Whether you are facing an onslaught of unexpected medical bills, you recently lost your job, or your home has been hit by a hurricane or other natural disaster, 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.

If you find yourself in this fix, you are not alone. About six out of ten American households experience at least one financial emergency a year and about one-third of American families have no savings at all, according to FEMA. And almost 40% of Americans would have trouble paying for an unanticipated emergency expense such as a $400 car repair, according to a report from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

If you need quick cash to cover an urgent expense, where do you turn? Here are seven smart ways to raise money quickly without causing irreparable harm to your finances.

Key Takeaways

  • Selling personal belongings—such as clothing, electronics, or books—online may help you raise cash in an emergency.
  • Consider taking on an odd job, such as babysitting, dog walking, or yard work, to help bring in extra money.
  • You might consider withdrawing funds from your retirement account, but that could mean paying taxes on the distribution and a 10% penalty, depending on various factors. 
  • If you borrow money from friends or family, it's best to draw up a contract about the terms of the loan. 

1) 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—perhaps a fancy bridesmaid dress or your inherited great-aunt's fur coat. One online platform ready and willing to pay cash for your clothes is thredUp—in the Help Center click on "The Clean out Process" to find out how the selling process works. Or, you can try selling your clothing on eBay.

You also may be able to make fast cash by selling off recent-model electronics, like big-screen TVs, tablets, phones, laptops, and game consoles, as well as media like DVDs, CDs, books, and games, on sites such as Decluttr, Gazelle, and uSell, and marketplace sites like Swappa. Or you can try posting them on Facebook, Craigslist, and Twitter; run an ad in your local newspaper; or peddle these pieces to friends and family members.

Depending on the quality of the garments, electronics, and media you're willing to sell, you could quickly rake in hundreds—or more—in much-needed cash.

2) Take on Odd Jobs

If you don't have any high-value items to unload, you can try selling your services instead—especially if you are out of work and have time on your hands. You might babysit and/or pet-sit for friends or start up a neighborhood dog-walking service. According to ZipRecruiter, the nationwide average hourly wage for a babysitter is $28 an hour, while pet sitting pays an average of $14 per hour. Dog walkers can typically earn about $15 an hour, according to PayScale.

If you're not up for dealing with dogs or kids, you might offer to mow the grass and wash cars for people in your neighborhood, or drive a neighbor's elderly aunt to her doctors' appointments. Or, if you enjoy driving, you might sign up to be a Lyft or Uber driver. According to Gridwise, rideshare drivers' earnings in 2020 depend on where they live, but range from $12.44 per hour in San Antonio, Texas, to $21.21 in California's Bay Area.

You could also grocery shop for busy friends or the elderly 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.

An emergency fund can provide a financial cushion to help when unexpected costs, like medical bills, or loss of a job, occur. Try to set aside money when you can to start one.

3) Track Down Your Loose Change

At first glance, this advice may seem a little absurd – but it's not a joke. According to a 2016 news report from Bloomberg, Americans throw away approximately $61.8 million of coins in the trash each year. That's a lot of money stuffed in couch cushions, piggy banks, and old paint cans across the nation.

Hunt around the house to collect all those hidden coins. Once you dig up every last cent, haul the trove 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.

4) Organize a Garage Sale

One man's trash is another man's treasure, as the saying goes. While garage and yard sales require a lot of work, they can bring in a decent chunk of change for some sellers. Be sure to advertise on Craigslist, Facebook (if you have a local group), your local newspaper (online as well as print), and church bulletins, and put up neon signs with black lettering in key locations to bring in as many people as possible.

5) Borrow From Your Retirement Accounts

For more significant 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 10% penalty for borrowing from your 401(k) funds, but there are times when it may pay to do this. Also, there are certain exceptions when the 10% penalty may be waived, such as when you have unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your modified adjusted gross income.

If you don't have a 401(k) but you 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 retirement money at little cost to you.

6) 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.

Reports vary as to how much you can make, and it will depend on a variety of factors. You could make between $20 and $60 for each donation. 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."

7) Borrow Money From Friends or Family

We saved this one for last because it really should be a last resort. While borrowing money from friends and relatives may be a quick fix, it can lead to some adverse 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.

According to an article in Psychology Today, unpaid loans can lead to lingering bad feelings between the lender and borrower. If you plan on borrowing money, it's probably best to draw up a contract stating when you will begin to pay back the lender and if you will also pay interest on the money borrowed.

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, which will have exorbitant interest rates.

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 a parent or friend, one thing is sure: As soon as you recover from this financial calamity, it's time to start building up an emergency fund.