You want to protect your home, and the people and things within it, but a monthly home security system is outside your budget. Don't worry, there are several inexpensive ways to make your home less attractive to thieves.
Stopping Everyday Home Burglaries
The stats are from 2005, but still point to some notable trends about everyday house robberies and things you can do to prevent them:
Most burglaries occur between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. (Wikipedia also adds weekdays, and August being highest for burglary rates in the U.S.): Burglars look for homes that appear unoccupied, and residential homes, as you know, tend to be empty during those hours because people are at work. If you're out of the house during those hours and are concerned about burglaries in your neighborhood, consider setting a random timer to turn the TV or radio on during those hours.
If you have a second car, keep it out in the driveway while you're at work. Or, perhaps you can rent your driveway during the daytime (besides making your home less attractive to thieves, you can make a few extra bucks. Win!); Park Circa is one place you can find people looking for a parking spot in your neighborhood.
Do you use gardening services or other home maintenance services like window cleaning? Schedule those services (which don't require you to be at home) during those prime theft hours.
The typical house burglar is a male teen in your neighborhood—not a professional thief and 60 seconds is the most burglars want to spend breaking into your home. This suggests you only need enough security to thwart the regular person. Simple things like the
"my scary dog can run faster than you" sign may be one of the most effective theft deterrents, other than—or in addition to—actually owning a scary dog. (Even a small dog prone to barking helps, though.) Regular "beware of dog" signs work too, especially if you add some additional supporting evidence of dog ownership, like leaving a dog bowl outside by your side door.
The Washington Post suggests deadbolt locks, bars on windows, and pins in sash windows may be effective theft deterrents. It goes without saying to make sure all the entry points are locked (but, still, 6% of burglaries happen that way).
Homes without security systems are about 3 times more likely to be broken into. In lieu of actually signing up for a home security system, you could also just buy the decals and signs off of eBay or elsewhere, a few DIY ones using old webcams or your PC.) Fake security cameras placed at those points might also be effective.
With your outside lighting, make sure those points of entry are well lit (motion-detector lights are inexpensive and don't use a lot of energy) and clear of thief-hiding shrubbery.
An average of 8 to 12 minutes is all burglars spend in your home. If a thief does get into your house, you can prevent loss of your valuable objects by making them harder to find than within those 12 minutes. The dresser drawer, bedroom closet, and freezer are some of the first places thieves look, so forget about those hiding places. Instead, consider hiding things in plain sight.
Protecting Your Home When You're on Vacation
We've previously noted several ways to protect your home while traveling, including using push lights in your windows and asking your neighbors for a vacation check. Lifehacker reader fiji.siv reminded us of a small detail like not having your garbage cans put out as a sign that you're away; make sure any help you get from friends or neighbors include the little stuff like that (putting out garbage cans, getting the mail, maybe even cutting the grass).
Don't forget the daily stuff like stopping newspaper and mail delivery, if you don't have someone picking those up for you.
And, of course, the tried-and-true method of looking like you're home: use a random timer on your indoor lights or TV.