About 70 percent of all recent college graduates have student loan debt, while nearly 30 percent of Americans admit they have zero emergency savings of any kind. If you find yourself in both camps, trying to figure out how to save money and pay off debt at the same time can feel like a vicious circle.
Yet, ideally, you should have at least $1,000 set aside for a financial emergency; some experts recommend up to eight months’ worth of expenses. That’s a tough number to reach with student loans debt looming over your head.
So what if you’ve scrimped, saved, and budgeted – but still aren’t seeing results? It might be time to get creative.
How to build an emergency fund with these offbeat ideas
They may seem unorthodox, but try some of these tips to start saving up your emergency fund without missing a single student loan payment:
1. Have a “Bill Haggle Day”
We all have to pay the bills – but did you know you don’t necessarily have to pay as much as you are right now?
Don’t be afraid to contact your insurance providers, reach out to other creditors, and call your cable company to ask for lower rates or better deals. The worst they can say is “no,” but you’ll never know their answer for sure if you don’t ask.
Use a good driving record to score a $20/month reduction on your auto insurance. Or look up competing cable providers’ fees and take that to your current carrier. The same goes for your credit cards; if they don’t match the rate, tell them you’re jumping ship.
Add up these savings for some much-needed dollars to your emergency fund.
2. Pawn off your stuff
In the age of Craigslist and eBay, it’s easy to forget about good ole pawn shops. But they’re still a simple way to get cash fast by selling your old stuff.
Raid your closet, drawers, basement, or garage and get rid of what you don’t need. It could be clothes, or old furniture, computer equipment, or anything hanging around.
While you might not be able to get a spot on Pawn Stars, check with a few local pawn shops to see if you can get a fair price on your goods. Don’t relinquish anything of sentimental value you might regret.
Another suggestion is to browse flea markets and thrift stores for vintage objects of value, buy them, and resell them at a higher price. Remember to bring your phone along with you to spot price differences before you buy and resell. It’s another way to earn some extra dough for your emergency fund.
(Scavenging for scrap metal at your local junkyard or dumpster diving for treasure are at your own risk.)
3. Quit your bad habits
Too many cigarettes, eating out with friends, Starbucks lattes, or more junk food than what’s healthy – the first reason you should be giving up those vices of yours is for the sake of your well-being. Then again, it could also save you a bunch of bucks for that emergency fund (or your student loan payments, whichever you prefer).
According to Daily Finance, one pack of cigarettes a day can cost you $511 a year. Eating at McDonald’s twice a week can run you up $860 annually. A weekly beer run may rack you up $234 per year. And let’s not forget that daily $1 lottery ticket purchase is $365 by Dec. 31.
Start cutting back or give up some of these habits, if you can. Your savings will benefit and so will your health.
4. Become a human guinea pig
Schools, hospitals, and clinics are always looking for volunteers to participate in clinical tests, drug trials, and other research projects. Some will pay you as an incentive to participate.
The National Institute of Health, for one, offers more than 300 studies for healthy volunteers. You might check online to see if there are any similar opportunities.
If getting poked or prodded isn’t your thing, you might check into participating in a psychological, focus, or survey group – in-person or online – where you can get paid to log your opinion on everything from product testing to polling. Just make sure to read the rules and fine print before you sign up and be certain that the organization is legitimate.
5. Rent out your car
You don’t need to become an Uber driver to raise some extra cash. Also consider renting your car out for money.
Sites like Turo.com and JustShareIt.com are like the Airbnb of cars. List your car, respond to renters’ requests, and lend your car for the amount of time you set. If you don’t need your car for extended periods of time, renting it out this way can contribute to your emergency fund earnings. According to Turo.com, a $14,000 car rented out for 10 days a month can net you $3,466 per year. There’s also a $100 signing bonus.
6. Sell your body parts
Those student loans may cost you an arm and a leg, but don’t worry, you won’t need to go as far as putting your limbs on the market for cash. However, you can receive money in exchange for blood, plasma, hair, sperm, breast milk, eggs, and yes … even poop.
You can earn about $20 to $50 per blood or plasma donation; you’re legally allowed to donate up to twice a week. In some cases, you might be paid a bit more on your second return visit of the week, so you could stand to earn some regular side cash if you’re not squeamish. For hair, many websites solicit long, healthy hair in exchange for cash.
And yes, believe it or not, a company called OpenBiome will pay you $40 per feces sample, $50 if you donate five days a week. The screening process can cost up to $5,000, however, and you have to be super healthy to participate.
Some of the best ways to keep on top of student loan debt without dipping into your vital emergency funds is to keep a tight budget, track your spending, and keep your savings in a high-interest deposit account.
Combine these with some of the above more creative tips and your student loan payments won’t become the emergency that your emergency savings need to rescue.