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If you are a new homeowner, then 2004 will be filled with new responsibilities, projects and home maintenance to-dos.

Instead of the tired "I'll lose 10 pounds and go to the gym every day" resolution, you could dedicate your efforts to making your house safe and your household financially secure.

One of the most important things you can do is ensure you've adjusted to your new mortgage payment and the slew of other payments you make as a homeowner -- property tax, insurance, utility bills, maintenance services, and the list goes on.

"In the first twelve months after purchasing a newly built home, owners spend an average of $8,900 to furnish, decorate and improve their homes -- more than twice the $4,000 spent by non-movers," the National Association of Homebuilders says in its report, "Housing: The Key to Economic Recovery."

As a new homeowner, it's sometimes easy to get lost on spending sprees and ultimately increase your debt and potentially reach the point at which you get behind in your mortgage payments. That gets even more overwhelming if you're carrying holiday debt.

While you are probably anxious to buy furniture for every room of your new house and decorate everything all at once, financial experts suggest you:

  • Keep your budget updated. Include all your new bills and expenses.
  • Create a grand plan for your decorating projects. Map out which rooms you'll conquer over the course of the year. Plot out what needs to be done, whether it's painting, new flooring, or decorative accessories, and set a budget for each room.
  • Be sure you set aside enough money for savings and for your long-term financial goals -- retirement, your kids' college fund, vacations, etc.
  • Resist credit card offers. While they may tempt you as they flood your mailbox, don't open new accounts. If you must have a credit card, limit it to just one and pay it off each month. If you buy furniture on a no-interest-for-a-year or similar plan, be sure to pay off the balance in the specified time frame or you'll be hit with interest for the full term of the loan.

    Meanwhile, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says all homeowners should resolve to make the new year a safe one. Specifically, it recommends:

  • Installing and maintaining smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
  • Buying a fire extinguisher for the kitchen.
  • Hiring an electrician to inspect your home's wiring system -- something that should be done every 10 years.
  • Having the electrician install ground fault circuit interrupters in rooms where water might be present.

    And if you have children, the CPSC says you should:

  • Install safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers.
  • Avoid using accordion-style safety gates, which can be an entrapment and strangulation hazard.
  • Equip your windows with guards. Safety netting for balconies and decks can help prevent serious falls.
  • Use outlet covers to keep your kids from getting shocked.
  • Use safety tassels if you have window blinds. The safety devices will help prevent strangulation in the loops of the cord. Also, never place a crib below a window with blinds.

    Meanwhile, you should also resolve to keep your house unattractive to burglars. The Insurance Information Institute says nine out of 10 home break-ins could have been prevented if homeowners knew how to burglarproof their homes.

    Some of the things you can do to thwart would-be burglars include:

  • Avoid placing valuables in front of a window -- they can probably be seen from the street and entice burglars.
  • Make sure all doors and windows have locks. Doors should be equipped with deadbolt locks with a one-inch throw and reinforced strike plate.
  • If you have sliding glass doors, place a metal rod or piece of plywood in the track to prevent an intruder from forcing the door open.
  • Always lock the door to your attached garage.
  • Examine your outdoor lighting system. If your house isn't well lighted, you can install low-voltage outdoor lighting.
  • If needed, trim the shrubbery near your home's entrance and walkway. This prevents a would-be burglar from hiding in tall, bushy foliage.
  • Find out if your neighborhood has a community watch program. If it does, join it; if it doesn't, think about starting your own. Visit usawatch.org for more information.
  • Consider a security alarm. If your house already has an alarm system, ask a professional to examine it to make sure it's working properly. If you don't have one, think about getting one. The International Association of Police Chiefs says a professionally installed, monitored alarm system is useful in deterring crime and providing peace of mind to homeowners.
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