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NEW YORK (MainStreet) - For Thomas Bright, graduating from college meant a load of debt, and right away, he knew the financial burden he shared with his new wife put the family finances at high risk.

"My wife and I got married one week after she graduated, and we had a total of $42,000 in debt on day one of our marriage," says Bright, a 2011 graduate of Emory University and currently a marketing and content strategist at Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions. "Three years later we have paid it off and purchased our first home."

Amid overcoming this debt, he was even unemployed for the first eight months of repayment.

Bright says he minimized living expenses by living with his parents for the first nine months. "We also cut interest, which really made the biggest impact," he says. "In other words, we paid off the credit accounts with the highest interest rates first, and we didn't take out any new loans. We were aggressive savers too, and tried to put as close to 50 % of our income as possible toward our loans."

"Looking back, we understand now that a balanced budget is important, but we really wanted the peace of mind that comes with being debt free," Bright adds.

If he knew then what he knew now about debt and spending, Bright may never have had to endure the belt-tightening experience in his post-college years. Then again, he's hardly alone in not having a good understanding of money management on campus - freshman year and every year on campus.

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"Heading off to college for the first time is quite the learning experience for most young adults," says Steve Siebold, author of How Rich People Think (Simple Truths, 2014) and a multimillionaire who regularly interviews wealthy individuals on their best money habits. "While there are a lot of things to get used to and figure out living on your own for the first time, one of the biggest adjustments to make is over money."

Siebold asks incoming college freshmen (and, by extension, their parents) one simple question - what are some of the best ways you can better handle your financial situation? Fortunately, Siebold offers some answers to his own questions, too, and college freshman would do well to pay attention.

For example, Siebold advises incoming college students to get a part-time job - not right away, but soon. "Wait until after your first semester once you are comfortable in your new school, surroundings and lifestyle," he says. "Getting a part-time job will not only give you some extra cash but it will give you a sense of independence from relying on mom and dad or anyone else. It also instills responsibility."

Another tip - add to your classwork reading up on some savvy money management strategies. "Read books about success, money, business, investing and anything else that can give you an edge in the real world," Siebold adds. "Higher education is indeed a commendable choice, but formal education will only make you a living. Self-education will make you rich."

Limiting your student loan intake is also a big help in keeping high debt at bay in college and out of it. "The obvious is to only take the actual amount of money you need for your education when it comes to student loans," says John Schmoll, who runs the personal finance web site "If you're taking over what you need and it's used to fund frivolous things, then you're wasting money."

Another good college money management tip - limit spending by, well, putting limits on spending. "Use a secured credit card with a $500 limit," says Austin Duvall, a financial advisor at Lexington, Ky.-based LPL Financial. "A secured credit card is tied to a blocked savings account with the secured amount of money on hold. This allows a college student to learn how to pay off a credit card, manage a balance, and build his credit score with very little risk."

Learning to keep a lid on spending while in school may actually be the best lesson you learn during your four years on campus. In that classroom experience, failing can be a very expensive proposition.

Just ask Thomas Bright, who had to learn his lesson the hard way.