Raise cash in a flash

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A day might come when you need money quickly. Not a situation where you're simply experiencing a tight budget for a day or two, but when your basic necessities are on the line. Maybe you don't have enough money to put gas in your car or food is running low. What can you do? If you've been in this situation before, tell me what you've done to get through it.

Here are a few suggestions.

Return items: Look through your home for any recent purchases you might be able to return. This is one of the reasons why it's important to save receipts.

Sell it: Gather items you can sell. You can have a garage sale, or list them for sale in your local newspaper or online. Most everyone has something they can sell. It's possible that you don't want to part with it, but when push comes to shove, you have to make hard decisions. Are you crafty? Sell your work. One reader, Michelle in South Carolina, shares: "If you make a unique item, wear it or take it with you when you go someplace. I started making jewelry because of this. I needed something to wear, so I made it. I wore it and got an order. Then that catapulted from there. Maybe you make purses or hair bows -- or something else from items you have on hand." Do you have books? Check a local used-book store or online places, and see whether they'll buy them.

Plasma: Look in the phone book for a plasma-donation center. Not every center compensates for donations, so ask. You'll have to go through a medical history, screening and exam.

Pawnshop: If you would rather not sell your stuff, you can pawn it. You're putting your stuff up for collateral in exchange for a loan. You can get your belongings back later, but there are fees, and you'll have to come up with more money (loan plus interest) to get your items back, or pay a fee for them to extend your loan. Or do nothing and lose your stuff.

Friends or family: You can ask friends and family for a gift or loan. One possibility is offering a service, such as cleaning, yardwork or baby-sitting, in exchange for their financial help. If you're up to that, you can ask neighbors, too. It's humbling, but you're not asking for a handout. You're working for it.

Loose change: Grab your change jar, or look through your house in the laundry, jackets, furniture, purse and car for change. It's surprising how much change accumulates that can bail you out when needed. Avoid using Coinstar machines if possible so you don't have to pay any money out. While Coinstar does offer options for free coin counting if you select a gift card to participating retailers such as J.C. Penney, Starbucks or iTunes, to name a few, that's not helpful when you want as much of your cash as possible. Some credit unions and banks offer the Coinstar or their own counting machines freely. Call before hauling your loose change.

Salvage: Look for scrap metal or cans to turn in for cash. You'll need a truck to haul it and a local place that buys it, such as a junkyard or salvage yard, but if you hit a heavy-item collection week in your city or make contact with companies that discard metals, such as plumbers and repair shops, you can make some money.

Community services: If your situation is more desperate, look for local services, such as food banks, government-assistance programs (www.govbenefits.gov) or home-energy assistance (www.liheap.org/index.html). Contact your local community-action center or social services for emergency help, too.

Sara Noel is the owner of Frugal Village (www.frugalvillage.com), a website that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. To send tips, comments or questions, write to Sara Noel, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016, or e-mail sara@frugalvillage.com.<I>

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