ChangeBefore deciding to go back to school, I had to research what’s available and what I could afford. I was happy to find a certificate program at my local community college that would only cost me about $500 for each semester, including books and tuition.

Since both the program and price sounded great, I then had to figure out how I would pay for living expenses while I was in school. If I had to do this process all over again, I would have eaten the cost of talking to a financial advisor instead of enduring the messy and hectic process I endured.

I’ll skip forward past how the process worked for me because it’s a private matter with unique circumstances, and also, you need to examine the condition of your own current finances and tailor a personalized solution that will keep your finances healthy.

Here’s what I’m working with now: monthly income that is 1/3 of the money I brought in when I had a job.

Here’s how I’m making it work: cutting back, cutting back more and staying organized.

Again, I have unique circumstances working for me here. I live with my partner Zac. I used to pay twice his share in rent because I made more money. We talked, and he offered to chip in more for rent to help ease my monthly budget.

I had to find other ways to reduce my spending to stay on track, and by on track I mean that I found myself back to living paycheck to paycheck again.

Lots of things had to go: nice wines (do you know how hard it is to pass up wine in San Francisco?); occasional fancy groceries; new clothes; nights out with friends; weekend trips. These were just luxuries. Nothing to complain about, right?

Right. Cutting back isn’t a big deal when you realize that you need to cut non-essentials. You learn to find new luxuries that don’t cost as much.

And you learn to stalk sale items at the supermarket.

Personally, the hardest parts of handling my finances during a career transition are psychological. For instance, sometimes I can’t buy or make a friend a birthday gift, or sometimes I need to withdraw from social events because I’m running low on money. I start to feel guilty and look for ways to cope.

And no matter how carefully I try to stay within budget, sometimes I go over budget. I hate to admit this, but when I’m running low on money, there are times I have to put purchases on my credit card. Usually I use my credit card only when I can earn points or cash back. I get an acidic sting in my gut when I have to use my credit card otherwise. I console myself by remembering that I have a low interest rate and that I intend to pay down the balance ASAP, but that’s not good enough. I work harder the next month to stay within budget to avoid resorting to my savings or credit card as a safety net.

Organization is keeping me sane. Last year I wrote a series called Almost Debt Free, which from now on I’d like to refer to as Getting Wealthy. (After all, the whole point of the series was about reducing debt and building wealth. You live, you learn, you edit, sometimes a year later…)

While I was writing Getting Wealthy, I was exploring ways to keep my finances under control and highly organized. Expense tracking has been invaluable in helping me see where I need to reduce my spending. Keeping a financial notebook (or calendar) has helped me make sure I always pay bills on time, and I always know weeks in advance how much money I’ll need to cover my bills.

I try to leave little room for surprises in my finances. However, there are always some surprises.

The lesson here: The only real differences about my finances during a career transition is that I have to monitor my spending closer than when I had more discretionary income, and I always need to keep planning how I’ll spend money in advance.

It’s a little tiring thinking about money so often, and like I said, it’s a bit of a bummer having to find ways to maintain your social life on much less money. However, school keeps me busy enough that I’m distracted from the things I’m missing out on and I’m more focused on what I’m working towards.

Given how school is working out for me, I’m pretty confident that I won’t be missing out on life once I return to the workforce.

That brings me to next week’s topic: Staying focused on the present with the future in mind.