The following is a guest post by Thousandaire reader Aimee McNitt, who blogs over at PersonalBudgeting.com

Make no mistake, I love my stuff. My husband Scott and I have worked hard – Scott has, anyway – and stretched our budget (that’s where I come in) to be able to buy the things we want. His laptop, the video game system for the children and my jewelry cost us a bundle, and we make sure we enjoy them. It’s also why we can’t stand the thought of someone taking our stuff while we’re at the beach or on a cruise ship.

It’s a legitimate worry. There were nearly 2.2 million burglaries in the U.S. in 2011, according to the FBI’s latest crime report, with an average loss of $2,185. While break-ins typically are covered as part of a standard home insurance policy, they still carry a cost. Claims tied to break-ins are part of the reason home insurance premiums are on the rise. The annual cost increased 19% nationally in 2011 to $810, according to HomeInsurance.com.

on the beach

photo credit: kevin dooley

Furthermore, burglaries peak each year during July and August, the prime months for summer vacations. That’s because criminals are lazy – they want to enter your house when you’re not there, and they’ll look for signs you’re gone. Scott and I know that, so we take special care to make sure that our place doesn’t catch the attention of crooks. Here are some ways we do it:

Don’t be a Stooge: Use Mow, Blurry and Leery

• Make sure your lawn is well-manicured.
Even if you’re only going to be gone a week, mow it just before leaving. You’d be surprised how quickly the grass will grow during the summer, and nothing says the owner is away louder than an unkempt lawn.
• Don’t give criminals a clear look.
Make sure the blinds are closed so any view criminals have of the interior of your house will be blurry.
• Keep burglars wary.
I called criminals lazy already. They’re also cowards. If someone’s home or if you have a home security system, they’ll often bypass you for an easier mark. Even just having security system decals on your windows or signs in your yard can make them leery of choosing your place.

The lights are on, but no one’s home

There are other ways to make sure criminals don’t notice that your house is empty for a week or more. Set a timer to make lights come on at night, and leave a television or radio playing so there will be some noise in the house, too.

Have nosy neighbors? Now’s the time to use them. Tell them you’ll be gone and ask them to keep an eye on the house. They watch it anyway, but at least you can reap the benefits of their snooping. You also can get great service from a trusted neighbor. Give him or her a key, and ask whether the person will keep your mail from piling up in the box. If you still take the newspaper – I canceled mine to save a few bucks because I could access everything online – have the neighbor bring it in every day. Nothing screams “Owners aren’t home” louder than a stack of newspapers in the driveway.

What if it doesn’t work?

Despite every precaution, someone might take a chance and break in. Here’s where planning comes into play. Your home insurance company likely has recommended you maintain a home inventory – a glorified listing of everything you own, complete with photos, serial numbers and receipts when possible. It will help you get reimbursed quicker. Among the most common targets of burglars are electronics, jewelry, cash, guns and tools.

But there’s one other thing you should make sure you protect, and you might forget about it. Chris and I take great care to make sure our identities stay safe. How? Whenever we leave the house, but especially for vacation, we power down our computer. It’s password-protected, so personal info on it stays safe. We also never leave any credit card bills, bank statements or blank checks around. Again, nothing is perfect. If you suspect your identity has been pilfered, the Federal Trade Commission also has a list of steps you should take.

You can’t depend on good fortune

Don’t count on being lucky. We have a plan to stay protected, and you should have one, too. Don’t be too scared to leave home, but keep yourself from becoming a target when you do. It will save you time and money, and it will allow you to enjoy your hard-earned vacations without worrying about scumbags taking your stuff.

Kevin’s Take: Now that I have a house I’m 1000% more worried about someone breaking in my house. I have a security system but I feel like I need to do more. I love that this post gives me tips to make my house and my stuff safer without spending extra money! Thanks Aimee!

About Aimee McNitt

Aimee McNitt is a regular contributor to PersonalBudgeting.com. She and husband Scott have three wonderful children, two dogs, one income and zero margin for financial error. To make their personal finances work, Aimee has become an expert at finding deals, stretching a dollar and finding simple ways to earn extra income.