Security on a Budget — 24 Common Sense Reminders

pad lock

We all want to be safe and secure, but spending big money on a high tech security system may not be necessary. In most cases, simply applying some common sense will do the job. For most people, reasonable security can be attained for very little money. I say, “reasonable security” because the sad fact is that if someone wants into your home or car badly enough, they will find a way, no matter the security you have in place. And if you have a lots of expensive jewelry or artwork, your security needs might be more sophisticated than the average Joe’s. With that in mind, what are some of the ways you can protect yourself that don’t cost a fortune?

1. Use your locks. This is the single most important thing you can do to protect your home and property. It sounds like a big “duh,” but you’d be surprised how common it is to leave things unlocked. Recently, a very elite community near me was up in arms about the number of “break ins” that were happening. Yet when the cops investigated, they found that in thirteen out of fifteen incidents, the crooks had simply opened unlocked car and home doors and walked off with the goods. It’s still wrong no matter how you cut it, but not locking your car and home simply makes it too easy for the crooks. And keep the doors locked even if you’re home. You don’t want to be surprised by a criminal in your home.

2. Close your garage door. When you aren’t home (and even if you are) keep your garage door shut. It’s too easy for criminals to walk off with your tools, bikes, or even cars when the door is open. Plus, an open door makes it easy for the crook to pull into the garage, close it behind him and then break into your home through the connecting door without being seen.

3. Don’t leave your car unattended and idling in the driveway while it warms up. There have been a rash of car thefts here lately from people who have turned on the car then gone back inside. The thieves simply walk up, get in the car, and drive away. It’s worth being a little chilly for a few minutes to avoid a car theft.

4. Trim overgrown shrubs away from windows. Don’t give the crooks a place to hide while they break your windows.

5. Don’t unload purchases in full view of the neighborhood. If you buy something expensive, unload it in the garage or behind the house to keep prying eyes from seeing your goodies. If they don’t know you have it, they’ll be less tempted to take it.

6. Don’t leave obvious boxes out by the curb on trash day. Don’t leave the boxes that scream “52-inch Plasma TV,” “Bose Home Theater System,” or “Apple Computer” by the curb. They act as advertisements that you have some very nice stuff in your home. Instead, burn them yourself (if allowed) or take them to the dump yourself. Alternatively, you can cut them into pieces and place them in garbage bags so they are less obvious.

7. Don’t tell people what you have. It’s never nice to brag, but telling people all about your computer system, or your home theater set up, or your jewelry is an invitation to trouble. Word gets around and you never know who will end up knowing about your fabulous stuff. You don’t want word to get to the wrong person.

8. Don’t leave valuables where they can be seen. Don’t leave your iPod on the front seat of your car or cash on the dash. Close your blinds at night so would be criminals can’t take a home inventory. What crooks can’t see is less tempting for them to steal.

9. Vary your routine. Yes, you probably have to go to work at the same time every day, but try to vary other things as much as possible. Don’t exercise at the same time every day, for example. It makes you a target personally, as well as your home, if people know you’ll be somewhere at a certain time each day.

10. Lock up, even if you’re only going up the block for ten minutes. Robberies happen fast and sometimes the victim is visiting neighbors just across the street when it happens. If you’re going to be out of sight of your home for even a few minutes, lock it up.

11. Invest in window pins. These are inexpensive, available at most hardware stores, and can be installed yourself. They enable you to pin the window shut from inside so that even if someone breaks the glass and gets to the window lock, they still can’t open the window without removing the pin. This is difficult to do from outside and is likely to consume enough time that the burglar will leave for easier pickings. Use these only when you’ll be away for long periods, as on vacation, because they can slow an evacuation in the event of fire.

12. In addition to using your locks, dead bolt locks are a great help. They make a door difficult to impossible to kick in and can’t be defeated by a credit card. Brands vary as to strength and durability, so do a little research before buying.

13. If you’re going away for a long time, bolt your garage door. Most doors come with a bolt system but if not, one is not hard to install. Using the bolt prevents someone from getting in with a remote or using your keypad for outside access. The door also cannot be lifted manually.

14. If you want a security system, you can get an unmonitored alarm, available at most home improvement stores. These are relatively inexpensive and just as noisy as the monitored kind. You just don’t have to pay the monthly monitoring fee. It usually the sound of the alarm, not the monitoring, that runs a burglar off, so if you think you can do without monitoring, these are a cheaper choice.

15. Put motion detectors on your outside lights. When someone comes into your yard, the lights come on, potentially scaring the bad guys away. Burglars don’t like light, so the more of it you have, the less likely they are to strike your property. Motion sensors are preferable to leaving the lights on all the time which is an energy waster. You can also add an indoor chime that alerts you when the lights come on. Be prepared, however, to hear that chime a lot if you have wildlife such as deer around your property.

16. Use light timers if you’re away on vacation. Buy the ones that allow you to set the timer to go on and off at different times. This creates the illusion of someone coming and going in the house, more so than standard timers that go on and off at the same time each day. Put a radio or TV on a timer, as well, to create noise and the illusion that someone is home.

17. Further the illusion of someone being home. If you have someone you trust, like a pet sitter or trusted housekeeper, have them open and close your blinds when they come and go, or turn lights off and on. Give your neighbors permission to park their cars in your driveway when you’re away for long periods. Let their kids park their bikes in your driveway, too. Have someone pick up your mail, newspapers and packages. The more it looks like people are coming and going, the less likely a burglar is to target your property.

