15 Great Jobs That Don't Pay Much


Can money buy happiness? Should you spend years in a job you don't like? Or, are you better off working at a job you really love, even if you don't make a pile of money? If you are an average American, you'll work for for 90,000 hours over your career lifetime. If you have a "happiness in my job is more important" mindset, here are 15 jobs you might really like — even if they don't pay much. (See also: 6 Ways That Job You Hate Keeps You Poor)

1. Cruise Ship Bartender

Right out of school, my high-school classmate, Luci, went to work on a cruise ship. As soon as she was able, she became a bartender for the cruise line. At our 10th reunion, she announced that she was retiring from cruise ship bartending, and moving to Kauai to work a small farm she had purchased. Yes, she had lived frugally, and also saved her tips. It paid off. Today's ship bartenders earn between $2,200–$3,600 per month (depending on the size of ship and gratuities from passengers).

2. EMT

Every time I read the average hourly wage for EMTs and paramedics — $31,700 per year, or around $16 an hour — I'm shocked. How can this be? These folks are brave, strong, quick-witted, personable, and caring. I'll never understand why they don't make more, but I'm extremely glad that there are people who are drawn to this career.

3. Roadie

I always thought being a roadie would be a ridiculously fun job to have — and from this funny interview, I was right. Sometimes glamorous, sometimes not... but if you abhor sitting behind a desk and love music, maybe it would be a good choice. What does a roadie make? It varies. If the band for whom you are working is enormously popular, that apparently makes a big difference. One source quoted around $200 to $400 per day, but become a successful tour manager, and you may expect to make $1,500 to $2,000 per week.

4. Massage Therapist

While the job outlook for massage therapists is good, and the BLS reports that 2014 median pay was over $37,000 per year. If you have ever seen the movie, Enough Said, you know one of the major drawbacks: dragging a massage table around. That's not a must, though. One of my neighbors has clients who come to her house. Others are employed by chiropractor's offices, physical therapists, spas, cruise ships, etc. I'm told it is a rewarding career, and who doesn't love a good massage? Check with your state's governing board of massage therapists to find accredited programs.

5. Veterinary Assistant

Love animals? At about $11 an hour, you really need to. It's hard work. As it turns out, most pets don't really enjoy having their blood drawn or parts poked. Prepare to get dirty, too. But it is extremely rewarding, since you'll be helping to relieve pain and heal animals. Most of the "help wanted" ads I viewed wanted assistants who had been through an educational program or have a college degree.

6. Dog Groomer

Would you enjoy the challenge of beautifying man's best friend? This career might be for you. Well, you'll probably start out as a dog bather, making $13–$17. Median pay for a groomer is around $20,000 annually. It's important to note that many grooming-business owners also pay commissions. It's not easy work, but again, if you'd rather spend time with animals than people, it's worth considering.

7. DJ

Got the gift of gab? Are you a natural at mashing up different songs? How about a background in journalism or communications? You might like being a DJ or radio announcer. Sometimes, they also find work as emcees at events, weddings, or at private clubs. The job outlook, sadly, is in decline at the moment; with median pay at $13.50 per hour. But serving as a freelance DJ as a side job could provide a very nice chunk of change each month. And the DJs I've followed for years on the radio seem to be very happy people who love their jobs. Test the waters using DJ software (there are many free options available) and see if this is worth exploring.

8. Reporter

A friend of mine works for a news agency. The pay is low — median pay is about $37,000 — and the hours are long. The pace is very fast, she works on deadlines, and often has to wear all the hats. The plus side is that the job is rarely boring. To get hired, you usually need a journalism or communications degree and an internship.

9. Private Investigator

I worked part-time for a P.I. for several years. As a retired policeman, he knew a remarkable number of people, and where to find a lot of the unsavory ones. It wasn't glamorous. Most of his bread-and-butter work involved serving legal papers and tracking people down. The work was on a flat-fee basis, $25 per service, or $50 per hour for research. However, he could set his own hours, take only the work he wanted, not be cooped up behind a desk, and he had a nice additional income for retirement.

10. Flight Attendant

I admit, this job doesn't have the glamour it once had. But the opportunity to travel is still intriguing. Getting a flight attendant position doesn't happen quickly, though — new flight attendants have to pay their dues before they get to go see the world. Average pay is over $42,000 a year. Job growth is slow, and it can be a challenge to get hired. Being able to speak a second language is a plus. However, according to the BLS, job prospects are better for those with college educations.

11. Model

Nice work, if you can get it. The competition is fierce. Very few make it to the "supermodel" level, but there is work, if you are prepared to be creative. Joining a website such as Model Mayhem is a good start. Photographers often want to build their portfolios and will exchange good photos for modeling work. Sometimes, budding fashion designers will trade clothes for modeling time. If a model is versatile, there are more possibilities out there. Initially, look for low pay — as low as $10 an hour — but if a model catches on and has a good work ethic, the day rate is usually about $100 to $400. Yeah, not great. "Fit" models make more, but they need to be very strict about maintaining their size. So why do it? Well, it's fun, and glamorous.

12. Tour Guide

Enjoy meeting people? Do you like to talk and answer questions? Maybe you'd be a good tour guide. In my town, there are museum tour guides, historical town tours, tours to national parks, and all-day driving tours. Often, it will help if you speak a second language, particularly the one with the greatest influx of tourists. You need to have a friendly, yet "take-charge" personality, be quick on your feet, and be gregarious. Pay ranges from $11 to almost $17 per hour.

13. Professional House-Sitter

We employ a wonderful lady to house and pet-sit when we go away, and we have to book her months in advance because she's that good. We pay a daily rate, plus tip. You can find house-sitters on TrustedHousesitters, or similar sites. If you are considering going into the business, because getting paid to hang out in someone's home sounds like a stellar gig, you should look into getting bonded, and you'll need impeccable references. Being able to watch pets is a bonus.

14. Brewmaster

If you love beer, why not become a brewmaster? Pay is pretty good for brewmasters at about $46,000 a year. You might try making beer at home first — which is fun and rewarding — then consider working in a pub or brewery. The next step would be taking an official course and getting the proper credentials at a brewing academy.

15. Event Planner

For some, the logistics involved in planning a wedding, a business conference, or meetings are cringe-worthy. Fortunately, there are people who are pleasantly challenged by these logistics and thrive on getting even the smallest details organized. During events, expect to work long, grueling days. But growth in the field of event planning is faster than average; expect to earn over $45,000 annually. A Bachelor's degree is helpful, as is experience working in the field.

Note: All data via the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is a terrific resource for job searchers and the career-curious.

Do you have a job you love that doesn't pay very much? What is it? Share with us in the comments!

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Guest's picture

Honestly, If you have a solid financial plan then there should be no reason that you need to work past retirement age or even sooner. There are so many tools online such as ontrajectory and other websites that can help you stay on track and project your savings and income through advanced data analytics. Once you do that then the rest is simply adhering to your disciplined retirement strategy.

Guest's picture

Washing a dog pays more than being a vet tech with medical training? What is your source on that info?

Guest's picture

Ya REALLY need a Bachelor's to be a wedding planner?!

Guest's picture

I work for a nonprofit that just started a substance abuse program for underserved rural youth in Kentucky. Without a doubt, this is the best job I've ever had and wouldn't trade it for the world. I believe in what we do and it is tremendously rewarding. I am a single parent with a bachelor's degree in my mid-40's. That said, my salary is 31,999 a year.

Guest's picture

I wanna model