Are home security systems worth the money?

The small, rectangular ceramic flower pots I kept in the two window sills of my bathroom had never budged an inch in the 14 years I owned the home, but one day I saw that one was close to falling out onto the counter below. I wondered if a small earthquake had caused it to move as I pushed it back in place. About a week later, I came home to find that the pot had actually fallen completely off the little ledge and onto the counter. This time I stopped to understand why, and I discovered that the small window was separated from the sill. I went outside. From there I could tell that the window had been pried from the house and someone had left a hacksaw on the ground. Evidently, I surprised whoever was trying to make their way into my home.

That day marked the end of my being blissfully unaware of the fact that there were people who were willing to commit crimes in my neighborhood. At the time, I was a single mom with a nine-year-old, and I felt a profound sense of terror. I locked the side gate and alerted my neighbors. The police couldn't lift any fingerprints, so nothing ever came of the incident except how it affected me. It wasn't long before I was interviewing home security companies.

I loved the system I chose. I could open the garage door and unlock the house from my key fob as I arrived home; I could even turn on the lights remotely or program them to come on automatically. If there was an intruder, a piercing alarm sounded and the security company would immediately notify police or the fire department if it was the smoke alarm.

Here's how the costs broke down for the system I got back in 1999:

  • $600 — Door and window sensors, motion sensors, lighting timers, key fobs, alarm, security panel, and garden signs
  • $200 — Installation
  • $99 — Monthly service fee

Over the next eight years, I spent a little more than $10,000 for the convenience of security. I never second-guessed my decision because I needed to know that my son and I were as safe as possible after that event, and it made me feel like our home wouldn't be easily invaded while we were away. To this day, security is at the top of my list of priorities whenever I move. But now that my situation has changed and I'm not a single mom anymore, I'm more inclined to rethink my decisions about security. Like Kristin, my husband and I have been thinking of moving to a different apartment in the same city. We're not expecting that there will be an issue with security, but we are starting to travel more frequently and it would be nice to know our things are safe.

I haven't looked into a new system yet, but I understand that the equipment and installation is roughly the same (depending on what you want, of course). And the monitoring can run $15 to $100 a month, I'm told. Then again, the systems available today are much more sophisticated and, because my husband is well-versed in tech-y stuff, I bet he would love to put in sensors and monitor things over the Internet himself. I understand you can even monitor the temperature to save on utilities. But what is your experience? How do you keep your living situation secure, and how much does it cost? Is a home security system worth the money in your experience, or do you set up your own system and monitor it yourself?

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Mr. Frugalwoods
Mr. Frugalwoods
6 years ago

I’d just get a sticker off ebay.

The old saying: “You don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun the slowest hiker” applies here.

Simple things like decent lighting, keeping windows and doors locked, and knowing your neighbors goes a long way toward preventing burglary.

Liv
Liv
6 years ago

I agree. I don’t think monitoring is worth it at all. My understanding is that home security systems have such a high false alarm rate that calls from the monitoring center are given very low priority by the police. You’re going to have a very slow response time, making it unlikely that the police would catch any would-be burglars. And that’s if the monitoring center actually responds appropriately to your alarm. For example, Monitronics recently lost a multi-million dollar lawsuit because they didn’t tell a homeowner that her alarm had gone off multiple times in one day — it turned… Read more »

Chris Griswold
Chris Griswold
6 years ago
Reply to  Liv

@Liv:

I live fairly close to a police station, but not “next door” by any means. We had a false alarm with our system and the police were at my house within 3 minutes. I don’t think there’s a generic police policy regarding the answering of home security system alarms.

In an unrelated note, we purchased our system up front ($300 with installation) and pay only $10/month in monitoring costs. Look into plans where you pay for the system up front instead of spreading the cost monthly over the life of your contract.

imelda
imelda
6 years ago

My apartment got robbed earlier this year. After it happened, I wised up. I: 1. Got renter’s insurance 2. Replaced my front door locks (purchased at Home Depot, and kindly installed by a neighbor) 3. Jammed some wood into my window frames (easy to remove from inside, but keeps the windows from being opened from outside) 4. Bought window alarms off amazon – $10 for 2 (I haven’t actually used these, but I feel safe keeping one by my bed) 5. Bought bootleg ADT stickers on ebay for $7 6. Bought light timers off amazon – about $10 for 2… Read more »

Amy
Amy
6 years ago

We have a camera system that we bought at Costco, that we installed and monitor ourselves. We also pay $48 for an actual alarm company. That $48 bucks is worth the piece of mind that feeling secure brings. We installed both of these after several attempted break-ins at our house. We also have a security front door and stickers on the windows. And if all of the above fail…we have our buddies Smith & Wesson.

