Okay, so I totally get that we as OT’s have a great average national salary coming in at approximately $78,810 according to U.S. News Careers

But coming out of school with $90,000+ in massive student loan debt plus the fact a lot of that is taken out for taxes means it can still feel like money is tight. Especially starting out with entry-level pay as new grads. Not to mention if you have kids and/or like to eat out occasionally.

I quickly realized my $800 a month student loan payment hurt more than I anticipated. I really felt the burn right after school. And of course still do! So I decided that even with my great-on-paper, pre-tax salary, I needed to figure out a game plan to #1 make more money as an OT and #2 earn more money by hustling on the side.

These are the best ideas that I’ve actually used to make extra money after OT school. They may or may not be the best fit for you, but are definitely worth considering.

1. Work Multiple PRN Jobs Instead of One Full-time Position

This has been the best choice I made after OT school.

My current setup is that I have two different part-time PRN jobs, and both need me three to four days a week. I work for an independent care provider in multiple different ALF settings, and my other job is in inpatient rehab at a hospital.

I end up working usually six days a week. Some days are half days at each job which is a nice mix-up.

It is absolutely going to be harder for you to get two PRN jobs vs. just one full-time job. But I can tell you first-hand that it’s totally worth it.

The reason you’ll probably need two different PRN positions is because just having one will not get you the amount of hours you want. PRN is often synonymous with part-time, after all.

The two PRN jobs I have give me at least 40 hours a week, sometimes 50, at an hourly rate that is significantly higher than being full time.

The difference can be as much as $30 per hour for full time vs. $42-$48 per hour for PRN – even as a new grad! The reason employers are willing to pay more hourly for PRN positions is because it does not include benefits.

“Wait, but I need benefits! Why would I take a position with no benefits?”

At first glance, this hits you as a major downside because, no, I don’t get the luxury of Paid Time Off (PTO) or cheaper health insurance.

How I’ve worked around this is by purchasing my own health insurance through the Affordable Care Act portal. I spend about $260 per month for the “Gold” plan, which is about $150 more than if I were to pay for insurance through my employer as a full-time OT ($110/month). $150 more a month may seem like a lot, but it definitely works out better because…

Well I hate math too, but this will be an eye opener so lets take a quick look at the numbers…

Lets assume you work 40 hours a week on a full-time salary of $30 per hour, and we’ll use 4 for the number of weeks in a month. 40 hours X $30 per hour X 4 weeks = $4,800 per month (before taxes). Now subtract health insurance of $110 per month. Plus lets say you get 12 days of PTO per year, or about 1 day per month. The benefit of this 1 day of PTO per month equals 8 hours X $30 per hour = $240 per month. You’re left with $4,930 per month.

Versus:

40 hours a week X 4 weeks X $42 per hour on a new-grad PRN salary = $6,720 per month (before taxes). Subtract $260 per month for more expensive health insurance and there’s no PTO benefit. Here, you’re left with $6,460 per month.

Same explanation in a chart…

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That’s over $1,500 more per month! Or 30% more income!

Now, these are my personal results in my state of Georgia. But this is a known fact about the industry. Many people do this just the way I’ve laid out.

I highly recommend putting the work in upfront to secure two PRN part-time jobs for higher pay over taking one lower-paying full-time position with benefits.

2. Rent Out a Room on Airbnb

A lot of people I know think this is a crazy idea. But my other half (Bradley) and I have been renting out our second bedroom on Airbnb for a year and a half and in total have made over $21,000! We made over $15,000 just in 2015. We charge about $50 per night and have made over $1,600 in one month in extra income.

If you’re curious, you can even check out our listing on Airbnb to see our pictures, a description of our place, and read the reviews of real humans that have stayed with us! 

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Airbnb has become extremely popular in recent years. They now have more rooms in the Airbnb network than Hilton has all over the world, which is crazy. Millions of people are using Airbnb now on a regular basis.

If you’re not comfortable letting strangers into your home just yet, I totally understand. It was a bit weird and awkward for us getting started too. My recommendation for you would be to stay at an Airbnb listing the next time you travel to get a feel for it before diving in. There are listings in basically every major city in the world.

It’s great because it’s cheaper than a traditional hotel room, you typically get better amenities than a hotel, you get a more local and authentic experience, and you are more likely to meet cool people in the city you’re traveling.

Just be sure that you stay somewhere with 20+ reviews that are 5 stars. Bear in mind that reviews tend to be skewed towards the positive; I’ve noticed that people feel bad leaving poor reviews. So anything less than 5 stars is a huge red flag.

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If you stay at an Airbnb, I think you’ll really enjoy the experience and find that it’s not so bad after all. We have hosted over 250 different people and just about every person has been totally normal, friendly, quiet, and clean. We’ve had everyone from nuclear engineers, professors, surgeons, to angel investors, entrepreneurs, authors, and comedians. Some guests we still keep in touch with, so it’s a bonus way to make friends, too.

