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Easy ways to save big this winter

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’Tis the season to spend. Between holiday gatherings, shopping for gifts and higher energy bills, winter sure can get expensive.

Help keep the season bright with these four smart money‑saving strategies:

Keep your cool

You already know that turning your thermostat down a few degrees can help keep your energy bill under control, but the same principal applies to your water as well. Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations with the Freedom Financial Network, recommends keeping your water heater’s temperature at 120 degrees. "Most people can save 10 percent on water‑heating costs without ever noticing a difference in temperature," says Gallegos. When it comes to your laundry, opting for only cold-water cycles can slash your washing machine’s energy use by up to 90 percent — just be sure to choose a detergent designed to work efficiently in cold water.

Shop smarter

Before you start your holiday shopping, make an itemized list of who you need to buy for and what you’re willing to spend for each person to help keep holiday costs in check, says Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing for DealNews. If you’re shopping in brick‑and‑mortar stores, it’s also a good idea to map out which ones you’ll visit and in what order before you step foot inside. If you can, shop at less crowded times so you won’t be rushing into decisions that don’t fit your budget just so you can get out of a busy and noisy store.

Scoop up travel deals 

Most of us associate the holiday season with sky‑high travel prices, but there’s a small window between Thanksgiving and Christmas where deals can be found. Those weeks are basically a mini off-season between two of the most expensive travel weeks of the year. You’ll find cheap airfare, hotel deals and fewer crowds. You can save even more by flying on Tuesdays or Wednesdays — they’re traditionally the least expensive days.

Maximize your tax return

Now is the ideal time to meet with your accountant to see if there are any changes you can make before the end of the year to maximize your tax return. Check the IRS website to determine this year’s maximum 401(k) and IRA contribution limits. For those age 50 and older who aren’t hitting the contribution limits, take advantage of the IRS catch-up allowance. You can continue to make contributions to your IRA for the previous year up until taxes are due. By putting more cash into these accounts, you could potentially lower your tax bracket.

Your financial professional can also help keep your financial future bright. Don’t have one yet? Here are five tips for finding a financial pro who’s the right fit for you.

Want the most from your retirement? Get smarter with Smart Strategies from Athene. Your source for tips, tools and financial solutions that can help you live your best life.