Emma
Emma
6 years ago

I live in an apartment so a security system isn’t an option for me. I look for things like controlled entry (preferably with a security camera that connects to the TV), secure locks, security cameras in the parking lots, good lighting indoors and outside, safe neighbourhood… that sort of thing. I also like to live a couple of floors up so I can have the windows open at night. I don’t pay for a security system outright, but I do pay more for an apartment with these safety features than I would for an apartment in a rougher part of… Read more »

Joe M
Joe M
6 years ago

I have yet to even consider such a system, even living in city apartments.

I wonder if there have been studies done on the effectiveness of having those security system lawn markers in reducing crime. Part of me wonders if just planting one of those in your front yard (without actually having the system) is an effective deterrent or not.

kramer
kramer
6 years ago

I think an alarm system is a worthy cost if it gives you a piece of mind.

My previous home was broken into (i arrived home while they were still in the house!) so after that the porch lights were left on and an indoor light in the entry way with a timer was used. I also installed a wireless security system from SimpliSafe, at the time it was $300+ for the components and $15 month with no contract. Definitely worth the cost.

Jen From Boston
Jen From Boston
6 years ago

If you get an apartment with controlled access and the unit is not on the first or the second floor I think you can do without the security system. Another option is hire a good locksmith check your doors and windows for proper locks, etc. I recently had a locksmith come out to fix a deadbolt that had broken, and while he was there he fixed some issues with the door itself that made it less secure – things that I never would have noticed! I imagine a locksmith wouldn’t cost any more than installing a security system, and you… Read more »

Jen From Boston
Jen From Boston
6 years ago

Oh, and I should add make sure you find a reputable locksmith by asking a friend, or maybe even the police. I found out that there’s an issue with fly-by-night “locksmiths” who fleece customers for a few hundred dollars by replacing locks that don’t need to be replaced with cheap locks. In fact, I got fleeced by one several years ago when I lost my keys.

sarah
sarah
6 years ago

I’ve been broken into on the 3rd floor of a 6 flat – very controlled. But, what was stolen was worth less than any alarm could cost. And we had renters insurance.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  sarah

I’m more worried about personal safety than my stuff. Where I am now, I feel safe coming home late at night (brightly lit parking lot, security cameras in the hallways, etc.) I’m up high enough that I can leave my windows open during the summer nights without worrying about someone inviting themselves in.

There’s a lot more to home security than a security system, like good sight lines (no tall shrubs or low trees to hide in), good lighting, and getting to know your neighbours.

Michael
Michael
6 years ago

This is one of those decisions that money is the secondary consideration; in fact I would go so far as to say for many people its a money sink. We live in a neighborhood that is as safe as you could imagine (the other neighbors leave garage doors open all the time so we wouldn’t even be the first targets and our neighbors are quite vigilant for people who “don’t belong”) and we still have one. Its really for piece of mind more than anything else. I know that my house (and family) are protected against break ins but also… Read more »

Loretta
Loretta
6 years ago

I have a security system, and as a single woman living alone, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The owner of the security company was very understanding, and he identified the least secure windows, and I actually put in my system piece by piece as I could afford it until I was completely covered. I pay $35 a month. Several years ago, I was was laid off for two years and during that time, I asked him to disconnect. After hearing why, he told me that I had always been a good customer, and he would let the bill… Read more »

JS
JS
6 years ago

I’d check out the local guys instead of the large national brands. I can’t remember what our installation cost was. It was not cheap (our house has a lot more doors and windows than the norm) but our monitoring is about $30 month, including cellular backup in the case of a power outage. A lot cheaper than a comparable system from the main national providers in our area. Sidebar – I’ve had the same impression of the local pest control guys vs. the nationally advertised brands. Been paying the same $100 per year for our termite contract for the past… Read more »

Kelly
Kelly
6 years ago

I think it’s worth it, but its up to the individual. If I was in your situation, I’d probably do it too. After our friend’s apartment was broken into, it really made us just feel safer. And now that we’ve got a child and pets, with the fire monitoring and the emergency response option, it’s really a no brainer. We found ours through a vendor we met at a home show. They were way cheaper than Slomins or ADT. I think the installer was local, but they hooked up to a national monitoring company. The home show was a great… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
6 years ago