18. Pick good hiding places for your valuables. The crooks already know to look under the bed, in the refrigerator, or in the desk drawer. Pick original hiding places. If you have a lot of valuables, invest in a safe or get a safe deposit box.

19. Get a locking mailbox. If you’re worried about someone stealing your mail, you can get a locking mailbox for about $50. There are variations, but most are designed with a small slit in the front that the carrier drops the mail into, but is not big enough to get a hand into. You then retrieve the mail by unlocking the compartment with a key. There are others that are “triggered;” that is, they can be opened and closed once for the mail delivery. After that, it locks itself and only the person with the key can open it.

20. Lock the door that leads into your house from the garage. Too many people figure that if they shut the garage door, then they can leave the connecting door unlocked. Unfortunately, garage doors aren’t that difficult to defeat, which leaves your house vulnerable. Lock that connecting door to provide one more barrier for the crook.

21. Separate your home address from your garage door opener. The newest scam is for crooks to hang out in movie theater or office parking lots (or some other place where they know you’ll be tied up for a long time), then break into your car, stealing your garage door opener. They also look for your address information which is readily available in most cars via registration papers, service receipts, etc. They match the two, use your garage door opener to gain access, and then rob your home. Remove your address information from your car. Put your registration in your wallet and keep service receipts at home. Incidentally, this is another reason why #20, locking the connecting door, is important.

22. If you’re going out of town, don’t tell everyone. You never know who is listening. Tell only whom you need to — the pet sitter, the trusted neighbor who will be watching your house, etc. — and leave it at that. The fewer people who know you’re gone, the less likely your home is to attract burglars.

23. Just bought a new house? Have the locks re-keyed immediately. When we bought our house, we had the locksmith out to re-key every lock. He said that you’d be surprised how many people just take the key from the builder or the prior owner and don’t bother with re-keying. The trouble is, you don’t know how many copies of those old keys are out there, or whether they’re in trustworthy hands. Re-keying is inexpensive and worth the peace of mind.

24. The key fob trick. I heard about this one from a friend and I’m not certain of it’s value, but I’ll put it here and let you decide. Here’s how it works: If your car has a car alarm and you have a key fob with a panic button, you keep the fob by your bed at night and, if you hear someone in the house, set off the panic alarm on the car. Supposedly this will scare away the burglar, thus making for a cheap burglar alarm.

Most of these measures are free and the rest are low cost. You don’t need to spend big money on security, but you do need to use a lot of common sense. Effective security boils down to a simple formula: Don’t make it obvious that you’re a good target and don’t make it easy for the criminals.

Image courtesy of .robbie

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8 Responses to Security on a Budget — 24 Common Sense Reminders

  1. Hilary says:

    I have two suggestions as well.

    The first goes with #17: Put a few of your lights on timers. My parents do this because they are not always home. Every night, they have a light in the living room go on ~8pm and off ~11pm. That way, neighbors can’t easily tell when they’re home verus when they’re not.

    The second goes with #22: Don’t take a cab to the airport if the whole family is going out of town for a long time. I have a friend whose house got robbed in the few hours between when they left for the airport in a cab and when her aunt arrived to housesit. They’re pretty sure the cab driver tipped off a burglar. Obviously you can’t always get a friend to drive you, but it’s something to keep in mind. Even having a neighbor fake as a relative staying home when you leave might be sufficient for this.

  2. TFOM says:

    Very good points!

    Light timers can be a valuable tool!

    Whenever you leave the house ALWAYs make sure that all of the doors and windows are poperly closed and locked. Especially basement and garage windows!

    Good reading!

  3. Light timers can be a valuable tool!

    Whenever you leave the house ALWAYs make sure that all of the doors and windows are poperly closed and locked. Especially basement and garage windows!

  4. Debbie Z says:

    I’ll add this – invest in a locking mailbox. I bought one 7 years ago and love the peace of mind. No one can open it to get the mail out of the drop section without a key. Crooks love to steal all kinds of mail.

  5. Hilary says:

    Good point about the locking mailbox. Furthermore, if you can’t get one (like if you’re in an apartment with cheap-o mailboxes), it might be worth it to pay for a P.O. box instead, where it’s much harder for someone to break in.

    Also, along those lines, try to get as much financial stuff online as you can. I know some people are uncomfortable only receiving online statements, but it’s one less piece of mail that can be used to steal your identity and money.

  6. Steve Kruse says:

    A suggestion with #4..instead of worrying about trimming in front of the windows, instead plant closely spaced thick amounts of holly or other fiercely thorned plants. The discomfort factor is enough to make a burgler look for an easier target that won’t scratch him up!

  7. Rick says:

    Add a deadbolt to the door leading from the garage to the house. I once locked myself out of my house, and all it took was twisting off the locked doorknob with a pipe wrench. Took me all of 15 seconds to get back in. . .

  8. jstrada says:

    These are all excellent points. Also, don’t forget to lock the windows on the second floor of your home. Make sure that ladders are put away and not available for a burglar to use to rob you via your second floor.
    I think that investing in a monitored security system is a wise investment. Plus, many security systems now come with home automation and energy management. These systems can be accessed remotely so you can turn your lights on and off from where ever you are located(hence confusing a burglar).

    Joe Strada

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