recover from this financial calamity, it’s time to start building up an emergency fund.