On the flip side there have been a few strange people, but nothing that would make me worry for my personal safety or for that of my belongings. Really the weirdest was a guy informing us that his PhD in political science made them realize that anarchy is the best form of government, so nothing too out of the ordinary.

The other thing that people might not know is that if you do have an issue (like something is damaged or stolen), Airbnb will cover your residence and personal property up to $1,000,000 in damages.

Cleaning the room night after night can be a bit draining when you have short term guests (3-5 days is a good length of stay). But you will find that you can cover most of your mortgage or rent, utility bills, internet/cable, and then-some.

Hosts in more expensive cities like New York or San Francisco are still able to cover the same relative costs because they can charge much more for their nightly rate.

Even just hosting guests half of the month with a few days in between to recharge, you can still pull in around $800 a month. Nice! Just enough to cover my student loan payment.

You can always give it a try and close your listing if you don’t like it. When we started, we agreed that we would just do it a few times until something bad happened, which we were convinced would be a week or two.

A year and a half later, we’ll still at it!

3. Babysit

This one is a little unconventional, and I’ve added it on here since it still is a great little source of side income for me. I have stayed close with the families I babysat for throughout grad school.

Babysitting can pull in $15-20 an hour for hanging out with kiddos and – the best part – leaving without having to do a single bit of paperwork.

Even working my full time hours as an OT, I still enjoy helping out parents get a little reprieve or night out without the kids while I use the extra cash for my treating-myself fund. Whether it’s a massage or getting a mani/pedi.

Because we work too hard not to treat ourselves! 🙂

4. Build Niche Websites

Ever seen those ads that say: “Click here to make $4,478 a day working from home!” or “The easiest way to make money on the internet in 5 days or less… guaranteed!”

Well it’s no surprise that many if not most of them are a complete scam. When I started researching how to make an extra income, I had to filter through a lot of this kind of non-sense to get to the real, legitimate ways people are building businesses and making money online.

It turns out that there are a few simple and straightforward ways to make real money online. Respectable ways. Ways that are not get rich quick scams. Quite the opposite.

While making money online can be simple in concept, it can be very complicated and take lots and lots of hard work and serious commitment.

One of the most common ways people make legitimate money online is by (1) building a site (2) driving traffic to that website and (3) monetizing the visitors through advertising and products.

(1) Building a site

A niche website simply means that all the content on the site is narrowly focused on 1 very specific topic. The more specific the topic the better. You want to get as specific as possible, but without getting so specific that there is no opportunity to make money.

As an example, if I wanted to create a website about health and fitness, I wouldn’t start by trying to build a website that covers every single topic under the sun that relates to health and fitness. It’s just too broad and we would never be able to capture people’s attention.

So instead I would try to “niche down.” This means finding something far more specific with a defined audience that is willing to spend money to learn about this niche or buy products related to it.

For example, I would maybe focus on health > hone in on food > specifically smoothies > and take it even further to focus on natural supplements to put in your smoothies. Like apple cider vinegar, hemp seed, flax seed, coconut oil, and spirulina.

This way people that come to visit my site know exactly what kind of information they can find on my website. I would start by writing original content (or paying someone to write it if you have a good chunk of savings) that talks about these supplements, where you can get them, what the best kinds are, and even writing reviews on existing products.

(2) Driving Traffic

Every store that exists needs to get people in the door to see what they have to offer and potentially make money. The more visitors, the more likely you are to convert some of them into customers.

These are the most common forms of traffic:

Organic – This is the most common form of traffic and comes from writing content around low competition, high converting keywords and then promoting the content so you rank in Google. Getting on the first page of Google can be a gold mine!

Referrals – If there are popular, established websites that come across your website and like your content, they might post a link to your website on theirs. This will drive some of their readers to your website.

Social Media – Write engaging content that people love and then share on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.

Paid Traffic – This is a more advanced strategy where you pay to advertise your site, most likely on Google. As long as the return you are getting in income is more than the amount you are spending on advertising, this can be a winning strategy.

Email – After you’ve gotten people to subscribe to your email list, you can send them useful content and offers via email to drive traffic to your website.

(3) Monetizing

Now that you’ve built a website and have driven traffic to it, you’ll want to come up with a strategy to monetize it:

Advertising – This is pretty obvious, but all those ads that you see when you’re surfing the internet… money is being exchanged on every click. The advertiser pays for each click and the site where the ad is displayed makes the money.

Affiliate Commissions – Some online stores, like Amazon, will pay you a small commission if someone clicks a link on your website directing them to Amazon and the person then purchases the product you were promoting. There are many different affiliate programs with some paying higher commissions than others.

Premium Membership – Make your best content only available to paying subscribers on your website. Give your members a higher level of service and support. Make it totally worthwhile for someone to join.

e-Books and Downloads – Write your own original content that really truly helps people and make it for sale on your website. An e-book doesn’t have to be 100 pages long. They can be short and to the point, but absolutely MUST provide value and answer a question for the reader.