Wow, that is a LOT of money for a system. We bought one a few years ago after our home was broken into. The biggest reason is because my son, who was a high school freshman walked into the house after school to the scene and I am just thankful that the bad guys (or gals) were out. While I don’t remember the cost of our system, we went with door alarms and strategically placed motion sensors so we could get the best bang for our buck rather than doing every window, lighting timers, etc. Now, when someone opens or… Read more »

Pearl
Pearl
6 years ago

Don’t forget to contact your insurance agent also, many will give you a discount on your homeowners for having a security system. So that can help defray the monthly cost. You are paying for peace of mind. Locals are cheaper than the big names. And IMO offer better service because they really value the customers and are nearby if you need service.

Bret
Bret
6 years ago

I agree with the comments regarding piece of mind. It’s priceless. We bought our system for 500 with sensors on all the doors and windows and a motion sensor. We paid 25 a month for a security company for a year and then canceled after that year. We feel the alarm itself going off would scare away an intruder if we weren’t home. It would alert us if we were home. We bought a new house and the security company only charged us a $100 to move and install it in our new house. To each their own. We like… Read more »

Sherry
Sherry
6 years ago

I have a “smart” security system that I love – it has multi-point motion detection and voice recognition. Between premium food, vet care and quarterly grooming my system costs me about $65 per month and offers the added features of a running companion, cat herder and a head that can reach the center of the kitchen table when I get careless and leave food on it. The optional wagging tail has been known to knock books off shelves and completes the arsenal of teeth at the other end of the unit. Perfect solution for me and worth every penny.

Adrian
Adrian
6 years ago

I wanted to chime in on this because this is an issue I have a LOT of experience with and I’ve blogged about it several times. We have been burglarized about four to five times during our marriage – both in good neighborhoods and bad ones (when we were first married and couldn’t afford better). I will tell you exactly what the police told me EVERY_SINGLE_TIME – get a dog, get a dog, get a dog. Doesn’t have to be a big dog, just has to be a dog that will bark. And then put “Beware of dog” signs everywhere… Read more »

Brandy
Brandy
6 years ago
Reply to  Adrian

I have 6 dogs that are in the house,ranging in size from a 60 ib border collie to a 10 pund yorkie. My most vicious pup (to burglers, slept thru a guy in my privacy fenced back yard. The yorkie herad him and raised enough hell to get me up and I let the 5 awake pups out after turning on a porch light to see out and the guy was hightailing it away once I turned the light on. I thought Id be the last house someone would try in our neighborhood but you never know. You couldn’t hear… Read more »

Chris
Chris
6 years ago

I grew up in home where we never locked the doors or windows and not a single bad thing ever happened. It has made me into a person that usually errs on the side of too little when it comes to personal security. Even with how I am though, I would always recommend people to be as cautious and secure as possible. It is like insurance, it seems like a waste of money until you actually need it. One break in can be much more costly than years of security services. Better safe than sorry.

Anna O
Anna O
6 years ago

We have the sensors and alarm but no third party monitoring. We’re mostly concerned with home invasion so we just need the alarm to alert us so we can arm ourselves for personal protection and call the police.

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Pissed off Rotweiler Industries has a pretty good security system. In addition to the security system stickers, find a lot of NRA and/or local gun club stickers. Get “Beware of dog” signs and place a couple of dog dishes or other dog accessories around to make people think you have a dog. Or just get one; dogs are great. “Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again” signs could be useful.

Shaun
Shaun
6 years ago

If you do get a security system, be sure to check with your insurance company to see if they will provide a discount on home insurance. They most likely will, especially if the system in monitored and includes smoke detectors. The savings may cover most of the monthly cost of the system.

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
6 years ago

Our house came with a security system but we’ve never had it monitored. I think I’m still naive that I don’t think anyone will want break in.

Ian
Ian
6 years ago

I believe they are useful and worth the expense. Especially for the security of knowing that the police or fire are just a touch away. Not to mention the aid it offers in the event a break in occurs while someone is home. Especially at night.

Eric
Eric
6 years ago

As some others have said, before spending money on a reactive security alarm system that has a high monthly bill, there are many proactive things you can do to your house or to your lifestyle to make your home more difficult to break into. We certainly believe in making our house more difficult than the next. We live in a very safe town and neighborhood, but my wife had some burglaries when she was single and because of these fears she asked me to secure our house. So like any good engineer husband, I did a fair amount of research… Read more »

KC
KC
6 years ago
Reply to  Eric

Fantastic advice, Eric, and much appreciated. Thanks!!

