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Memorial Day marked the unofficial start of summer—the season many Chicagoans look forward to during the long, grey winters. Whether you decide to picnic in your backyard, soak up the sun at the lake shore or help plan a block party, keep these summer security tips in mind—and don’t forget the sunscreen!
Home Safe Home
Late spring and early summer weather prompts many of us to crack the windows at home and let in the lake’s cooling breezes. To keep potential intruders at bay, Chicago’s Alternative Policing Strategy, aka CAPS, recommends installing locks that allow your windows to open only an inch or so.
Of course, when you are not at home, you should always make sure that your windows and doors are locked securely. Never leave your house or apartment unlocked even if you are just around the corner, police say.
Also, don’t leave your spare key in the mailbox or under the doormat; instead, the National Crime Prevention Council recommends keeping a key with a trusted neighbor or nearby shopkeeper.
Another good tip? When you leave your home for extended periods, make it look like your home is still occupied. Automatic timers are an easy way to turn lights on while you’re away.
Protect your Personal Items
In the summer, more of our personal items end up in our cars, or outside—bikes, lawn furniture and valuables.
“If you can’t leave them at home, lock your purse, wallet and other belongings in the trunk of your car or a friend’s car,” the Chicago Police Department says in a summer safety tip list. “Never lock your valuables in your car where they can be seen.”
If you prefer to bike around town, you can register your wheels online with the City of Chicago’s CLEARPath program. Police say registering your bike can help to identify and recover it if it’s stolen.
When you lock up your bike (The city’s Chicago Bike Program recommends a high-quality U-Lock), be sure to check the source you’re locking it to. Is it actually secure? After months of harsh weather and wind, bolts can come loose, making it easier for a thief to walk off with your bike. Check the bolts, and if they’re firmly secured, you’re safe, according to chicagobikes.org.
Work with Your Neighbors
With backyard cookouts and weekend block parties, summer can be a good time to get to know your neighbors.
CAPS recommends checking on elderly neighbors when the temperatures climb. Lately, there have been dramatic spikes in Chicago’s temps, jumping 50 degrees in one day, according to Tom Skilling. But when the heat index reaches triple digits, the city’s Office of Emergency Management says it can be particularly hazardous for the elderly. You can call 311 to locate the city’s nearest cooling center, or to sign up for extreme weather alerts.
If you plan on a summer vacation or other trip, it’s also nice to have a network of neighbors nearby to look after your place while you’re gone.
Having a neighborhood watch or block club devoted to improving your community and keeping it safe is one of the oldest and most effective ways to prevent crime, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. The NCPC recommends that such groups work with local police organizations to get the proper information and training. CAPS offers information on the most effective ways to organize and run a block club, as well as how to work with local police.
“Knowing your neighbors and communicating on a regular basis can help you identify quality of life issues and other trends in your neighborhood and allow you to address those issues,” CAPS says.
Now get out there and enjoy your summer safely, Chicagoans—you deserve it.
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If you ﬁled your taxes early this year, and are eligible to receive a tax refund, you may soon receive a nice-sized check from the state government. (In 2012, the average Georgia tax refund was $640, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.)
And while it can be tempting to go on a shopping spree if you are one of those due a refund this year, you would be wise to show some self-restraint and instead, find practical, responsible ways to use this money:
- Pay Down Debt If you are carrying debt, consider applying your refund to pay it down, which will help you avoid having to pay additional compound interest. Consider paying down credit cards, car loans, student loans, or even prepaying your mortgage. Having trouble deciding which to pay off ﬁrst? Start by paying off the loan with the highest interest rate.
- Save and Invest It may not seem that exciting now, but you’ll appreciate a savings nest egg when you retire, especially if you put your money into a tax advantaged plan, such as a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. Also, if you plan to help your child pay for college, consider placing your refund money into Georgia’s state-sponsored 529 plan.
3. Subsidize Your Emergency Fund
It’s important to be prepared should the unthinkable happen: unemployment, illness, or even disability. By having an emergency fund, you’ll be ﬁnancially prepared if you are unable to earn an income for a length of time. Aim to have at least six months worth of expenses in your emergency fund.
4. Make Improvements to Your Home
By making home improvements, you could be making an investment that potentially results in an increase in property value, as well as improved living conditions. Plus, Georgia homeowners have an array of financial incentives–sales tax exemptions, tax credits, etc.–that could cut the total cost for some home improvement projects.
5. Invest in Yourself
Would you like to earn more money (who wouldn’t?)? Then consider using your tax refund to invest in your education. Consider going to college or enrolling in a training course that will make you more marketable and allow you to take the next step in your career. You might even be able to deduct your education expenses on next year’s taxes.
6. Save for a Big Expense
If you know that you will have a major expense in the coming year, such as planning a wedding, consider setting aside your tax refund for that purpose. It can help soften the blow when it comes time to cut the check.
7. Give to an Atlanta Charity
Consider setting aside some of your refund money to help those who need it most. Remember, charitable donations are tax deductible, so you can deduct your gift on next year’s taxes. Do some research on Atlanta charities to identify causes that you’d like to support.
8. Put the Money Toward a Personal Dream
Is there a country you have always wanted to visit? Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn? Have you always wanted to start your own business? Take this opportunity and use the money to take the next step toward that dream.
A tip: If you received a large refund this year, consider making an adjustment to the withholding allowances on your W-4 with your employer. This will increase your take-home pay and thereby prevent you from making what some like to call “interest-free loans” to the government in the future. Yes, it can be nice to receive a large check in the mail each year, but you may wish to put this money to use during the year, rather than sending it to Uncle Sam for temporary holding.
What do you plan to do with your tax refund?
Casey Slide is a money and lifestyle contributor for the Money Crashers personal finance blog. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and young son, and previously worked as an industrial engineer.