It is human nature to turn to the past as we look ahead and plan for the future. On a national level, our political elections, military campaigns, and legislative bills are determined in part by the lessons from past events. On a personal level, one’s life experiences translate into a unique collection of guidelines and warnings. If you got food poisoning the last time you ate sushi, that historical event may dissuade you from eating sushi again in the future.

Past lessons are just as important when it comes to personal finance. This is the time of year where people look ahead and make resolutions, and financial resolutions are often foremost among them. But even if these goals and wishes for 2012 reflect what you want to happen in the upcoming year, it is just as important to look back, assess 2011, and make resolutions that take last year’s precedent in mind.

Along these lines, here are a few things to consider:

Note Your Spending Indulgences

Most people have a weak spot – or a few weak spots – when it comes to spending. They may be responsible, financially-minded individuals, but there is just one small purchase that they find themselves making again and again. In many cases, this purchase is a drink, snack item, or piece of clothing. Cutting down on your 2011 indulgences can translate into considerable 2012 savings.

Assess Big-Ticket Items

How did you deal with major purchases in 2011? These are those rare purchases that you don’t make on a weekly or even on a monthly basis – they are larger than most and they take a hefty bite out of your budget. Were you prepared for such purchases? Did you consider all the financial implications? Were you capable of absorbing the costs? If not, you may want to start planning ahead now for your major 2012 purchases. If you’re looking to get a new car, for example, you might benefit from checking free insurance quotes in the next couple weeks.

Create Benchmarks

Look to see how much money you set aside for savings in 2011. Check out what percentage of your income you invested. Assess your budgets to determine your regular monthly costs. Then, take all these numbers and make them your benchmarks for 2012. If you have been happy with your finances over the past 12 months, try to hit these benchmarks next year. If not, you should work to surpass them.

These are a few of the many things you can consider when looking back in order to plan forward. More important than these specific tips is to use 2011 to help guide your financial 2011 by eliminating weak areas and replicating strong ones. This is easier said than done, of course, but it’s impossible to get started without taking a look at the past.