Christmas is just around the corner. You’re probably preparing to travel over the river and through the woods to exchange gifts and spend time with loved ones.
As you get ready to celebrate, there’s one thing that should be at the top of your check-it-twice list: figuring out how to secure your home from bah-humbug burglars who want to steal more than your holiday cheer.
Think back to 1990 and the classic Christmas movie Home Alone (yep, we think the fact it came out over 30 years ago is scary too). We’re not saying you need to tar the steps, heat the doorknobs, put cutouts of Michael Jordan in the windows, and release the tarantula.
You don’t have to be a home security expert (or a feisty 8-year-old) to protect your belongings. Here are some ways to secure your house, family and memories while out of town.
1. Get to know your neighbors (especially the nosy ones).
Okay, we know some neighbors are quirky and some might be annoying—especially when they blow leaves and grass all over your driveway (what is that about?). But there has to be one neighbor you can ask to look out for deliveries, newspapers and the trash can.
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Remember Old Man Marley in Home Alone? He scared Kevin McCallister at the start of the movie, but they were friends by the end. So muster up some courage (and cookies) and ask a neighbor for a hand.
2. Find out about the neighborhood watch in your area.
No neighborhood wants to become that neighborhood—the one everyone says to avoid because of nonstop burglaries. That’s why it’s a good idea to look into the local neighborhood watch program to help keep your home safe.
Did you know Facebook hosts a national neighborhood watch page that’s a division of the National Sheriffs’ Association? Check it out to see if your area has a group (which could be really helpful while you’re away). You could also reach out to your community’s homeowners association. Or if you feel super passionate about it, maybe you could be the hero and start a neighborhood watch where you live.
3. Get packages shipped to your workplace.
Or at least track them so you can tell your friendly neighbor when to pick them up. That way, they’re not piling up on your porch and announcing to the world you’re not home—a dead giveaway to all those would-be porch pirates.
4. Shovel the snow from your driveway.
If a pair of burglars is scoping out your neighborhood from their van and sees your driveway hasn’t been shoveled (when everyone else has done theirs), they might think you’re away.
Give a neighbor’s kid the chance to earn some commission (or give your Old Man Marley something to do) by shoveling your driveway while you’re gone. And maybe give them a little extra if they build an awesome snowman. Nothing says “We’re home for the holidays!” like a fresh snowman in the front yard. Now that’s festive and effective.
5. If you live in an apartment, get to know management and maintenance staff.
Not only will you recognize apartment staff if they come knocking (and can deactivate the burglar traps if you have any), but they’re also more likely to remember you (and help out) if you need them. Plus, it’s Christmas—so why not bake some cookies to show them a little holiday cheer?
And since we’re on the subject of apartment living . . . if you live in a ground-floor apartment, double-check that your windows and porch doors are locked and your curtains are drawn.
6. Don’t showcase expensive items.
We get it. There’s nothing like seeing that Christmas tree twinkling in the front room. But those big boxed gifts around it? That’s like the burglar’s version of window shopping. Move those presents out of sight to trick the people who are creeping by and looking for easy pickings.
7. Make it sound like someone is home.
Timers on your indoor lights? Check. Timers on the outside lights? Check!
Lights are the obvious things to remember here, but think about sound too. Try setting up a clock radio or iPad near the front door and timing it to play music during the day. And if your TV can be seen from outside, link it to your smartphone so you can turn it on while you’re away.
8. Change up your spare key hiding spots.
It’s handy to have a spare key outside in case you get locked out. But how easy is it to find?
Try thinking of obvious places a burglar would look. Is it under the flowerpot or on top of the doorframe? Too easy. But buried under the third shrub from the right? Now that’s better. Inside a false brick on your house’s front wall? Now you’re talking! Get creative if you’re keeping a key outside.
9. Make a spare key inventory.
It’s true. We’ve all gotten a little too obsessed with those automated key cutter kiosks at the store, but now everyone from Aunt Leslie to Uncle Frank has a key to your place. And Aunt Leslie might not have the best memory when it comes to where she leaves things (and who can trust Uncle Frank, anyway?).
Take a moment to write down who has a spare key and who really needs one, and then make sure they’re all accounted for.
10. Put combination locks on your shed and backyard fence.
This one’s simple: If your garden shed is home to expensive tools and equipment, you need a lock on the door. Same goes for your backyard fence. Remember, you want to make it harder for a burglar to get in your house, not easier.
11. Make sure your garage is locked.
Raise your hand if you don’t lock the door that leads to your garage when you leave. It’s an easy one to forget! And what about leaving the garage door opener inside your car . . . while it’s parked in the driveway for days on end? Guilty as charged.
