Average Salary: $60,000
Expected Lifetime Earnings: $2,504,880
The world is full of jobs with well-defined pay scales. In other words, if you're a corporate staff accountant or an astronaut, you can scope out your pay range pretty well. Alas, a paleontologist doesn't have it so easy. This career could send you on any one of multiple career paths, each with its own salary expectations (source).
Let's start with an academic career path—after all, you'll have a newly minted Ph.D. in paleontology. Where else should you go besides straight back to school? If you do that, you'll start as an assistant professor, which means you've got to handle all the distasteful tasks the tenured professor would rather not deal with.
For your Herculean efforts, you'll pull in about $50,000 for a nine-month stint. Of course, full professors will make more, but that depends on the university, the professor's experience, etc.
Next, there are museum-related salaries. You sure won't make a fortune as a museum curator, but you're probably doing it because you love playing with fossil exhibits all day anyway.
You could make a bargain-basement salary of about $25,000 per year, or that salary could stretch all the way up to a stratospheric $90,000 (source). Obviously, your salary will depend on the museum's budget and reputation, and probably on exactly how many dinosaur bones you have in stock.
Remember that you'll become a more accomplished and more valuable employee over time. As you develop more skills, you'll work on more difficult projects, which will lead to promotions and professional recognition. In a perfect world, of course, these accolades lead to more cash in the bank as well.
Besides the regular cash flow, there are other decent benefits that go along with the paleontology gig. Since paleontologists generally work as employees rather than lone wolf (raptor?) professionals, you'll probably be eligible for any benefits your employer offers.
You'll want to nail down the benefits' value before you evaluate the total compensation package—believe us, you don't want to break your arm in a digging accident only to find out your health coverage is extinct.