If you find yourself with $1,000 all of a sudden -- or perhaps through slow consistent saving -- you might be wondering: What's next? Maybe ideas of a beach vacation are floating through your head, or maybe you're thinking about buying yourself a big-ticket gadget like a new computer or TV.
You can certainly spend your money on those things if you want, but here are 10 smart things you could do with that $1,000 right now to improve your financial well-being.
1. Pay off your debts
If you're carrying any high-interest debt like a balance on your credit card, medical bills, or a personal line of credit, you should absolutely be paying it off as quickly as possible. $1,000 can go a long way toward clearing your debt, especially if you're only making minimum monthly payments.
When you pay off high-interest debt, you're effectively getting a guaranteed return on investment for your $1,000. So, if you have $1,000 in credit card debt accruing interest at a 20% annual rate, you'll save $200 per year in interest expenses you would have paid if you didn't pay down that debt.
2. Save for an emergency
Many people recommend keeping an emergency fund on hand for when (not if) you face unexpected expenses. In a recent Bankrate survey, 36% of Americans said they'd need to borrow money for a $1,000 emergency. If you find yourself in the emergency room or in need of serious car repairs, that $1,000 could keep you from being in that 36%.
3. Instantly double it
If you're not maxing out your employer's 401(k) match, you should use the $1,000 to increase your 401(k) contributions. An employer's 401(k) match is basically free money, so don't pass up that opportunity.
You won't be able to contribute the $1,000 directly to your 401(k). Instead, talk to your HR department and tell them you'd like to increase your withholdings so you end up contributing an extra $1,000 by the end of the year to get the full company match.
Note: Not all employers offer a 401(k) or a company match on the account.
4. Save for your retirement with an IRA
If you don't have access to a 401(k) (or you already contribute up to the company match), you can still save for retirement using an IRA. There are two flavors of IRAs -- traditional and Roth -- each with different tax treatments. Traditional IRAs allow you to take a tax deduction this year, but you'll have to pay taxes on your withdrawals in retirement. Roth IRAs require you to pay taxes today, but you'll be able to withdraw funds tax-free. Both accounts allow your funds to grow tax-free. In my opinion, most people should use a traditional IRA unless their marginal tax bracket is extremely low or they expect a significant amount of extra income in retirement. Many will get a greater tax benefit from saving now than by saving on taxes in retirement when income and expenses are likely lower.
5. Save for college
It's never too early to start saving for a college education. If you have a child, or you're planning on having one soon, consider contributing to a 529 account. You may be eligible to receive a state tax deduction on your contribution, and you'll be able to withdraw the funds and gains tax-free for eligible expenses.
The new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expanded the eligible expenses to include private school tuition for elementary and secondary schools up to $10,000 per year. So, the sooner you get started saving in a 529 account, the more you'll have when you want to send your kid to that expensive kindergarten.
6. Prepay your insurance
Insurance can be expensive, especially if you're paying out of pocket for home, auto, life, and disability insurance every month. Most insurance companies offer discounts to customers that prepay their insurance for a full year or six months.
You might be able to pay for your home insurance separately from your mortgage. Call your bank and ask if you can remove the escrow for your home insurance. They might also require you to remove the escrow for your property taxes too, but that's not such a bad thing as long as you can budget for them yourself at the end of the year. When it comes time to renew your policy, you'll be able to pay for the whole thing at once with your $1,000.
7. Start a business
You can start a great business these days for less than $1,000. If you really need more funding than that, use some of the $1,000 to create a stellar Kickstarter campaign to pre-sell your idea. Worst-case scenario, you're out $1,000. But if you find success, you may be able to quit your job to pursue your passion and make way more than your $1,000 back.
Com Mirza, CEO of Mirza Holdings, says he helped a friends daughter start an online consignment shop with no start-up costs whatsoever. The kid sold $19,000 worth of her friends' clothes on Facebook within three months with minimal advertising and kept 50% of the revenue to invest back into the business.
Whatever your passion there are usually plenty of ways to start a business around it with minimal costs. You can easily sell a service like Mirza's friend, you could even source your own inventory for greater profits (but more work). You could also teach; there's always demand for people learning new skills like photography, or high school kids looking for that extra edge on their college entrance exams. Even creating a product can cost a lot less than $1,000 to get started. Don't let money limit what you think is possible.
8. Give it away
There are hundreds of charities and nonprofits that could use your $1,000. If you've ever watched Downton Abbey on PBS, attended to a performance of your local symphony or ballet, or spent some time at a museum, consider making a donation. If you're passionate about human rights, the environment, or other causes, there's likely a charity that could do a lot of good with your $1,000.
In exchange, you'll be eligible to deduct your donation on your tax return, so the government will subsidize your investment in a good cause.
9. Ask an expert
It's not easy finding answers to all your financial questions by yourself. Sometimes it pays to pay an expert to answer them for you. A fee-only financial planner will give you the straight facts without trying to lead you toward products and mutual funds that pay the highest commissions. If you have some big questions about how to plan your finances around your life goals, taking the time and spending the money on a fee-only planner could be a great investment.
10. Set up an estate plan
At some point you'll want to draw up a will, a power of attorney, a living will, and a healthcare proxy, so everyone is prepared for the end of your life. While facing your own mortality can be tough, it's a lot easier knowing there's a plan in place for when the time comes. Hiring a lawyer to help create those important documents and consult on other estate-planning matters can put you and your loved ones at ease.
There's a lot you can do with $1,000. Maybe you deserve that vacation. But it's important to weigh the value of spending that money on yourself now, versus investing that money in your future. Whether that's something simple like wiping out debt or prepaying big bills, or something more complicated like starting a business or making sure everything's in order for your loved ones, it pays to think long-term.