So you've got $1,000 burning a hole in your pocket -- or perhaps you're expecting to have $1,000 to spend once your tax refund arrives in a few months. Either way, that money represents great opportunity.

You could spend it impulsively, on whatever strikes your fancy, or you could put a little thought into it and find a productive use for the money. Here are three suggestions.

a hand holding ten hundred dollar bills, fanned out

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Emergency-proof yourself

According to the folks at Bankrate, 28% of Americans are just one financial emergency away from disaster, with no emergency savings at all, while close to half of survey respondents hadn't socked away enough to keep themselves afloat for three months.

That's very problematic. For starters, most of us should have an emergency fund ready and waiting -- ideally funded with six to 12 months' worth of living expenses, such as food, rent or mortgage payment, utilities, taxes, insurance, transportation, and so on. A single $1,000 investment isn't going to give you a flush emergency fund -- but it can be an important start, or it can plump up your existing fund.

Don't pooh-pooh this idea, either. Many do, assuming that they won't face an emergency. Consider that per a 2015 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, fully 60% of American households "experienced a financial shock" over the previous year, with about a third of them experiencing two. The median cost of households' most expensive shock was $2,000, or about half a month of income. More than half of households had trouble making ends meet after experiencing their shock.

You may not expect to lose your job anytime soon, but lots of people who are laid off didn't see it coming, either. A costly medical issue can derail you financially, too.

on a chalkboard is written get out of debt, and there's a stop watch on the letter o in out

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Get out of debt

If you have an emergency fund in place, one of the next most important things to do is to be free of debt -- or at least high-interest rate debt such as that from credit cards. A low-interest rate mortgage is much less worrisome.

Between 2015 and 2016, average credit card debt per household rose 6%, to $8,377. Imagine that you owe that average of $8,377, and you're being charged 25% interest. According to one of many available online calculators, if you can only swing monthly payments of $200, it will take you 101 months (that's 8.4 years) to pay off the debt -- and you will pay $11,650 in interest along the way, far more than you owed in the first place.

Below are some additional eye-opening scenarios. I'm assuming an interest rate of 20%.

Amount Owed

Monthly Payment

How Many Months to Pay Off, With 20% Interest Rate

Total Interest Paid

$5,000

$200

33

$1,520

$10,000

$200

109

$11,683

$20,000

$500

67

$13,228

$30,000

$600

109

$35,049

$40,000

$700

185

$89,092

$50,000

$900

158

$91,817

Data source: VACU.org calculator. 

Paying off debt as soon as possible is a smart thing to do, as debt can get in the way of your financial plans, such as getting a mortgage to buy a home.

on a chalkboard is written earn save invest retire

Image source: Getty Images.

3. Invest!

If you're not carrying a lot of debt and your emergency fund is well stocked, consider investing that $1,000 instead of spending it. A single $1,000 investment can't fund a comfortable retirement on its own, but it can actually make a meaningful difference -- especially if you're still young. Check out how a single $1,000 investment might grow over various periods:

$1,000 Invested For:

Grows at an Annual Average Return of 8% to:

10 years

$2,159

20 years

$4,661

30 years

$10,063

40 years

$21,725

Calculations by author.

You might do even better than that, though -- if you choose some individual stocks very well. Here, for example, are some 20-year growth rates for a few familiar companies -- plus what they would have turned $1,000 into over that period:

Company

20-Year Average Annual Growth Rate

$1,000 Would Have Become:

ExxonMobil 

7.9%

$4,569

Berkshire Hathaway 

9.6%

$6,269

Boeing 

11.2%

$8,363

Nike 

13.4%

$12,375

Sherwin-Williams 

16%

$19,443

Starbucks 

18.9%

$31,758

Apple 

33.1%

$290,184

Data source: theonlineinvestor.com.  

Of course, it's far easier said than done to choose the stocks that will deliver outstanding returns over long periods. It requires a lot of reading, learning, thinking, deciding -- and some luck, as well. So for most people, it's best to just invest in an inexpensive broad-market index fund, such as one based on the S&P 500. That will get you roughly the same returns of the overall stock market. A handy low-cost broad-market index funds is the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY), which distributes your assets across 80% of the U.S. stock market. The Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI) or the Vanguard Total World Stock ETF (VT) are also sound choices, respectively investing you in the entire U.S. market, or just about all of the world's stock market.

A thousand dollars can be surprisingly powerful, if deployed strategically. Think about what your best use of that money is. If none of the ideas presented here make sense for you, here are 12 more ways to can spend $1,000.

Selena Maranjian owns shares of Apple, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), Boeing, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), Nike, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Sherwin-Williams. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.