Let's get some very important questions out of they way before diving into answering your question.
1. What makes you think you need to go to college?
2. What degree are you seeking?
3. Have you done any research into how much you are likely to make upon graduation?
4. Do you know how long it will take you to graduate?
5. Do you have a ballpark as to how much debt you will be graduating with?
To rack up all that debt and come out of college lacking either a degree or a job is devastating to your financial future. There are millions of millionaires that never graduated from college. Many of whom never even attempted college. Income is important but compounding is key.
-- We now return to our regularly scheduled programming. --
The basic accounting equation is Assets = Liabilities + Owners Equity. Flipping that around a bit you get Owner's Equity, aka net worth, equals Assets - Liabilties. Its what is left over after you've paid off all your debts. Often this is a negative number when folks are just entering the workforce. You need to get into positive territory as quickly as possible. Your question is a nod to that fact. Good.
When it comes to growing your net worth, the most important factors to consider are you debt level and income. You may not be able to control your income. You'll have debt and you'll need a job to pay off that debt. There isn't a lot of wiggle room there. So lets focus on aspects that are clearly within your control. That's your spending. You want to invest in assets that grow your net worth.
So what is an asset? A lot of folks get confused here. Neither cars nor (non-investment) houses are assets. Sure they land in the asset column of a balance sheet but in reality for an individual they function more like a liability. They are a resource, but there are other/cheaper options that can fill the same role. Remember to keep the resulting behavior in mind when choosing where to place your time/money.
I suggest you do the following: (finally right?)
- Invest in a good financial management software program (quicken, mint, etc) & learn how to use it properly.
- Reconcile your accounts once a week.
- Study which loans are costing you the most in interest payments. Which should get the additional principal, a $100 credit card at 20% interest or the $20,000 car loan at 5%?
- Categorize your transactions into a few areas.
-- Food, categorized into groceries, restaurants, fast food, booze/bars, coffee
-- Mandatory = Shelter, utilities, education, transportation, financial/loans, & taxes
-- Discretionary = everything else. This area will be the hardest to categorize. So take the time to develop a strategy & stick with it.
- Transfer all of your spending into an Excel file under those assigned categories.
This will help you determine where your money is going. You'll see the past months results right before you eyes. You'll have an opportunity to reflect and determine if your getting the quality of life appropriate for your spending levels. Maybe you didn't even feel the $200 drop in your restaurant spending. Use that to tweak your behaviors.
Money is a tool. Used properly it can provide life changing effects. But it takes time to master. You seem motivated. Keep asking questions. Take some financial management classes. Keep learning. Good luck.