It was our first winter in our new house, and I had homeowner fever. Thrilled to no longer be living in an apartment – surrounded by noisy neighbors on all sides (left, right, up, down) – I embraced home ownership and everything that goes along with it. So I placed a refurbished red rocking chair on my front porch, and put some Adirondack chairs surrounding an above-ground fire pit on the back patio. Every night as I walked our new puppy – a housewarming gift from my parents – down the street, I’d look adoringly at our new home.

Then we were robbed. And I’ve never been able to look at my house – or my neighborhood – the same way again.

The Crime

It happened in the middle of the night while my husband and I were sleeping. Back then, we didn’t have kids, so we slept rather soundly – maybe that’s why we didn’t hear the people on our front porch, taking the rocking chair; maybe that’s why we didn’t hear them out back, stealing the patio furniture; maybe that’s why we didn’t hear them peel out of our driveway, only to discover the evidence (the burnt rubber of tire tracks) the next morning.

I was so distraught I called in sick to work. Even though the robbers hadn’t breached the security of the house itself, the fact that they’d taken our stuff from our yard left me feeling short of breath. Maybe I was naive to think that just because something was on my property, tucked next to our house, that it was safe. But after that night, I vowed never to be the victim of a property crime again. Here are five cheap solutions we found to improve our home’s security.

Home Security Solution #1: Changing The Locks

This should be your first step to improve your home’s security. In hindsight, it’s something we should have done the first week we moved in to our house, not months down the road after a close call. You can either hire a locksmith to do this for you, or simply do it yourself. The hardware is readily available at big box stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Walmart, and the process is simple enough for even the most inexperienced weekend warrior; it can cost you as little as $5 a door, although you will get what you pay for, so a higher-quality (and more expensive) knob is worth the price.

In addition to changing the locks on all our exterior doors, we also got rid of the old deadbolts, along with their interior latches. Instead, we replaced them with key-only deadbolts. Now, in order to unlock those deadbolts – whether from the inside or the outside – you need a key. Since a few of our exterior doors have windows right next to them, we felt this was an important aspect of home security and well worth the $8-$15 a door it cost to buy and install the new deadbolts.

Home Security Solution #2: Adding Motion-Sensor Lighting

When we moved in, the exterior lighting on our home was broken. We’d never bothered to replace it, which gave the robbers an advantage – a veil of darkness. The very day of the crime, my husband and I bought two motion-sensor lights: one for the fixture above our garage door, and another for our back patio. Combined, they cost about $50; my husband was able to install them himself. The key to this home security solution? Be sure to turn the lights on, otherwise they’ll do you no good.

Home Security Solution #3: Put The Outdoor Furniture Inside

Outdoor furniture may help create outdoor living areas, but they can also put your home at risk. How? A chair on your front porch can be used to help gain access to elevated first floor windows; a patio table can help someone get on to a low-rise roof. Even a child’s toy left outside can help break a window and gain someone entrance to your home. The police officers who came to our house after the larceny told us that if we planned on replacing the stolen furniture, we should make a habit of bringing it inside every night.

Home Security Solution #4: Reprogramming Your Garage Door Opener

Don’t think improving your home’s security means you have to buy a whole new garage door unit. Instead, just reprogram the garage door itself – buying a new clicker is optional and, depending on the brand  you have, maybe even unnecessary. My husband was able to reprogram our garage door opener in about five minutes at no cost.

Home Security Solution #5: Activating The Security Alarm

When we’d purchased our house, it already had a security system installed. Not thinking we’d need it, we never bothered activating it. Instead, it was just a nuisance, telling us now and then that the back door was ajar in a mechanical voice.

After the larceny, though, I quickly saw that security system for what it was: a tool to keep us safe. We contacted several security companies in the area until we found one that promised to waive the reactivation fee and give us a discounted rate. For the next three years, we paid just $15 a month for monitoring service. During that time, my husband starting working overnights – as a sheriff’s deputy, ironically – and having that alarm gave me peace of mind when I was alone with the kids at night.

Even if you can’t afford to have a fancy security system installed by the pros, there are smaller, simpler alarms on the market that you can install yourself. Then, just call a security company to do the monitoring for you. And if you already have a security system, remember to set it not only every time you leave you house, but at bedtime, too – after all, you’re paying for the service, you might as well let it work for you.

Reader, which cheap solutions do you have for improving your home’s security?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke