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Home Security on a Budget

According to USA Today, the effects of recession continue to put Americans at battle with their own money, forcing compromises on how it’s spent…and saved, with 67% of US households having less than 6 months worth of savings.

When making cuts to household budgets, the main things to go in the average US household are considered “luxury items” which include lawn care service, cleaning service, upgraded cable stations, brand name food, shopping for new clothes/electronics & dining out/other entertainment.

When creating a budget for the first time; a security system is often not even considered.

If you are making cuts to your budget, or creating a brand new budget; your home security does not need to be compromised. There are many options available and you can customize your home security plan to fit your financial and protection needs. There are even many security options that are free or almost free.

That’s right, free. I have compiled a list below of some home security options that have zero (or almost zero) monthly cost. Most have a one-time purchase price and a potential small annual fee…but the monthly cost is zero. And some of the items may surprise you…

• Panic/Safe Room • Generator • CCTV Cameras • Intrusion/Fire Alarm • Sounders • Smoke Detectors • Fire Extinguisher • Carbon Monoxide Detector • Dogs • Security Lights • Game Plan

Panic/Safe Room

• One Time Fee Estimate- $0-$1M+ • Monthly Cost $0

I figured I would start with the fireworks. The latest and greatest in home security for billionaires is a self-sustaining panic room, complete with fresh air, surgical units and a shiny $1.5M+ price tag.

For those out there who have not yet reached “Bill Gates” status in life, not to fret. You can still have a panic/safe room in your house or an emergency hiding spot. These may not be zombie apocalypse proof…but for a break-in or weather emergency, they will work. I have several spots in my house, including two cabinets for my daughter to use as an emergency/panic hiding spot and a hidden panic room/storm shelter under the stairs (or as we call it, the “Harry Potter Broom Closet”) that is hidden behind a wine shelf I had built to fit in the door frame.

Safe Room/Storm Shelter

What you need:

1. A muster spot big enough for the family

  • This can be a garage, basement, closet or bathroom. Ideally, this should be a room with no windows & a lock on the inside of door so you can lock once inside.

2. Basic emergency supplies for 1 week such as:

  • Batteries

  • Flashlights

  • Dry food

  • Water

  • A sealable container for using the bathroom

  • Wipes

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Charged phone battery backups (Mophie, etc.) or power sources

  • Portable TV/fully charged

  • Candles

  • Lighter/matches

  • Blankets

  • Board games, books, coloring books, etc. for entertainment.

  • Basic first aid kit

  • Pet food & supplies (including litter box or fake grass, newspaper for pets to relieve themselves)

3. Items to be updated weekly/monthly:

  • Medicines

  • Diapers and other baby items

Panic Room/Hiding spot

Depending on the size of your house, your storm shelter room may also serve as your panic room. You can also designate spots on each floor or room as an emergency hiding spot

  • Under the bed

  • Laundry hamper

  • Closet

  • A bathroom or kitchen cabinet

There are several websites that have examples of DIY hiding spots that show you step by step how to create hiding/safe spots out of everyday items. Like, converting an old sleeper sofa into a hinged hiding trunk or making a “fake” dresser.

One of our hiding spots This one was completely free to us. It is just a cabinet big enough for my daughter, so we kept it empty.

Another hiding spot We turned a cabinet into a pseudo game cabinet.

Instructions for the faux game board:

1. Get a piece of thick project foam board, cardboard, or wood 2. Cut it to fit snug inside the cabinet (or closet) 3. Cut the sides of game boards, showing their titles 4. Glue them to the board in a stacked fashion

DIY Hiding Spot in Home

This same idea can be used with many other things. We just used game boards because it is in our “game room”. The important thing is to ensure it will stand up, has a good fit so there are no obvious gaps and that anyone using the hiding spot can easily move and secure it.

Some other ideas I have seen:

• Material made to look like folded blankets • Empty coke cans cut in half and stacked • Books to look like a library • Sheetrock and plaster to create an illusion that a closet is not as deep as it is.

Gas powered generator for house

• One Time Fee- $400+ for new, used models are less expensive. • Monthly Cost $0 (annually-cost of fuel in emergencies only)

A 3250 watt stand-alone gas powered generator is a portable generator for around $400 brand new. This will run a refrigerator/freezer, TV & 4 light bulbs. For about 10 hours on a gallon of gas. If you need to run more, you can get a bigger unit, or even have a backup propane generator installed professionally.

You can buy one of these at almost any hardware store such as Lowes or Home Depot, but you can also find previously owned working models at pawn shops or in the classifieds.

I searched Craigslist and found a used 1800 watt model for $40. This would power the same amount as 3250 but for half the time).

CCTV Cameras

• One Time Fee- $0-$5,000+ • Monthly Cost $0 The more cameras, space and recording time & storage you need, the more costly the system. However, you can purchase a 4 camera DVR system at a variety of retail stores for around $1,000. These of course are basic units and their functionality varies. But most at this price point are “plug and play” and come with the ability to view on a phone or computer remotely.

Some alarm companies offer installation of a wireless CCTV camera free or low cost as part of their intrusion alarm installation package. ADT Pulse* is one example.

Basic Intrusion /Fire Alarm

• One Time Fee- $0-$200 • Monthly Cost $0*

Even though there are no “free” alarm monitoring companies, I have included this on the list because some people do not know there is a potential homeowner’s insurance savings for having an intrusion alarm which will often make up the monthly amount netting in a $0 monthly cost to you. It’s worth a call to your insurance agent to check it out.

If you are renting a home, the landlord may be willing deduct the monthly amount from rent because it will reduce their renter’s insurance or liability and helps protect them against vandalism.


• One Time Fee- $50-$200 • Monthly Cost $0 (annually, the cost of battery replacement as needed)

There are several different types of sounders and has sounders starting at $49.99. This website even has a motion sensor sounder that barks when someone is approaching your front or back door.

Sounders will do two things. One, they will alert you when someone opens a door or window to your home. Two, they will often scare the intruder away because they will think an alarm just went off. So, if you cannot afford the monthly cost of an alarm, this is an alternative which will give you some of the benefits of an intrusion alarm such as deterring & warning.

Smoke Detectors

• One Time Fee- $5-$25 each • Monthly Cost $0 (Annual cost of batteries)

Smoke detectors can save you & your family’s lives by warning you before there is a fire so you can escape safely, or by waking you up. Smoke can cause you to pass out and if you are already asleep there is a greater chance of this.

If you purchased a home within the past 10 years, chances are you weren’t able to officially close the purchase without smoke detectors, as they have become a mandatory part of most city building codes. If you didn’t purchase your home brand new and there were existing smoke detectors, check to make sure they meet the latest UL safety ratings & have not been recalled. If you are a renter, there is a possibility your landlord is required to provide these. You can call your local code enforcement office to check.

For about $20 you can equip a 1200 sq ft house with 4 detectors…& the money is well worth it. Even if it means skipping a fast food or coffee trip for the week.

Fire Extinguisher

• One Time Fee- $20 • Monthly Fee ($0. Replacement cost only when/if you use)

A fire extinguisher is an easy purchase at almost any hardware store or even Wal-Mart. Home Depot has a model rated for any room for under $20

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

• One Time Fee- $10-$30 each • Monthly Cost $0- (Annual cost of batteries or minimal electricity used for plug in type)

CO (Carbon Monoxide) is odorless & tasteless which is why it is known as the “silent killer”. Carbon Monoxide can be deadly even in small doses over a long period of time so a carbon monoxide detector or alarm is critical for your home. Common causes of harmful CO levels are running a car in the garage, water heaters, space heaters, fires in the fireplace & dirty chimneys.


• One Time Fee- $0-$2500 & up • Monthly- $0* & up

Did you know a dog is credited as being the first home security system? A barking dog warns of approaching visitors. Large breed are best for protection and security, but even a small dog can be effective at warding off intruders by barking. Research shows a barking dog is more effective at scaring away an intruder than a home alarm system. The reason? A dog can attack instantly and a home alarm system always has a time delay for police response.

If you already have a dog, congratulations! Just having a dog is a great addition to your home security system and since you already have it, it will not cost you any additional money & with the tips below, you may even be able to save some money.

Don’t have one? Keep reading. I’ve listed ways you can get and keep one for free!

Places to get a free dog

1. Most police departments in cities with a K-9 unit have an adoption program for trained police dogs who are ready to retire.

  • This is a good way to get a trained dog for free. Contact your local police department for more details.

2. Local Pet Shelter 3. Classifieds (newspaper, Craigslist or other local online classifieds) almost always have dogs available “free to good home”

4. In Houston, we have a dog track, with greyhound dogs that race (and people bet on the winner). This track has an adoption program for dogs ready to retire.

Ways to train a dog free

1. Your local library usually has books, even breed specific ones, for training dogs 2. Major pet store chains such as PetSmart & Petco offer free weekly & monthly dog training workshops 3. Most animal shelters offer free workshops monthly 4. The Internet

  • In the days of YouTube and Caesar (tssst!), there are many videos available online to show you how you can train a dog on your own.

b. Don’t have internet? Go to a place with free public Wi-Fi such as Starbucks or McDonalds c. Don’t have a computer? Chances are at least one library near you has a free computer with internet access for you to use.

Free vaccinations/medicines

Local animal shelters, the SPCA, Humane society and even many veterinarians offer free pet vaccinations throughout the year, as well as other services.

The Humane Society has a page on their site with a list and links to free animal care resources, including vaccinations and prescription medicine. You can click on any of the links listed, or do a search by state. I looked in Texas and found there is a School of Veterinary Medicine that offers free pet surgery and dental care.

How to feed a dog free

There are many useful sites and tips out there on saving money on dog food, from coupons & samples to making your own out of cheap staple foods and vitamins. But, did you know there are actually ways to feed a dog for free? That’s right, FREE.

Restaurants are required by law to throw away all of their food scraps, and they have to pay to get it hauled away. The food scraps end up going to landfills.

Farmers and ranchers have known about this for years, and many of them use to rely on this method for the livelihood of their livestock. With the increased government awareness and efforts to reduce waste, the EPA actually has a program and useful page on their website to help individuals and restaurants partner up to feed animals and reduce waste in landfills. You can go to the below website to get all the details, including finding partnering restaurants in your area and educating yourself on any regulations or increased safety methods, such as boiling certain items.

The Rescue Bank is also another source.

Your own food scraps

If you were born before 1985, chances are this is the only way your animals ate and you already knew about it. If not, guess what? Many foods you eat can be fed to your dog and are actually healthier than packaged dog food. In fact, many “privileged” people cook for their dogs daily.


Pet food stores receive promotional sample packets which they usually hand out on weekends. Call your local pet stores to see when those are like doctors, veterinarians are flooded with sales people who give them free samples to push to clients.


Extreme Couponing - Have you seen the show? Here are a few sample YouTube videos if you haven’t seen the show, these will give you the principle on how to use coupons to get dog food for free or even get money back!:

If you watch the local ads, and look for special in-store deals and markdowns & combine with coupons, it is possible to get some pet food (such as individual cans) for free.

Places to get coupons free

  • Local stores

  • Recycling bins

  • Neighborhood share/coupon parties

  • Online

  • Social Media - Liking”, “Following” or joining websites will often get you free samples and free monthly email coupons.

There are a ton of coupon resources online but a few of my favorite which are geared towards pets or have multiple pet foods and stores in one spot:

Solar powered Security Lights

• One Time Fee- $1-$50+ • Monthly Cost- $0 (Battery replacement cost only when/if needed)

There are motion sensored security lights and static security lights, which stay on constantly once you turn them on (some have a timer). There are benefits to both, but the police officers who live in our neighborhood and do voluntary patrols recommend static lights to act as a deterrent. According to their experience, burglars are less likely to break into a house with the windows and doors well lit because if they do, then they are more likely to be seen and therefore caught in action.

The benefits of a motion sensored light act similar to a motion sensored alarm in that they warn you of something approaching your home. I have a combination and my motion sensored lightbulbs are red, so I get the best of both worlds.

Game Plan

• One Time Fee- $0 • Monthly Cost- $0

An emergency preparedness plan is one of the most important security measures you can implement for your home and family. Thinking of potential scenarios and how you will handle them will help you fare better in the event an actual emergency.

Online safety & emergency worksheets:

1. Emergency Preparedness

2. General Home Safety & Security

3. Fire

4. Children

Children almost always look to parents for direction in emergency situations, so if you have children, it is important to go over plans with them so that they know what to do if faced with an emergency situation and they are unable to communicate with you.

For the parents out there, I included a link to an article on how to talk to your children about potential emergencies without scaring them.

I thought to include the link on how to talk to children because of my own personal epic failure at handling this topic. When my youngest daughter was 5, I wanted to tell her what to do in the event of a break -in. You would think after raising three other children I would have had the parenting communication thing down to a science.

I said to her, “Hey Baby, if anyone ever breaks in the house and you hear them; you need to get under your bed and stay there. Do not make a sound and do not come out, even if you think they are gone.

Even if you hear them hurting me or they shoot me, you stay where you are. The police will find you when they come. They will know to look for you.”

She burst into tears and said “But if you die I want to die too! I don’t want to live without you.”

And then she had nightmares for about a month.

On a happier note, 7 years later, she has recovered fully. She is now at the age she takes my blunt talk in strides (sometimes with an eye roll) and she even modeled happily in her hiding spot for this blog.

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