PLAY TO WORK
The U.S. economy added 331,000 jobs in the first two months of 2019 and dropped the unemployment rate to 3.8 percent. That said, it doesn't necessarily mean everyone is excited about their job or what they're earning. If your pay is stagnating and you're foundering in a job you need instead of excelling at a job you love, one of your beloved leisure activities could turn into the career of your dreams. The following are examples of hobbies that could become careers with just some time, education, and dedication. Wages and some other information are provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Americans spend more than $50 billion a year on pet services, and with airlines clamping down on comfort pets (RIP Spirit Airlines hamster), dog walkers and pet sitters are in increased demand. You can start out at $10 to $30 a walk for dogs, but $20 a day for home visits and $100 for night boarding isn't out of the question. Websites such as Rover and PetSit can help you get started.
Relationships with a pet isn't always "care." Sometimes it's getting a scratchy cat out from a dark corner when it's scared or getting a bat out of the house. Municipal animal control workers don't always find animals in the best of circumstances and are called in to move them along. For this, they get upward of $37,580 annually without formal training and to rest soundly knowing they've saved an animal, even if that animal doesn't show much gratitude.
MAKING SWEET SOUNDCLOUD MIXES
DJs have never needed a degree to play clubs or host parties, and radio and podcast hosts have been able to get by without them. But it takes a lot of training, a lot of practice, and a lot of hustle to turn it into a living. Do you become an event DJ and play the wedding and bar mitzvah circuit? Hit up a local club or lounge and hone your craft with weekly sets? The great ones earn millions, become producers, play their own music, and draw thousands to festivals and Vegas pool parties. The average ones, however, make a median of $31,000 a year.
Sure, you can sell birdhouses, bookshelves, and other garage-built items on Etsy or Amazon and try to make a living that way. To move into cabinets, furniture, veneers and laminates, however, a bit of on-the-job training is needed, though not an advanced education. A high school degree should be all that's needed to take the first step. It isn't the most lucrative hobby on this list — median pay is roughly $30,850 — but there's still a market for it.
ARTS AND CRAFTS
Artisans haven't been limited to fairs and flea markets since Etsy was founded in 2005. Not much is needed to start selling, other than an Etsy store and some wares, but added payment options will cost. There are too many variables to how a new crafter will fare in selling, but some are doing just fine: Etsy brought in $604 million in revenue in 2018, and Amazon launched its Handmade service to compete.
ATHLETICS AND FITNESS
You could either be the person buying the gym membership for their New Year's resolution, or you can be the gym. While it helps to have a background in whatever type of exercise or sport you're training people in, personal trainers typically don't need more than a high-school diploma or GED to make an average $39,210 a year. Not only do you get to help others get into shape, but it's a good opportunity to get in a workout for yourself.
YouTube will let you put up game run-throughs and highlights and monetize it for a possible $5 for every 1,000 views, but why just play games at people when you can play against them? Esports such as the recently formed Overwatch League give players a high-profile chance to go pro, but a league isn't necessary to make money off a game. Just pick the one you love ("Call of Duty" or "Street Fighter" variants, etc.) and the right equipment, find a community, get on a team, and enter some tournaments. If you're good enough to make some noise, seek sponsors and get to the pro circuit. It isn't the most stable career, and it isn't quite so lucrative yet, but hundreds of pro gamers pull in six figures a year.
More than 160 million Americans garden, but few think of it as a means of doing anything other than killing time, diminishing stress, and bulking up the produce drawer. Still, the National Gardening Association suggests that a vegetable planting costing well under $100 can yield more than five times that in profits. You don't have to be a full-time farmer to sell surplus vegetables and home-grown flowers at farmers markets, festivals, or even homemade roadside stands. The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a registry of farmers markets, while the Hobby Farms website offers tips on setting up a roadside produce stand.
Related: 22 Tips To Keep Gardening Dirt Cheap
We could make half of this list about vlogging and the cash to be made gaming, applying makeup, and opening boxes of swag online, but there's a corner of this niche — "BookTube" — that makes its mark by setting up a basic video camera, sitting in front of a bookcase, and talking about books being read now and next. Reviews, author spotlights, shout-outs, and "Readathons" are all part of the gig, as is maintaining a presence on Twitter and Goodreads. It may just end up with you reading to a small circle of followers, but the few dollars that come in for every 1,000 views could add up quickly if the videos get a loyal following.
If you're left with a surplus from an overzealous round of antiquing, chances are Etsy and eBay have already come in handy for making at least a tiny profit. If you prefer items that aren't at least 20 years old (Etsy's threshold for antiques), you could use your online ratings on Amazon, Yelp, and elsewhere to apply to mystery shopping gigs. Retailers will typically give between $10 and $20 an assignment, with a free meal or product discount often thrown in. Beware: This corner of the industry is riddled with scam listings.
