We all know that most doctors, lawyers, and CEOs make good money--but you may be surprised to learn that funeral service managers, hot dog vendors, and ice cream testers can also pull in a pretty penny.
To compile our 2013 list of 10 unusual jobs that pay surprisingly well, I combed through BLS data and scanned the pages of Odd Jobs: How to Have Fun and Make Money in a Bad Economy.
Odd Jobs is a book by Abigail Gehring that features over a hundred jobs that don't require you to sit in an office eight hours a day, five days a week. Gehring has had twenty-four of the jobs listed in her book.
Growing up, her father—who had a master’s degree and teaching experience—was best known as the “Hot Dog Man” in her hometown of Wilmington, Vermont. For twenty-five years he worked out of his metal pushcart in a True Value parking lot, and made enough money to put four kids through college.
In her book, Gehring notes that busy hot dog vendors in New York make up to $100,000 a year—while those with a reasonably successful business in less trafficked areas can earn a profit of $30,000 to $80,000 a year.
“Odd jobs can definitely bring in a good income, but often it requires a great deal of creativity, diligence, and a willingness to take risks,” Gehring says. “Certainly there are high costs to pay for the education and training required to become a doctor or a lawyer, but if you're a bright and hardworking person, either one is a pretty straightforward path to success. There are more unknowns in the odd job road to success, and so a lot of people don't even consider it.”
On a fishing boat in Alaska, you could bring in $2,500 a week worth of fish, or you might get nothing, she says. As a lipstick reader, you could make $200 an hour, but you might only get one hour's worth of work some weeks. “To really make a lot of money doing the kinds of jobs I describe in my book, from dog walker to virtual head hunter to body part model, you need business savvy, a dogged determination, and a good bit of luck. But you also might get to be your own boss, set your own hours, and have a slew of great stories to tell your grandkids one day.”
It turns out that full-time personal shoppers can pull in over $100,000 a year, according to Gehring--while virtual head hunters make $250 to $10,000 per employee referral. Other well-paying unusual jobs from her book: Cruise ship entertainer, ice cream taster, and human statue.
“A lot of freelancers or people in creative professions want flexible hours, which often means thinking outside the box for money-making opportunities,” she says. Other people seek out unusual jobs because they're tired of the 9 to 5 grind, or they've lost their job and are looking for new opportunities. "Some people just want to add a little spice to their life and if they can make money doing something exciting and unusual, why not?”
According to the BLS, embalmers earn $43,680 a year. The top 10% bring in $62,230, on average. Embalming is one of the oldest-known professions, and entails getting bodies ready for interment based on legal requirements.
Elsewhere in the industry, funeral service managers make $79,930 a year, on average. Top earners in this line of work are paid $140,740 a year for planning, directing, or coordinating the services or resources of funeral homes.
Another unusual job that pays fairly well: Genetic counselors. According to BLS data, there are only 2,000 of these professionals in the U.S. right now. What do they do? They assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. They also advise individuals and families to support informed decision-making and coping methods for those at risk. Genetic counselors make $55,820, on average—while the top 10% make about $85,790 a year.
Gehring found that you can also make $25 to $100 an hour as a live mannequin or human statue—and ice cream tasters, who are usually qualified food scientists with a degree in chemistry, make $56,000 a year.
“The jobs I describe in [the book] are meant to inspire people to come up with their own great ideas for making money,” Gehring says. “People are most likely to be successful if they match a perceived need with their own individual skill sets or passions. For example, maybe you love healthy cooking and notice that a lot of families in your neighborhood order pizza every night. That could be your cue to start a healthy meal catering and delivery service. I love hearing stories about people who found a way to make their passion meet a need, and wound up making a lot of money in the process. In a tough economy there are limited openings in corporate offices, but the odd [and unusual] jobs world is only limited by your imagination, time, and willingness to take risks.”
Here are 10 unusual jobs that pay surprisingly well, from the BLS and Odd Jobs book:
Average pay: $43,680 a year
Hot Dog Vendor
Average pay: $30,000 to $100,000 a year
Average pay: $25,000 to $100,000+ a year
Funeral Service Manager
Average pay: $79,930 a year
Ice Cream Taster (Food Scientist)
Average pay: $56,000 a year
Virtual Head Hunter
Average pay: $250 to $10,000 per referral
Average pay: $55,820 a year
Live Mannequin / Human Statue
Average pay: Up to $100 an hour
Body Part Model
Average pay: $20 to $1,000+ for an afternoon
Cruise Ship Entertainer
Average pay: $3,000 to $4,500 a month, plus room and board