With 2017 almost done and dusted, there are some of us who will be lucky enough to receive a welcome 13th cheque or bonus payment in December…

This extra bit of money could put you on a stronger footing for 2018 if you plan correctly.

“December is the perfect time to consider your financial challenges and your goals for the year to come,” says Sonja Visser, CEO of African Unity Life. “It is easy to go into denial over the holidays, but that can leave you with a mountain of debt that you’ll spend the next year paying back. Rather take a look at your financial situation and use your bonus wisely.”

She recommends drafting a budget estimate that looks at your expected holiday costs, debts and once-off and ongoing expenses and working out which to prioritise.

“Allocate parts of your bonus or 13th cheque to these expenses,” she says.

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1.       Travel, accommodation, presents and food for the holidays

This is where the biggest potential for December overspending lies, so be sure to exercise discipline over the holidays to start the year off on the right foot financially.

Pay back any debts, including personal loans, credit cards and retail accounts

Remember that the longer you service a debt, the more you pay in interest, so paying these off with a bonus will save you piles of money in the long term.

2.       Pay it into your bond

While this is also a form of debt, it deserves its own consideration because we tend to see a bond as an ongoing expense. A once-off payment of R5 000 into a R1 million bond could shave months off the term of the bond, and reduce the total interest that you repay by a whopping R33 221.

3.       Any once-off costs that occur around this time of year

These could include staff bonuses, school stationery or uniform costs for the next year or a head start on your school fees (remembering that you probably have to pay these before you get your January pay cheque).

4.       Save it!

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is a nest egg in the bank. Financial experts say you should have three to six months of your salary saved up in case of emergencies – so why not use some of your bonus money to get a head start on the smartest financial decision you’ll ever make.

5.       Plan for your family’s financial needs

One thing that you should definitely consider at year-end is whether your family has sufficient financial cover and support for the year to come. Do you have the right insurance and investment products in place to secure their financial future? Think about medical aid, life insurance, education savings and so on, and set aside some money for your most pressing need.

“Some life insurance companies will allow you to pay for six months’ or a year’s worth of cover in one go, so investigate those options to give you peace of mind – and a fuller bank account – for the year to come,” says Visser.

While it isn’t easy to save in December, a little financial discipline will go a long way to starting the year off financially stable and debt free.

“Do what you can to make the most of your bonus,” Visser concludes. “After all, spending quality time with your loved ones is what really makes the holiday.”