Many of those recreational, student, or private pilots logging hours at the local small airport could be getting paid for flying, especially with military flight experience. Commercial pilots don't need a high school education, but do need a pilot's license from the Federal Aviation Administration. We can't guarantee they'll love flying as much — commercial aviation can be incredibly stressful, especially with major airlines — but they'll be earning an average of $78,740 a year.
We'd say "be a brewer," but the average weekly wage at a brewery dropped from $1,293 in 2006 to $724 10 years later. That isn't surprising, considering that the number of U.S. breweries has climbed from fewer than 1,500 in 2006 to more than 6,000 today. Now, if you've found yourself handy at fixing and installing fermenters, mash turns, and other tanks, you might be better off becoming a boilermaker. The downside is that you'll have to apprentice for four to five years. The upside? You don't need a degree, get paid during an apprenticeship, and will make a median annual of more than $50,000 once done.
RIDING THE RAILS
Whether you're a commuter, a train enthusiast, or someone who just loved watching trains or building model trains when they grew up, there are a number of ways to work more closely with trains. Locomotive engineers don't go to college for the job (just 11.6 percent have a degree), and they make roughly $65,980 a year for transporting passengers and freight. That's far more than the $37,000 median wage for all jobs requiring just a high-school diploma.
If you're an HGTV-addicted snoop who'll spend the occasional weekend traipsing around a home you have no intention of buying, why not get paid to do it? Real estate brokers don't need a college degree, but do need to pass a licensing exam. Do that, and you'll be in a commission-based gig with median annual pay of nearly $56,730. Oh, and you'll still get to go around other people's houses and suggest what house hunters can do with those nasty '90s brass fixtures and blonde cabinets once they buy the place.
Are you the person who leaves nasty notes in the apartment lobby telling people to clean up their junk mail? Who keeps eyeballing the condo's roof shingles and giving the condo board the business about keeping up the place? If you were in property management, you could do all of the above without having to live with any of the people you're scolding. Not only does the job pay more than $58,670 on average, but it doesn't require a bachelor's degree or a whole lot of training. If you're one of the few people who'd get these tasks done even if you weren't getting paid for it, it might be time to go on the payroll.
If you didn't get called up to the majors after high school or college, a career as an athlete in a team sport likely isn't happening. If you played and feel you still have something to give, though, coaching and scouting are options. Granted, some coaching positions require a bachelor's degree in sports science or coaching itself, but many will take a certification and a working knowledge of the game. For an average $32,270 a year, the latter seems perfectly acceptable.
So the ump is blind, huh? The ref is single-handedly blowing the game? If you think you can do better, there's just about nothing stopping you. You don't need a degree to be a referee or umpire, and the average person holding that position — from rec leagues to the big leagues — makes $26,800 a year. If you have some spare time on your hands and think nobody will be yelling at you at the end of your games, be our guest.
Nielsen will give you around $100 a year to help it compile ratings, but there are only a few ways to make money watching television. The first is to start blogging or vlogging about favorite shows, hoping to develop an audience and get sponsors. The other is to actually learn the process behind making television, learn how to operate equipment, get involved with the union, and start working on productions. A spotlight operator, satellite communications operator, and dimmer board operator, for example, earn an average $76,000 a year.
WATCHING 'THE SIMPSONS'
Yes, a few decades of watching "The Simpsons" might give the impression that just about anyone can be a nuclear power plant operator. Amazingly, that is true. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that nuclear power reactor operator is the only profession in the United States that does not require a college education, but has an average annual salary of more than $80,440. That said, you'd have to work at a plant about as long as "The Simpsons" has been on the air to get the on-the-job training necessary to develop a grasp of physics, mechanics, and mathematics strong enough to handle the job. It isn't all doughnuts and three-eyed fish.
There are people who view makeup as drudgery and others who see it as artistry. If you're in the latter column, know your way around a good set of brushes and primers, and have either wanted to help people look better or have been fixing friends' and family members' looks for years, why not dream big. A theatrical makeup artist earns an average $69,310 a year, with 22 percent having no education beyond high school. In fact, school isn't going to help you here at all — unless you're considering cosmetology school — practicing on brides and school plays, building a portfolio and getting your name out there will.
TATTOOS AND CALLIGRAPHY
GOING TO THE THEATER
Getting into acting or playwriting isn't easy. Working in a theater? Slightly easier, especially for those willing to wait around a union hall for work or scour listings. Costume attendants, the folks who help actors with those quick changes, require no education and make a median $47,700 a year. Set and exhibit designers sometimes need a bachelor's degree for consideration, but a union spot and some persistence can result in a job bringing home an average $57,600 a year.
