This is the time of year when some of us find a little extra in our paychecks, or get a nice fat bonus after we’ve already been paid. It’s a great way to end the year, but if you don’t plan ahead and think it through, that bonus could disappear quickly, along with the smile it gave you.

There are things you can do to maximize your year-end bonus and make your hard work pay off, rather than just putting it in your checking account and watching it dwindle away and having nothing to show for it. With a little smart spending, your bonus could give you just the boost you need to improve your overall financial situation. Use that extra income to do one or all of these things and it truly will be a bonus:

Pay Down Debt

Credit card debt is some of the most expensive debt to carry. End your year right by paying down your most expensive debt like credit cards and personal loans. This will free up money every month for you to put toward other things you might have done with your bonus and get you back on track to a strong credit report and healthy finances.

Boost Your Savings

If your debt load is under control, your year-end bonus can be a good way to boost your savings. If you know the bonus is coming, plan ahead and find a high-yield savings account to put it in so it can start earning interest right away. Then you’ll be on your way to that vacation, large purchase or return to school you’ve been hoping for. If college is in the future, use your bonus to start a 529 account. Even if you have other plans for your bonus, if you put it away in savings immediately, it can make you money and it won’t disappear while you’re deciding what to do with it.

Save for Retirement

Even if you don’t want to lock all of your bonus away in a retirement fund, you should at least put some of it there. If you haven’t maxed out your contributions for the year, you could save money on your taxes by doing so with your bonus. You can even increase your bonus by putting it in your 401(k) if your employer has a matching program. The fact is, any money you put in a retirement account now will grow exponentially, so by saving your bonus for retirement now, you’ll automatically be giving your future self an even bigger boost later.

Eliminate Fees

One of the best ways to make your bonus work for you and save you money every month is to apply it in places where it will eliminate fees. For one thing, you can reduce your monthly credit card obligations. If you bank somewhere that charges you fees on a checking account if it’s below a minimum balance, use part of your bonus to boost that balance and get rid of those fees. You can also use your bonus to pay extra toward the principal balance on your mortgage and eliminate your PMI, making your monthly mortgage payment smaller.

Enjoy It

After treating most of your bonus responsibly, you should also set aside some of it to just enjoy. Yes, have fun with it—it's a bonus, after all. It's a reward for your hard work, so you should feel free to reward yourself with some of it. Don’t go blowing it all at once or anything, but do something special with a portion of it. The boost will be good for your attitude and it might help you stay motivated for the next year.

More From 95 Rock