Protecting Your Home: When Winter Storms Roll In, So Can Bills

Whether it's low temperatures or piles of snow you're fighting, here's how you can save money on heat and more.



“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” — C.S. Lewis

GROW STRONG: Stay safe during the severe winter cold.

Please. The National Weather Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency have issued multiple warnings about this week’s arctic blast and its potential for life-threatening conditions and record-low temperatures in the eastern two-thirds of the country.

How low? As one headline from The Weather Channel summed it up, “Midwest cities will be colder than Antarctica.”

Your safety comes first. The government’s site has a checklist on preparing for and getting through severe winter weather, including what supplies you should have at home and in your car.

You can take one financial worry off your plate as you brace for the polar vortex. Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover claims from winter storm winds, snow and ice, says Peter Kochenburger, deputy director of the Insurance Law Center at the University of Connecticut. So if the record-low temps result in a frozen pipe that bursts and causes water damage, insurance should foot the bill for damage to your home and possessions.

But it’s a good idea to check your policy details. You’d have to pay the deductible before your insurer would pick up that claim. Depending on your policy details, that could be a few hundred dollars, a $1,000, or even more.

Some of the same smart moves we’d urge you to take to stay safe also have the added benefit of protecting your finances:

  • Stay home. “Don’t drive unless you have to,” says Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America. “Driving in ice and snow, insurance claims rise quickly.” According to data from the Federal Highway Administration, icy pavement was a factor in 13 percent of weather-related crashes—and 1 in 10 weather-related crash fatalities—each year from 2007 to 2016.
  • Carefully use space heaters. Fires from home heaters are a common winter insurance claim, says Michael Barry, a vice president at the Insurance Information Institute. Keep those devices away from curtains and other things that could burn. Turn the heater off when you leave the room, and when you go to sleep.
  • Run the tap. If you have pipes that are vulnerable to the cold, the easiest thing you can do is turn on the faucet just enough to let the water drip, Hunter says. “You’re going to spend a little more on water,” he says—maybe $10 more over the whole winter. Not a bad save to head off frozen-pipe damages that can easily top $5,000, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

WHAT’S GROWING ON SAVE: Date night, hold the popcorn

Sometimes, I smuggle my own snacks into the movie theater. You know, when I don’t feel like blowing what feels like my weekly grocery budget on overpriced (but delicious!) popcorn.

I feel safe in confessing this to you, because odds are good you’ve done the same. In a recent survey from mobile shopping app Ibotta on questionable money-saving tactics, 81 percent of people admitted to bringing their own candy and snacks into movie theaters. Other highlights from the survey: 1 in 3 have created a new email to get a retailer’s “new customer” deal, and 33 percent have freeloaded on someone else’s account for a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu. A third say they have taken office supplies home.

SPEND: The price tag on happiness is lower than you expect

The happiest people use their money to buy time, according to a series of articles in the Harvard Business Review. One nugget to take away: You don’t need to have a lot of money, or make a huge purchase, to get that happiness boost.

Researchers found that spending as little as $40 on something that saves time (in their example, an hour of home cleaning through Taskrabbit), is going to make you happier than spending that same amount on stuff (a few weeks of coffee purchases). Especially if you use that purchased time to do something you enjoy. They found the less you earn, the greater the happiness boost from trading money for time.

Think of this as another nudge to save and invest now, so you can spend your time having more time.

INVEST: How to avoid falling victim to financial fraud

Keeping your money safe requires watchfulness. Earlier this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced a court action ordering the alleged conductors of a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme to pay $1 billion in penalties and repayments.

A Ponzi scheme draws in investors with the promise of great returns, but never actually puts money in the market. Instead, that cash is used either to pay off earlier investors or benefit those behind the scheme.

The court order is a key step to help recover money for the 8,400 investors, many of whom were seniors. It highlights the importance of digging into the background of the financial professionals you’re working with, and those you’re considering hiring.

CNBC recommends using industry tools to do a background check, asking questions about how the pro gets paid, and checking your statements for unusual activity. High-pressure sales tactics and overly complicated investments are other red flags.

"If a retail investor can't understand the investment, they ought not pursue that opportunity," Owen Donley, chief counsel at the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy at the SEC, tells CNBC.

INSPIRE:'Won’t you be my neighbor?'

After a tragic event, you’ll often see a particular quote from the late great Fred Rogers circulating on social media: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ' Look for the helpers . You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world."

It’s a quote that has inspired many, among them director Morgan Neville. At a recent screening of his 2018 documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” Neville credited that special of Rogers—which was broadcast after Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination to help children to make sense of the news—with spurring him to make the film. He said he wanted Rogers’ optimism to come through.

“I think one of the questions is: Did he die with his hope intact? It’s what (his widow) Joanne is asking. I think 100 percent, I believe that he died with his hope intact, and I felt like that was the gift I wanted the film to reflect,” Neville explains. “I didn’t want people to come out feeling hopeless.”

Faced with winter weather, let’s take a page from Mister Rogers’ examples and be good neighbors by looking out for each other during this record-setting cold spell. FEMA recommends checking in on friends, family and neighbors, especially if they’re older.


A moment of mindfulness.

"One of the greatest dignities of humankind is that each successive generation is invested in the welfare of each new generation." — Mister Rogers