13 Steps to Help You Recover When You’ve Run out of Money

woman holding up empty wallet
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It’s scary to run out of money.

No, scratch that. It’s terrifying to run out of money. And it can happen in a flash, because a lot of us don’t have any savings.

A crisis like a broken air conditioner, a costly car repair or an unexpected medical problem can quickly drain all your funds. When it comes down to it, only 15% of Americans could come up with $2,000 in an emergency right now, according to a Penny Hoarder analysis of Federal Reserve survey data.

Don’t Panic. Use Your Head

If you find yourself totally broke, with no funds whatsoever, here’s what to do: Don’t panic. Don’t freeze up. Don’t shut down.

Instead, keep a level head. We’re here to help, and we’ve got ideas for what you should do now. Some of these suggestions will help you out immediately, and others will help you bank some cash for the next time money is tight.

1. Make Some Extra Money

Most of you already know about InboxDollars, but did you know that it will pay you to watch movie previews, celebrity videos, the latest news and dozens of other videos? Plus, you’ll get a bonus $5 just for signing up.

You need to watch all of the shows in a specific playlist to earn your bucks, so be prepared. InboxDollars lets you know how long the playlist runs before you start watching, and playlists range from a few minutes to about a half hour.

The availability is subject to change, but it’s possible to earn up to $225 a month watching these videos!

2. Avoid Shady Payday Loans

Getting a payday loan is super easy. You only need three things: an ID, a job and a checking account. You walk out with the money you need to tide you over until your next paycheck. No credit check. No collateral.

But they’re not cheap. Payday loans can have an interest rate of nearly 400%. Instead of a quick fix, they can trap borrowers in an endless cycle of debt.

Explore other options. The safest loan is from family or friends, but that depends on how comfortable you are asking them and if they could help. There are risks and hefty fees with other loans, such as taking out a loan from your 401(k).

A good resource is Fiona, a search engine for financial services, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. If your credit score is at least 620, its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

3. Get Paid Earlier Than Your Co-workers

If you need to get paid earlier next time, let Chime be your secret weapon.

Unlike most financial institutions, this online bank account doesn’t wait until your pay date to give you access to your money. As soon as it receives notification of the transaction from your employer, it immediately posts those funds to your account.

That means you’ll get your paycheck early — like Samuel Demeny, who recently switched to Chime. He uses direct deposit. His company technically pays everyone on Fridays, but he gets paid on Wednesdays. Chime gets him access to that cash two days earlier than his co-workers.

4. Take a Picture of Your Receipt

TPH photo editor, Alexa Vincent, in various scenes showing credit card debt, consolidation and bankruptcy on August 14, 2018.
Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

No matter how broke you are, you’ll still have to buy food at some point. We know it sounds strange, but Ibotta will pay you cash for taking pictures of your grocery store receipts.

Before heading to the store, search for items on your shopping list within the Ibotta app. When you get home, snap a photo of your receipt and scan the items’ barcodes.

Ibotta is free to download. Plus, you’ll get a $10 sign-up bonus after uploading your first receipt.

5. Turn Your Spare Room Into Cash

Have you got a spare room? Might as well use Airbnb to make some money with it.

If you’re a good host with a desirable space, you could add hundreds — even thousands — of dollars to your bank account that way. Airbnb lists guest houses, apartments and single rooms, but you can also list a couch if that’s all you’ve got available.

Read through our beginner’s guide to Airbnb before you start.

6. Hang out With Pups

General shots of a downtown dog park, Atlanta, Georgia.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

If you’re looking for a flexible, independent way to earn extra money — and you love hanging out with dogs — Rover might be your perfect gig.

The online network connects dog walkers and sitters to local dog owners, so you don’t have to staple flyers on every utility pole across town. Rover says sitters can earn as much as $1,000 a month.

You can offer a variety of services, including dog walking, overnight boarding at your home or theirs, and daycare. Boarding is the app’s most popular service. Dog owners will reach out to you.

7. Get a Free Assistant to Negotiate Your Bills

Now is the time to try to haggle a lower monthly bill with your cell phone or internet provider.

Download TrueBill, an app that’ll negotiate your bills, cancel unwanted subscriptions and refund your bank fees.

On average, Truebill says it helps customers save more than $700 a year by lowering their bills, canceling necessary subscriptions and getting refunds. The app will also remind you of all those sneaky subscriptions you’ve signed up for through the years, so you can cancel what you don’t use and reclaim your monthly budget.

8. Stop Deleting Your Emails

We found a simple way to get back some money for stuff you’ve already bought. Intrigued?

One of our secret weapons is called Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It’s free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund when there’s a price drop.

Plus, if your guaranteed shipment shows up late, Paribus will help you get compensated.

Paribus compensates us when you sign up using the links we provide.

9. Prioritize Your Bills and Negotiate Them

Decide which bills to pay first, and which ones can slide a little bit until you’re back on secure footing.

Pay your rent or mortgage so you don’t get kicked out of your home. Pay for power and water. You need that stuff.

Ask for payment arrangements. You may be able to negotiate lower bills on essentials like utilities or set up an interest-free payment plan to make larger bills more manageable.

Bonus: You’ll get a free $5 just for signing up!

10. Cut Your Food Bill

food being prepared on kitchen counter
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Prepare meals using nothing but what’s already in your pantry and your freezer. Take inventory of what you have, and plan meals around that.

Or just try meal planning in general to cut costs. If you’re looking to save money — and time — in the kitchen, meal prep is the way to go. You can avoid going out to dinner at restaurants. You won’t have to buy a ton of varied ingredients for different meals each night.

11. Sell Your Stuff

When you’re short on cash, look to the back of your closet and in the depths of your attic or basement. You’ll almost certainly find a bunch of stuff you don’t use anymore.

A lot of people see this clutter and start plotting a garage sale to earn extra money. The prospect is tempting — but a garage sale might not be worth your time.

Try some alternatives to sell your stuff online or in town to earn more money with less hassle than hosting a full-blown garage sale. Apps like Letgo and Decluttr make it super easy to sell your stuff without sitting in the front yard and dealing with strangers all day.

12. Sell Your Blood Plasma

It takes about two hours and, yes, it involves a needle, but selling your plasma could earn you about $25 for your first visit. The process is simple, and you’re free to read or watch TV while a machine draws your blood and separates the plasma.

It’s common for plasma donation centers to pay between $20 and $30 per visit, up to twice a week.

Interested? Search “plasma center + [your city]” for options, and ask your friends for referrals — many centers offer referral sign-up bonuses.

If you prefer just to donate blood, look for a blood drive near you on the American Red Cross’ website.

13. Ask for Help

Shot of a young couple looking anxious while doing their budget at home
PeopleImages/Getty Images

If you’ve exhausted all your options, call a local resource line for help. There’s no shame in it.

Start with 2-1-1, a confidential service offered through United Way that can help you find the resources you need to make rent, pay utilities or find affordable housing.

To use the service, head to 211.org and enter your location. It’ll show you services in your community and give you a number to call.

You can also look into applying for a grant. Take, for example, Modest Needs grants, which are designed for workers just about the poverty line who are ineligible for most other methods of social assistance.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s been flat broke more times than he cares to remember.