The house wins more often than not, so maybe it's time to play for the house. Though gaming and casino management courses are offered at colleges, casinos and other gaming establishments looking for managers tend to look for other criteria, including licensing from a state casino control board or gaming commission and one to five years of experience. Put those together, and a “gaming manager" can earn an average $83,460 a year.
COMMUTING: SUBWAY AND STREETCAR VARIETY
Is commuting a hobby? Well, you're doing it in your spare time and not getting paid for it. You could either complain about the problems of public transportation or become part of the solution. With more than 50 percent of subway and streetcar operators working in New York and San Francisco alone, it can get pricey. But considering the median wage of $63,950 requires only moderate-term on-the-job training, operators get a better deal from the daily commute than many riders.
COMMUTING: AUTO VARIETY
If you sit in traffic watching other people's vehicles for hours at a time, you'll put all that ogling to better use doing it for the Transportation Security Administration or some other government agency. Transportation inspectors at border crossings, docks, and other facilities make an average $73,720 a year, don't need a high-school diploma and get substantial on-the-job training. Combine that with government benefits and suddenly staring at other people's vehicles all day doesn't seem so bad.
Congratulations: You're the only group of people other than the Amazon board that appreciates the U.S. Postal Service. Instead of waiting for it to print a Forever stamp upside down and cash in on the mistake, why not just work for it, get paid, and get first crack at the newest stamps? No college degree is needed to become a letter carrier, and the median salary is $57,260. If that doesn't seem like enough incentive, you can qualify to be a postmaster within five years and watch that median salary jump to $75,660.
We know you: The one who always slows down to get a good look at an accident three lanes away. The one who stands across the street and watches firefighters douse a blaze. That voyeurism warrants far less judgment when you're getting paid for it. Fire inspectors and investigators make an average $59,260 after passing a certification exam assessing standards established by the National Fire Protection Association and undergoing a months-long training program at fire or police academies. Insurance appraisers who assess auto damage, meanwhile, don't usually need a bachelor's degree (fewer than 50 percent have one) and make an average $63,500 figuring out just how badly a person wrecked their car.
We've reached the point where even modest coding skills can open the door to viable employment in the tech sector. As companies such as Skillful and TechHire bolster the nominal tech skills of their applicants with "soft skills" such as concise speech and cooperative working, an entire labor force without a formal college education now has access to software programming jobs that average upward of $82,000 a year. While the starting salary can be closer to $50,000 or $60,000, it's still one of the few ways to break into tech without a college degree.
If you ditched the smartphone for an SLR and think you have an eye for great images and composition, the digital era has been especially kind. Though the Bureau of Labor statistics puts the average photographer's annual pay at $32,490, it also suggests they can make close to $16 an hour, or far more than Glassdoor's low-end estimate of $9. With wedding photographers topping $100,000 a year and corporate photographers also doing well, photography can still pay off for those who love it.
Are you the Cliff Clavin of your group of friends? Are you the one at bar trivia who'd know that more than 30-year-old reference to the NBC sitcom "Cheers"? Did you ever walk by the exterior of Cheers near Boston Common and know how many episodes aired and the exact date of the finale? That kind of minutiae and the ability to retain it is what makes an excellent tour guide. While it's difficult to turn esoteric knowledge into a living, a tour guide can turn it into $25,770 a year, on average.
WORKING ON CARS
You tinker with cars and change your own oil? Even with cars taking on more high-tech features and requiring more tech to diagnose, a trained independent mechanic still comes in handy. You don't need college (though a stint in an automotive trade school helps) and much of the training comes on the job. The average mechanic brings in roughly $39,550 a year. But with the average U.S. car now on the road for more than 11 years, those out-of-warranty vehicles are filling more hours that mechanics are charging $19 apiece for.
YOUR LONELY YOUTUBE CHANNEL
You can put hours into editing your video and crafting each clip's cuts and effects, but it's very hard to monetize if no one's watching. If you think you really nailed that "Saved By The Bell"/Migos mashup, though, why not give professional video editing a shot? It isn't just production companies on the coasts looking for your skills. Video editors make an average $61,180 a year, which your "Princess Bride" clips set to Slayer's "War Ensemble" may never earn on its own.
If you've framed out your own walls, hung your own drywall, or explained to the guy at the chain hardware store what self leveler is, you could likely do what you do for a living. Electricians ($54,110) and carpenters ($45,170) typically require some certification, but if you're just looking to make a little extra from odd jobs, general repair workers make about $37,670 a year, on average.