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 24 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 unusual jobs that pay surprisingly well, from the BLS and Odd Jobs book. Click over to Forbes for the full list.: