FOLLOWING a terrible spate of natural disasters earlier the year, headlines of national debt woes in Europe, and intense volatility in the sharemarket both locally and globally, you'd be forgiven for thinking 2011 has been full of doom and gloom. But the year has also delivered its fair share of good news especially on the personal finances front.
To begin with, the ANZ Bank's latest Adult Financial Literacy Survey shows many Australians are making headway in key areas of money management.
The survey found 77% of us are trying to save on a regular basis - the highest level since the survey began in 2002. In fact Australians now collectively hold around $500 billion in savings accounts and term deposits, up by $34 billion since 2010.
Reserve Bank figures show a welcome fall in the value of outstanding credit card debt, with the average card balance currently at $3,276, down from $3,340 in June.
Our new focus on saving and debt reduction could explain why 81% of respondents to the ANZ survey said they are in control of their finances.
Looking ahead to 2012, a number of initiatives are set to come on board that should help more Australians manage their money.
From 1 January 2012, banks will be asked to provide fact sheets to borrowers shopping for a home loan. The information provided will allow an easy comparison of different loans and lenders, and show the total cost of the loan over the full term - and the savings made possible with extra repayments.
The federal government is also aiming to introduce a 'tick and flick' system of switching deposit and transaction accounts. This is designed to make it easier for us to switch banks if we are dissatisfied with our current bank or we can get a better deal elsewhere. The government hopes to have the system in place by around mid-2012.
Also from 1 July 2012 employers will be required to show on pay slips the contributions paid into each worker's super fund. Seeing just how much cash is regularly invested in their super may prompt more people to take an active interest in their retirement nest egg, and that would definitely be a step in the right direction.
If you have some time to spare over the Christmas break, it's worth taking a look at the government's Money Smart website (www.moneysmart.gov.au) or check out my book Making Money for ideas on getting your personal finances in good shape. You won't find any get-rich-quick tips or instant cures for debt problems. What you will come across is sensible strategies to build wealth at every stage in life.
By focusing on a personal savings plan, whittling away your debt and setting some money goals for the future, you're laying strong foundations for a prosperous 2012.
As this is my final column for 2011, I'd like to wish all my readers a safe and happy Christmas. Travel safely, try to avoid overspending during the holidays, and I hope you can join me again in 2012.
Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine. Visit www.paulsmoney.com.au for more information.