Physical Merchandise – Find products that you can buy for a good price and sell for a profit on your website. Post nice images of the product and when someone buys, you simply ship the item to them and build the relationship as a customer.

This does take some technical know-how, but the good news is there is a TON of free information on this topic. The very best experts that I follow are Spencer Haws with Niche Pursuits and Pat Flynn with Smart Passive Income.

5. Find a Product to Sell an Amazon

This has been my partner’s side project for about eight months, selling camping supplies on Amazon and making about $50 of profit per day with only one product so far.

This can take up quite a bit of time evenings and weekends to get started and can be capital-intensive, but if you stick to it and stay motivated, it can be super rewarding.

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In essence, the process works like this:

  1. Do research on Amazon using a tool like Jungle Scout to estimate what products are selling well and are not too competitive to get into. Come up with a list of about 50 potential products. Products should be small, light-weight, and not have a lot of moving parts.
  2. Narrow down to 5-10 of the best products that have the most potential, the best profit margin, and the potential for your branding.
  3. Search for that product on a wholesale marketplace like Alibaba.com.
  4. Contact manufacturers of the product and try to determine what their minimum order quantity is (MOQ) and what the price per unit is.
  5. Order samples from that manufacturer to your home so you can inspect the samples and make sure they are good quality. It is VERY important for long term success that the product is high quality.
  6. As long as the samples are good, negotiate a small starting order of 100-200 units with the supplier.
  7. Build a great listing on Amazon Seller Central for your product with high quality pictures and professional copy.
  8. When your bulk order of products arrives, print the barcodes from Amazon and add them to each of your products.
  9. Turn around and ship your products into Amazon FBA where they will fulfill all of your customer orders for you (for a cut of the profits). You don’t have to worry about boxing up every single order for customers or dealing with returns.
  10. Do a promotion to give steep discounts on your product to get the ball rolling and get some 5 star reviews.
  11. Use Pay Per Click to do some advertising on Amazon for your product’s best keywords.
  12. If the product sells successfully, get a larger order from your manufacturer and keep it going!

Scott Voelker’s Amazing Seller podcast has so much free info to help you get started. Selling DME or adaptive equipment can be a great way to utilize your knowledge and help create/market quality products versus the flimsy, poorly-designed adaptive equipment I see all the time.

Give Something a Try!

These are the best ways I have used and validated to make extra money after OT school and get those student loans paid down a little bit quicker.

I considered adding “driving for Uber/Lyft” on here as well since it’s something I strongly considered and even signed up for. But I’ve read many, many mixed reviews on the amount of money you actually make per hour (think $7-8) and realize it would be better to invest your time into other projects.

One thing to be aware of is that a lot of people online will say how easy it was for them to make tens of thousands of dollars with these business models, but it may or may not necessarily be true. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hit it big after a few months of work. Just keep at it and some money will start to come in over time if you are following the proven methods.

What are you doing to earn extra money on the side? Share in the comments section below!

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6 comments

  • Sarah October 7, 2016   Reply →

    This is an awesome post!! I’ve actually been wanting to do try hosting an Airbnb home…but with a second property!!! I’m hoping the stars align so it can happen in the next couple years!!

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L October 9, 2016   Reply →

      Thanks, Sarah! Doing it with a second property versus your own will be a great way to ease into it without having to share a bathroom with complete strangers :). I’ve also found in my experience that people renting through Airbnb take MUCH better care of your property than traditional long term tenants.

  • Matthew Daly February 24, 2017   Reply →

    Thank you for the Post and informative website.
    Obamacare is very expensive in certain parts of the country and even if you choose a full time position like i recently did, you can always sign up per diem to work weekends or some evenings at another facility. If you work for a SNF that also owns other facilities in your area it should be easy to pick up hours at a higher per diem rate on the weekends or evenings when needed. My SNF has therapy 7 days a week and that seems to be more common in New York. I am full time at one facility and pick up 6 to 10 hours a week extra work at a couple of other SNF’s.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L February 26, 2017   Reply →

      Thanks so much for your comment and great idea for those who prefer full time benefits versus ACA or private insurance. Those extra 6-10 hours of PRN rate can really make a difference with student loan payments and living expenses.

  • Emily June 4, 2019   Reply →

    Early intervention pays 80/$90 per hour as well contract. Also I do evals of school based kids and am paid between $250-$350 per eval as well. You need access to your own tools though. I borrow them from the school I work for.

    • Holly Timberline August 10, 2019   Reply →

      Hi Emily – I’m wondering what state you are in? I do EI visits as a PRN pediatric OT through a practice I work for, but have been considering getting my own private contract with the state. Would you be willing to talk to me privately about how to do this? I am in Virginia. Thanks!

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