Master a New Skill This Year: 11 Ways to Make Money While You Learn
Picking up a new skill is a great way to make more money this year. But what if you could also bring in some extra cash while you learn?
Make the most of your time by earning money while you master a new skill. Here are some ways we found to help you do it:
1. Get Paid to Learn a Foreign Language
If you’re interested in world travel and want to learn a foreign language, becoming a State Department Foreign Service Officer (FSO) might be a good option for you.
Much of your career will be spent learning multiple languages. You’ll be based at one of more than 270 embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions, representing the U.S. around the world.
A career as an FSO is challenging, and you may be placed in difficult or dangerous environments.
But you’re rewarded with travel opportunities and the experience of languages, cultures, customs and people around the world. You’ll also earn up to $100,000 a year as a senior FSO.
Alternatively, if this lifestyle isn’t right for you, you could consider becoming a translator or interpreter. If you already know at least one foreign language, you could get started. Once you’re hired, many companies will cross-train you in additional languages for free.
Working as an interpreter puts you in much milder environments than an FSO -- public schools, offices, hospitals, court rooms, and many other opportunities to work for federal, state or local governments.
The median annual salary for interpreters in the U.S. is over $42,000.
2. Apply for a Fellowship or Grant
A fellowship or residency allows you to set aside time for research, creativity, travel and other educational activities while advancing your career with a paid position. A grant offers funding for these types of activities outright.
The National Endowment for the Arts offers grants to organizations and individuals in dozens of disciplines.
As of this writing, NEA is accepting applications from individuals for Creative Writing Fellowships and grants for translation projects. Grants up to $25,000 are awarded based on “artistic excellence and merit.”
3. Become an Artist in Residence
Artist-in-Residence programs exist at universities across the U.S. to allow writers, poets, playwrights, painters, designers and others to contribute to the education of a community while furthering their own education.
As an AiR for a university department, you’ll typically be required to lead some project or event that gets the campus and surrounding community involved in the arts or a specific issue the program wishes to address.
In exchange, you receive access to studio space, libraries, materials and other resources to support your work and education. Some programs also offer a stipend.
If you’re not interested or not eligible for a university-based residency, you could also consider applying for a stay at an artists’ retreat or residence. These don’t usually come with a stipend, but they do usually offer lodging and meals. Many retreats cost money to attend, but some are free and several offer scholarships.
As an artist-in-residence, you’ll receive the benefit of time and space to further your work. City-based programs often require community projects or exhibitions. Rural retreats like those offered by the National Park Service usually just allow you uninterrupted time to work.
4. Find a Paid Internship
You don’t always have to be a student to benefit from or qualify for an internship. Whether you’re just finishing school or looking to change careers, it’s a great way to get your foot in the door of a new industry.
Internships often get a bad rap for low (or no) pay, or for teaching you little more than how to balance five Caramel Macchiatos in a tray made for four cups.
But a paid internship with a company that allows you to actually get hands-on experience in your desired field is one of the best ways to learn, network and build your resume.
Internships are also usually part-time gigs, so you can take one on while you’re in school, or as a side hustle to build experience for the next leg of your career.
5. Start an Apprenticeship
Similar to internships, apprenticeships allow you to gain hands-on experience in your desired field. The difference is only in the name, really: “Apprenticeship” is usually reserved for learning a trade.
Depending on your chosen trade and location, starting an apprenticeship might be as simple as getting in touch with a contractor you know and asking if they have work you can help with.
If you’re studying at a technical college or vocational school, find out which apprenticeship programs your school can connect you with. Or you can apply directly for an apprenticeship through a trade union like the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or the Ironworkers Union.
6. Make Money While Learning to Cook
Is learning to cook on your to-do list this year? Did you know you could be paid to watch cooking shows?
It’s a pretty cool feature of Swagbucks, a cash-back website that allows you to earn money for things like online shopping, searches or taking surveys.
You can also earn “Swag Bucks” by watching videos on the Swagbucks video channel -- including cooking shows. These videos can teach you about cooking of any kind, for any skill level.
7. Create a Blog to Document Your Journey
Whether it’s learning to cook or any other skill, a blog can support you in a lot of ways.
Stating your goals publicly helps hold you accountable to them. Adding your voice to a niche helps you meet others with the same interests. Attaching your name to a topic can open doors to connections and opportunities that help you learn more.
And starting a blog can help you make money from your new interest.
No, you’re not an instant authority on the subject, so don’t pretend to be. That’s a common folly of new bloggers. Instead, make money by sharing the journey of what you’re learning.
When you’re learning about something new, you’ll find a ton of useful resources: books, videos, courses and products. Through affiliate programs like Amazon Associates, you can make money by recommending the resources you love to others.
Amazon affiliate sales don’t usually bring in a lot of income, because Amazon is known for its low prices, and your cut is typically around only 7%. But it’s a good start and a way to hone your blogging and promotional skills.
Once you’ve had some practice and your blog has more traction, look into better affiliate programs. A commission of around 50% for higher-priced courses or packages is not uncommon. Here’s a deeper look at making money with affiliate sales.
8. Get Paid to Read Books
In addition to writing book reviews, you could make money by reading and recording audiobooks.
Join Audible for free and discounted audiobooks. When you sign up through Swagbucks, you’ll get your first two months for $1 and earn 600 SB.
Keep your paid membership for more than two months, and you’ll earn another 1,200 SB. That’s about $18 in rewards for less than $16 in membership fees. Do the math: That covers three months of Audible (which includes one free audiobook per month), plus you get a free $2.
Choose audiobooks that will help you learn something new -- like Freakonomics, The 4-Hour Workweek, or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People -- and you’ve just earned money on top of gaining new knowledge.
9. Make Money Online When You Search
I’ll be honest: Most of my continuing education comes from internet research.
Whether you’re trying to find out why everyone is talking about a particular Kardashian on a particular day, you want to learn how to do the Whip or you need to know what gluten actually is, you’re going to consult a search engine.
You can make money doing that!
Through Bing Rewards, Bing will pay you to use its search engine. Or you can make Swagbucks your default search engine, and earn rewards in the form of gift cards to your favorite retailers, including Amazon and even PayPal.
10. Look for Ways to Learn on the Job
If you don’t see room in your life to take on an additional hobby or side gig, look for ways to learn new skills at your existing job.
Offer to try a new tool or find a solution to a problem that has been stumping your boss or your team. Don’t be afraid to ask your co-workers and higher-ups questions about their work. Take opportunities for paid training, even if it isn’t necessary to your position.
11. Just Do It
Some people like to spend a lot of time studying something new before trying it. I’m the complete opposite. I learn best by just diving into whatever I’m trying to do.
If you can spare the time, potential cost and occasional (OK, frequent) frustration of trial and error, I recommend this method of learning by doing.
If you want to make money from your new skill, this especially makes sense. If you want to learn how to self-publish, for example, you’ll make no money just studying the process. You could make some money, however, if you actually complete the steps and publish a book you can sell!
Some skills, of course, probably require more official avenues of education: You may not want to just “dive in” to re-wiring the electricity in your house, and investing without doing your homework could end up being very costly “trial and error.”
But consider whether you might learn best by simply giving it a shot.
Your Turn: What new skills do you want to master this year? Will you try to make money while you learn?
Disclosure: We don’t hesitate to pick up pennies off the sidewalk when we spot them. But the affiliate links in this post help our earnings grow even quicker. Plus, it’s a lot cleaner than sidewalk money.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more.