LisaS
LisaS
6 years ago
Reply to  Eric

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. I’m going to show it to my husband. We have considered getting a security system but haven’t been sure if they are really worth the money and I’ve heard stories of them not actually working. I stay home with our young children and it makes me nervous sometimes. We often have people come to the door wanting to clean gutters, cut down trees, etc and I never know if I should answer the door. I don’t want to give someone the opportunity to force their way in but I… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
6 years ago
Reply to  Eric

“Never open door for someone you don’t know, lots of scams these days where someone opens door for fake salesman and they barge into house when door is cracked.” THIS! I never answer when someone comes to the door unless I’m expecting a package I have to sign for. We don’t get unannounced guests, so I know a knock on the door is likely someone selling something, or possibly something worse. Honestly, I don’t trust anyone who is at my door uninvited and am not taking a chance by opening that door. That may sound a bit paranoid, but so… Read more »

Emily
Emily
6 years ago

Check out simplisafe. Systems are affordable and monitoring is cheap.

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl
6 years ago

We used a local company instead of the huge ones you see on TV. Our monitoring fee is only $54/quarter. We accidentally set it off once after a few months in the house and my husband answered the phone when they called to make sure we were ok. He gave the wrong password and the police were at our house within 5 minutes. We live in a very nice neighborhood, so although we don’t really have anything great to steal, I’m afraid a burglar would target us because of our neighborhood. Plus we also have an intercom system as well… Read more »

Colby
Colby
6 years ago

We had a break in attempt a few months after we moved into our home. We woke up to a sound at the back door, what I now know was someone jiggling the door handle. We sat up for a minute trying to figure out what it was, and then we hear a loud noise at the front door. Someone was prying open the front screen door that we keep locked. As my girlfriend called 911, I quickly scanned the area for a weapon. The best I found was a machete I had been meaning to take to the garage.… Read more »

imelda
imelda
6 years ago
Reply to  Colby

Just think, if you’d had that gun at the time, you probably would have shot the guy. Instead, you scared him off by making a little bit of noise.

All in all, I think you were better off without the gun.

Colby
Colby
6 years ago
Reply to  imelda

“You probably would’ve shot the guy…”

That’s a pretty bold prediction. I’m not sure how you would come to that conclusion. It doesn’t matter what weapon I had, the result would be the same. If they came through the door and threatened my life I would have to use whatever weapon I had. If they decided to run away when lights were turned on, then that would be the end of it.

Snorkfire
Snorkfire
6 years ago
Reply to  imelda

Well, I hope he doesn’t survive only to come visit you next time. All in all, there are people that the world is better off without. Nice of you to care thoe.
S

john
john
4 years ago
Reply to  imelda

Maybe. You’ve never had a home invasion, have you?

R Gearhardt
R Gearhardt
6 years ago
Reply to  Colby

A machete is not lethal?

Carol B.
Carol B.
6 years ago

Another vote for Simplisafe. Not too expensive for the hardware, it is easy to install, modular,expandable, and has decent customer support. The monitoring is very reasonable and it has its own built in cellular line and backup battery.

Fred
Fred
6 years ago

Years ago, my house was broken into and cash and my coin collection was stolen (plus my underwear was was dumped out of my drawers onto the floor, mattress pulled off the box spring, etc.).
Here is what I paid for a security system:
$Free — Door, motion sensors, security panel, and garden signs
$Free — Installation
$39 — Monthly service fee
This was a special sale that the company had going on during the Christmas holidays.
I think it is well worth it.

Zambian Lady
Zambian Lady
6 years ago

Security systems in areas where security is bad are a must. I once worked in a country where security was so bad that new foreign nationals in one organization had to have a security briefing as soon as they arrived. The Security Officer also had to inspect the homes they wanted to rent and one of the must have gadgets was a security system. If there was none, then the staff members were not allowed to move in. By the way, the organization paid for the security system. However, nationals of the country did not have to abide by any… Read more »

Elissa @ 20s Finances
Elissa @ 20s Finances
6 years ago

I also live in an apartment, so I can’t really choose a home security system – I just use all the locks in my apartment and hope for the best. 🙂

imelda
imelda
6 years ago

Don’t just hope for the best. If there is any window access to your apartment, please see my and others’ advice, above.

If the door is the only way in or out, just make sure you have good locks.

Erica W.
Erica W.
6 years ago

I vote for an ADT sticker and a dog. Or a motion-controlled dog barking noise.