You should always make sure to bring garage door openers inside with you, otherwise you’re giving burglars an invitation to waltz right on in (no crowbar necessary).
12. Trim trees and overgrown shrubs so there’s less cover for thieves.
Trees can give you all kinds of privacy—and that’s great for you. But it’s also great for thieves who want to hide from security lights or watchful eyes of neighbors.
13. Try to rob your own home.
This sounds nuts, but hear us out! Remember when we talked about being creative with hiding your spare key? Well, use that creativity again and spend some time trying to get into your own home. You want to find yourself saying things like, “The dadgum fence is locked!” or “Oh, the windows are locked too,” or “I see a light and can hear a TV—someone’s home!” If you’re thinking it, then a pesky burglar probably will too and give up.
14. Don’t share too much on social media.
It’s never a good idea to overshare on Facebook, but it’s a really bad idea to advertise your travel plans to everyone. Tech-savvy thieves will look at your posts and see potential dollar signs. It would be like Kevin posting on Instagram that he was home alone. Do you think that’s a good idea? We don’t think so.
If you’re just dying to post a selfie of your feet dipped in the clear blue ocean, wait until you get home. You’ll enjoy your time away more anyway if you’re not constantly strapped to your phone.
Want more tips on prepping for travel? Take a look at our Ultimate Travel Checklist.
15. Do you have a family password?
To keep your kids safe during those times they’re home alone, establish a family password. This is a word or phrase that only you and your kiddos know (and you can share it with close family and friends as needed). It’s meant to keep out strangers who might knock and try to get inside your house.
16. Don’t hide cash under your mattress.
Or in the freezer. Or in the cookie jar. Or in the millions of other places cash-hungry crooks look when they bust into a joint. Keep your cash in a safe or, better yet, a bank.
17. Shred documents you don’t need.
Why? Because it’s not just the obvious things like electronics or jewelry that a burglar will swipe. Any mail or personal records that show your Social Security number, driver’s license number, and date of birth are rich pickings for identity thieves.
These jerks aren’t above dumpster diving to get valuable info on you and your family. So make sure you shred anything you throw away that can even be thought of as important info. When in doubt, shred!
18. Lock your safe.
If you have a safe somewhere in your house, make sure it’s locked with those important documents (like birth certificates) and family heirlooms tucked inside before you travel. Oh, and make sure you bolt that sucker down so it can’t be carried away.
19. Take pictures of all your valuables.
This is an old insurance trick. Take quick pics of your jewelry, art, tools, electronics, furniture or anything else that might tempt a burglar. This’ll help you figure out if anything was taken if someone breaks in, but it’ll also help the insurance company process your claim.
20. Get references for any service professionals.
Make sure the housekeeper, gardener, plumber or HVAC guy is the real deal before you call them to take care of something in your home. The only person visiting your house without a reference should be Santa . . . or maybe the Little Nero’s Pizza guy.
Just watch out for those creepy little elves that sit on the shelves—we hear they can get just about anywhere.
21. Be aware of what you’re throwing away.
Picture the scene: The presents have been unwrapped, the gizmos and gadgets are ready to be played with, but the living room looks like the aftermath of a Christmas war. You’re tempted to stack the boxes and packaging at the curb just to reclaim your living room.
Stop! You don’t want to advertise those awesome gifts to shady characters circling the block looking for their next score, do you?
Of course not. Break boxes into smaller pieces and put them in recycling or trash bags. Then wait to put those bags out on garbage pickup day. Or you could even take a trip to the recycling center yourself.
22. Install a home security system.
If you had to choose just one for your best line of defense, a home security system would be it. With a home security system, your castle is kept safe 24 hours a day by trained professionals who can get you help when you need it. Plus, a home security system can shave some bucks off your home insurance premium—and we’re all about saving money.
By the way, our friends at SimpliSafe can find the right system for you and your family.
Hope for the Best and Prepare for the Worst
All the above tips are really useful for stopping some heartless burglar from making off with your stuff and ruining Christmas. But even the craftiest thieves can get through your best-laid obstacles (look what happened to Harry and Marv—Kevin hurt them pretty bad, and they just kept coming at him!). So it’s important to be prepared for the worst-case scenario . . . and that means having a solid home insurance policy.
Insurance is there to make you whole again in case something bad like a break-in happens, and we know the perfect people to get you the right amount of coverage for your home. They’re our Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs)—insurance agents who know your area and are here to serve you.
Our pros and providers genuinely care about protecting your family and your finances the Ramsey way. And that’s why they’re the only providers who carry the RamseyTrusted shield.