Knowing your debt and your spending can free finances and prevent draining them in the future. While being $12,000 to $200,000 or more in debt may not sound great, it can be good, really. Installment loans and credit cards are often bad debts, but home mortgages and college loans generally are good debts because they have lasting value. Try a range of calculations with current and expected income, payment amounts and length of loan. Median debt for a college undergrad, for example, is about $20,000, and a 2009 study found that the average repayment time was 11 years [source: College Board].
If the large debt numbers are overwhelming, try learning about your own small purchases and how they add up. Keep receipts for a month or so, including those small grocery, drugstore and fast food purchases, and highlight items bought as "extras" or treats -- the non-essentials. These could be pricey condiments from the international food aisle or electronic gadgets or new lotions and cosmetics or toys for kids. After finding your personal weak spots or spending trends, limit these types of buys to once a month so they become a real treat. Money saved can go to larger debts.