Tornado season begins anew every spring in Illinois, as do the reminders to homeowners to prepare against them.
In 2012, Illinois saw eight tornado-related fatalities and 111 tornado-related injuries, due primarily to the devastating early-in-the-season tornado that hit Harrisburg at the end of last February.
With tornadoes in Illinois typically peaking between April and June, now is a good time for homeowners to prepare themselves. And that includes urban and suburban homeowners too; the Chicago metropolitan area is not immune to tornadoes, says Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel, especially in the western and southern parts.
- Establish the best place in your home to seek shelter, preferably in a basement or a cellar. If underground protection isn’t available, choose a hallway or room on the lowest level, as far as possible away from windows. If nothing else, take shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture.
- Ensure that every member of a household knows the address of two locations to meet (one near the home, one outside the neighborhood).
- Create disaster kits for your home, vehicle and work (most tornadoes in Illinois occur in the afternoon and early evening). Kits should contain a three-day supply of non-perishable food, a first-aid kit and more. A full list of recommended disaster kit items is available at illinois.gov.
- Have copies of important documents kept off-site in a secure location, including birth certificates, deeds, insurance information and driver’s licenses.
- During the storm, listen to a battery-powered weather radio or local radio or TV station. Angel suggests that smartphone users sign up for text-messaging weather services that can warn you about tornado watches and warnings in your area.
After a tornado and the threat of danger has passed, get in touch with your property insurer as soon as possible to begin to assess any potential damage to your home. A home inventory (a detailed list of all your possessions) can help streamline things should you ever need to make a claim. You can make a manual list, or use a home inventory app on your phone, which can speed up the process, help you physically document your things with photos and videos, and can even store the inventory and keep it safe from an event that would likely spur a claim.
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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.