If you're fortunate enough to receive a holiday bonus, consider the best way to use the money before it disappears.

After many years of school, I now have my first job and I expect to receive a year-end bonus somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000. What should I do with my bonus check? What kind of saving options do I have? (I will already have maxed out my 401k.) –Angie

Congrats on getting year-end bonus check this holiday season. Not everybody’s employers engage in the once-expected tradition of dispensing Christmas bonus checks or a year-end bonus for a job well done.

Treat your bonus like a paycheck, not a jackpot

When you get a year-end bonus, the first thing to do is try to see it as another paycheck, not a sudden windfall. Because bonuses comes all at once, we’re apt to view it as a windfall rather than earned income, making us more likely to spend it, according to a study by University of Chicago Professor Nicholas Epley and colleagues.

That’s not to say you can’t spend some of a year-end bonus on something that makes you happy; after all, the extra money does come at a “shoppy” time of year. But if you’re savvy, you’ll have a plan for saving the majority of your Christmas bonus check even before you receive it. The plan will make it that much easier to cash the check, set aside an amount you want to spend, and quickly sweep the remainder towards your designated savings goals.

Make a plan and prioritize

Without knowing your entire financial situation, it’s hard to give a definite recommendation, so I will follow my 6 1/2 steps. You’ve done a great job by maxing out your 401(k) this year, but there may be other good places to use your bonus.

The obvious target is any credit card debt, if you have it.

My second recommendation would be to save the remainder as a cash emergency fund equal to six months of monthly expenses. Although unglamorous, the best place for this money is in a safe and liquid online savings account.

With credit cards paid off and six months expenses in the bank, you’ve got options. If your annual income falls below the limits, you might consider putting up to $5,500 into a Roth IRA.

Otherwise, it’s time to invest or save the money for your chosen goals: Travel, your next home, a new car, your wedding, starting a business, or whatever other dreams you have.

Choose higher-yielding investments for longer-term goals

Depending on when you need that money, you have options as to where to put it, but to get any chance or earning a decent return on your money, you’ll want to invest, rather than save, in stocks, bonds or even real estate.

Betterment provides a way to invest in stocks and bonds that’s as simple as opening a savings account. You can get started at any of our recommended investment accounts. Finally, these five mutual funds are good options to begin investing on your own.

What about you? What do you do with your bonus check?

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About the author

David Weliver
Total Articles: 304
David Weliver is the founder of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues he faced during his first two decades as an adult. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.