When an unexpected expense pops up, many people find themselves in a bind. In fact, a recent Federal Reserve survey found about half of respondents said they’d have to sell a belonging or borrow money to cover a $400 emergency expense.
The fix is, of course, an emergency fund. Even $500 in the bank can get you out of a pinch; having three to six months of expenses is even better. (See “How to Build an Emergency Fund.”) Having that kind of cash available means you can get by without pawning off valuables, selling your blood or leaning on the generosity of a friend or relative.
It takes time, discipline and extra money to build up that cushion. In the meantime, here are a dozen strategies to earn fast cash today, increase your income on an ongoing basis and cut your monthly spending. Combined, they’ll keep you out of this kind of bind going forward.
Get your hands on extra cash today
1. Sell old cellphones. There’s a good chance you’re sitting on cash here: A study released last year found that half of consumers have at least one old cellphone gathering dust. This mobile mountain is worth $47 billion, which works out to a possible $160 in your home. You can sell old devices on sites such as uSell and Gazelle, but to get cash today, an ecoATM is your best bet. Consider selling old MP3 players and tablets, too.
2. Sell your unused gift cards. In 2014, an estimated $750 million in gift cards went unused, according to research and advisory firm CEB TowerGroup. Most online gift card exchanges take a few days (you have to mail the card, then wait for a check or direct deposit), but Coinstar Exchange offers instant cash for cards valued at $20 or more. You’ll get slightly less — the company pays up to 85% of the card’s value, while sites such as Cardpool pay up to 92% — but the quick cash might be worth it.
3. Pawn something. As a way to borrow money, pawnshop loans are awful (though not as awful as payday loans or car-title loans). But you don’t have to pay it back; the pawnshop simply keeps the item. That’s a lot better than ruined credit and calls from debt collectors. Jewelry, musical instruments, firearms and up-to-date electronics fare best.
4. Work today for pay today. Googling that phrase turns up no shortage of results, some legitimate, some not. There are companies — such as LaborReady, LaborWorks and LaborFinders — that can help place you in jobs immediately, and you’ll get paid at the end of the workday.
If a company like this isn’t available in your area, try the Craigslist jobs or gigs sections, which often have similar postings for short-term work in food-service, housekeeping and general labor jobs.
5. Find community assistance: There may be low-cost loans or assistance available locally to help with rent, utilities or other emergencies. Check NerdWallet’s community assistance database with resources available to residents in nearly two dozen states.
Increase your income going forward
6. Rent out a room. Sites like Airbnb aren’t just for people who have vacation homes to rent out when they’re not using them. Many of the site’s listings are for extra rooms — or even shared rooms — in the owner’s house, meaning you could stay put while bringing in some cash, particularly if you live in a reasonably desirable area. (Check local ordinances to make sure short-term rentals are allowed.)
Creating a listing on the site is free; there is a 3% service fee when a reservation is made. You can easily estimate how much you might make on the Airbnb website. For the sake of an example, the site estimates that a one-week private room rental in relatively rural Staunton, Virginia, could bring in $725. The service releases payment to the host 24 hours after the guests check in.
7. Moonlight as a dog sitter. Technology is on your side here, too, with sites including DogVacay and Rover matching pet owners with dog sitters and walkers. You can choose to host the dog or stay at the owner’s house (and — here’s an idea — rent out your place through Airbnb while you’re gone). Rates are between $20 and $60 a night in most areas, though they can skew higher or lower depending on the location and the amount of work involved.
8. Become a rideshare or delivery driver. These are jobs you can do in the evenings or on weekends, using your own car (and, unfortunately, your own gas). Companies like Uber and Lyft match you with people willing to pay for a ride, and delivery services such as OrderUp and Postmates allow you to deliver takeout and other items. How much will you make? Here’s a look at what Uber and Lyft drivers earn in various cities; the range seems to be $10 to $15 a trip. OrderUp says its drivers earn $20 an hour, and Postmates boasts $25 an hour.
Reduce your monthly spending
9. Cut your insurance premiums. One of the dirty secrets of the car insurance industry is that premiums for the same driver for the same coverage can vary by hundreds of dollars from company to company. Each company does its own math; that’s why it pays to compare car insurance quotes.
If you like your carrier, it may worth your time to review the dozens of discounts it may have available. You can get 10% off or more for everything from making good grades to completing defensive driving training to going at least three years without an accident.
The same is true with homeowners insurance: Shopping around can save you 10% to 15%, as can discounts for things like having a home security system, staying claim-free or being a nonsmoker.
10. Consolidate your debt. If you’re struggling to keep up with multiple debt payments, you may be able to consolidate those balances — from credit cards, medical bills, store financing or other charges — and lower your payments with a personal loan. There are even a few lenders that can fund the loan inside of a day. Refinancing $5,000 worth of debt from a 10% interest rate to a 5% interest rate could save you more than $800 in interest over the life of the debt.
If you have a good credit score, you can do a balance transfer of high-interest rate credit card debt onto a new card with a 0% introductory interest rate. Just be sure you can pay off the balance before the rate balloons at the end of the introductory period.
11. Refinance your student loans. Borrowers right now are benefiting from low interest rates and a competitive private student loan refinancing market, and there are refinancing options available for most credit scores. It’s worth checking into whether a refinance could save you money (especially when the average borrower through NerdWallet’s refi platform saves more than $11,000).
12. Change your cellphone plan. If you value money in your pocket over a fancy phone, look into the cellphone providers that are offering rock-bottom rates these days. Republic Wireless will actually pay you back — in real dollars — for the data you don’t use each month; the company says many customers pay less than $15 a month. FreedomPop offers basic voice and data service for free. The catch with these services is you often have to buy a phone outright, or bring your own. So maybe you don’t want to sell that old phone quite yet.
Image via iStock.