I have an ADT system simply for the smoke detector feature. It’s hard wired and if there’s a fire (or if I burn a turkey as happened once) the fire department is called and comes in two minutes. I have so much peace of mind with the smoke detector system. And I bypass the burglar alarm part entirely.

Meg
Meg
6 years ago

If I were trying to make myself safer I would rather spend money on a sprinkler system and use the monthly fee to contribute to community efforts to reduce crime rather than pay for a monitoring system.

safe at home
safe at home
6 years ago

This is a good alternative to traditional alarm company ..
http://simplisafe.com/

SusanF
SusanF
6 years ago

My home was broken into last year. I never had a security system before and the police recommended I get one. I got one that is powered through cell service. I installed the senors myself (no wiring involved) and when I moved last spring I was able to take the whole thing with me to the new house. Cellular monitoring means there are no wires for thieves to cut. I control the system through my cell phone (in fact, just remembered that I didn’t set it when I left this morning so I set it from my desk). I pay… Read more »

Ann P
Ann P
6 years ago

As someone who had their house broken into, I’m going to say no- it’s not worth the investment. The most a security system can get you is pictures of the people breaking in, and that’s supposing they’re revealing their faces (and that you have a camera system with hard drive storage). To me, despite the occasional paranoia, the statistical likelihood of ever having a break in occur ever again is so low that I really have to look at it logically and know that the “peace of mind” that is promised to me by these systems is not what I… Read more »

kathyglo
kathyglo
6 years ago

Love all the posts…I am now thinking seriously of a system!
But just for the record…it is “peace of mind!” Unless you are upset and giving someone a piece of your mind!

JessDarb
JessDarb
6 years ago

It’s PEACE of mind, not PIECE of mind.

This has been a PSA from your friendly neighborhood pedant.

Molly
Molly
6 years ago

I bought these little magnetic door chimes at target for $5 a piece. I set it to alarm when I go to bed and chime when I’m awake at the house. If anyone did kick opens a door I’d hear a very loud siren. No, it’s not monitored, but I always have my cell with me and the siren is loud enough for my condo neighbors to hear. It prob wouldn’t deter someone if no one was home during the workday, but I’m still pretty young and don’t have any valuables,

Grace | 401k Plan
Grace | 401k Plan
6 years ago

Yes it is. How much is your home compare to what you pay for an insurance? The answer, is it is worth because it gave you protection for your home.

Mary
Mary
6 years ago

I am a partner in an alarm company. We field calls every day from panicked people who are recovering from a break-in. Unfortunately, the terror is real, and regret always professed after the fact…. “I thought about installing an alarm system, but…” The chance of being the victim of a burglary is about three times more likely without a system. Surely, there are far more pressing things to worry about in an average day, but we answer call after call from homeowners who thought “it would never happen to them.” Unfortunately, at that point, it’s almost too late. Burglars are… Read more »

Matt Morgan
Matt Morgan
5 years ago

I’ve had my security system for 3 years and have yet to have a single false alarm. Now I’m not sure if that’s par for the course for this company (Monitronics) and a local contractor who does the monitoring. However, it’s just part of the overall package that I’ve put together. 3 years ago, I was home on vacation so it was just blind luck that I was there when there was a knock on the door. Three teenager boys asked me if “Alex” was at home. Since I had been napping and not really paying much attention, I said… Read more »

Carl Cantrell
Carl Cantrell
5 years ago

Although there are a lot of security measures you can use at home, there are only two things I really find useful and these are door alarms and CCTV security cameras, so far so good. Yes they are bit steep but worth purchasing. I also own two dobermans which add more protection for my family. Thanks for sharing this post by the way as I enjoyed reading it. Happy new year!

spy gear spy
spy gear spy
5 years ago

After all if I can see the wire I can cut the wire. Full coverage will ensure that nothing escapes your notice.
Additionally if you are using a wireless solution, you will
want to make sure you have power at both your transmitter and receiver.

Bobbie Haven
Bobbie Haven
5 years ago

Most forced entries are through windows and doors. WINDOWS — Buy “pin locks.” These are simply metal screws that lock they upper and lower window sashes together. You can remove them easily but they’re nearly impossible for a burglar to remove from the outside. A complete set costs less than $10 and if you can drill holes, you can easily install them yourself. Example product: Prime-Line Products U 9845 Wood Window Security Pins, cost $7 per set. DOORS — If your entry doors are hollow, replace them. You can determine if they’re hollow simply by knocking on them. If your… Read more »

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