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Protect Your Home, Car and Finances This Winter

Nov 02, 2020 4 min read Karen Kroll

Key takeaways

  • Prepare a winter emergency car kit.
  • Get your furnace checked and serviced.
  • Review how you're spending and saving now.

 

'Tis the season for hot chocolate, sweaters and sparking up the logs. It's also a great time to winterize your home and car, and get your finances in shape before the end of the year. These tips can help.

 

 

How to get your car ready

Every year, more than 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 are injured Opens in new window in vehicle crashes that occur on snowy or icy roads. Our guidelines can help you reduce the chances that you're among this group. An added benefit: Avoiding accidents may help you save money on car repairs and insurance premiums.

  • Check your wipers.

    Replace if they're worn or cracked, as they might not remove enough ice, snow or rain to let you see clearly in snowy weather.
  • Get your battery tested.

    “It takes more to crank a battery when it's cold," says Charlie Rydor, an instructor with Universal Technical Institute in Houston, a provider of post-secondary education for automotive and other technicians.
  • Check your tires.

    Most tires lose air pressure when it's cold, which may mean they won't stop like they should, Rydor says. Depending on where you live, you may also want to consider winter tires, which provide better traction in cold, snowy weather.
  • Make sure your oil is at the right level and clean.

    Review the owner's manual to see if you should switch to winter oil.
  • Keep your gas tank more than half full.

    This can keep the gas line from freezing. Also, you don't want to be low on gas if you get stranded and need to run the engine to stay warm.
  • Protect your car's appearance.

    Install floor mats to protect the carpet from water and grit. Wax your car to keep the exterior paint from chipping.
  • Prepare a winter emergency car kit.

    Include a first aid kit, flares, warm clothes and boots, a flashlight (check the batteries) and some nonperishable foods. Remember your furry family members if you regularly travel with them.

 

How to get your house ready

Winterizing your home can both keep you more comfortable and potentially lower your heating bill, says Dan DiClerico, a home expert with HomeAdvisor.com, a digital marketplace for home service professionals. Preventive maintenance also reduces the likelihood of pricey repairs.

  • Close air leaks around windows and doors.

    Together, these can be equivalent to leaving a window open all winter long, DiClerico says. Depending on the leak, you may want to use caulk, weather stripping, or expandable foam sealant.
  • Check insulation.

    Insulation not only keeps heat in, but inadequate levels of insulation near a roof can cause the roof to heat and melt the snow that lands on it, potentially leading to ice dams, DiClerico says.
  • Get your furnace checked and serviced.

    Replace the filter to help keep it running efficiently.
  • Clean your gutters.

    Clogs can cause leaves and snow to back up and freeze, potentially damaging the roof.
  • Remove dead branches.

    You don't want them to snap off in a heavy snowfall, possibly damaging property or causing injury.
  • Insulate exposed pipes,

    including those in your basement or attic. DiClerico notes that most burst pipes occur in basements. Even if your basement is unfinished, repairing water damage can be expensive.
  • Drain your pipes,

    including the toilet tank, if you're leaving a home or cabin unoccupied and unheated for several months. Sarah Smith Eigenmann and her husband had always been careful about draining the pipes in their cabin in northern Minnesota. One year, however, they forgot to drain the toilet tank. “The tank split, and we had to purchase a new toilet," she says.

 

How to get your finances ready

The end of the year is an ideal time to review your financial health and make sure you're in good shape for the coming year. By regularly assessing your income, spending, and savings, you can make small, manageable corrections to ensure you stay on track.

  • Assess progress toward your financial goals.

    Are you on track with retirement and college savings? If not, identify expenses you can trim, even slightly. By gradually increasing your savings rate, you're more likely to hit your goals, yet don't have to drastically alter your lifestyle.
  • Review the asset allocation of your investment portfolio.

    Chances are, it shifted over the past twelve months, as the values of all the investments changed. You'll probably want to rebalance to ensure the risk-return tradeoff is in line with your goals. That is, you don't want to discover the portfolio you assumed was split evenly between stocks and bonds now is 70% stocks and only 30% bonds.
  • Cancel subscriptions

    and memberships you don't use.
  • Review insurance and banking services.

    Shop around to see if you're getting the most bang for your buck.
  • Check your credit report

    if you haven't already. The three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—are required to provide a free copy of your credit report once every year. You can manage it all at AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • Use any funds in your flexible spending account (FSA).

    You risk losing money that remains after the end of the year. However, your employer may let you carry up to $550 into the following plan year, or allow a grace period of up to 2 1/2 months.
  • Take required minimum distributions

    (RMD) from your traditional IRAs and “defined contribution” retirement accounts (like 401(k)s) if you haven't done so and you turned 70½ in 2019. (If you hit 70½ this year, you won’t have to start RMDs until the April 1 in the year after you turn 72.) If you're the beneficiary of someone else's’ retirement account, you also may have to take an RMD.
 

 

What you can do next

Develop a budget for the coming year. Look for expenses you can trim without too much sacrifice. When possible, make direct deposits to your savings and investment accounts. You're less likely to spend the money if you never see it in your checking account.

Footnotes

 

Karen Kroll is an experienced freelance writer and editor, with a focus on corporate and consumer finance. Her articles have appeared in AARPBulletin.com, Bankrate.com, Business Finance, CFO, CreditCards.com, Global Finance and many other publications.

 

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