Every homeowner that isn't a total clutz should own a multimeter. If, for nothing else, to see if a battery is any good. A poor substitute is an inductive voltage detecter or a test light.
Yes, you can hurt yourself, but as long as you don't short the probe tip to something, or touch exposed metal parts of the probe while it's connected to something, it's pretty safe. The things come with some instructions...practice on a battery. Don't use ohms when power is applied, and unless it is autoranging, set the range to something above what you expect to read. Most of the newer meters aren't damaged unless you exceed the maximum it can handle...it will just say overload or something like that if it is on the wrong range (most these days are autoranging). Sears has one on sale this week that includes an inductive voltage probe - you just get it near the thing, and if there is power, it lights up.