Funeral Costs and Expenses

Cost Cutting Funeral Tips

1 Plan
Ever notice how often you grab items near the checkout stand and spend money you didn't want to? That's because retailers planned ... on your impulsive nature and lack of time to consider. And you didn't. It costs money to spend in a hurry. For that reason, thinking about your disposition, planning and communicating make for money-saving.

Don't leave your survivors scrambling to make funeral plans during a time of shock, loss and grief.

To help, we offer the perfect, free tool to help you think through the many decisions to be made. It's called Plan Your Funeral. It is your online funeral planning tool. It's free! Click Plan Your Funeral on the top menu bar and begin considering how you want to reflect your life, your values and your pocketbook. Successive clicks will move you through the seven steps of Plan Your Funeral, a planning process that will take between 30 and 60 minutes. You can stop at any time; your entries will be saved. You can return to Plan Your Funeral at any time to edit your choices as your preferences change.

2 Compare
The funeral home's General Price List (GPL) is one of the most important tools you have for controlling and understanding funeral costs. The GPL describes all the goods and the services the funeral home offers, along with the price of each. Like a menu in a restaurant, the GPL allows you to select the items you want, and it tells how much each will cost.

The Federal Trade Commission's "Funeral Rule" requires funeral homes to give customers a General Price List at the beginning of any discussion of arrangements. The funeral director must give you a copy to keep.

3 Cremate
No doubt about it, the biggest money saver is direct cremation. "Eight out of 10 times, cremation is about cost," says a veteran employee of a Los Angeles-area crematory. Cremation can immediately save cemetery plot costs, casket costs, headstone costs, grave opening and closing costs, all sorts of costs.

The National Funeral Directors Association states that the average cost of a “regular adult funeral” (funeral with embalming, viewing and a metal casket) is now $7,300. This sum is based on data from 2006 and does not including the cemetery plot, grave marker and grave opening and closing fees. With those added expenses and inflation the funeral with burial is more realistically around at least $9,000. Cremation can save at least $2,000 off the cost of a funeral with burial.

In cremation a body is reduced by burning to a grainy substance officially called "cremains" but often referred to as ashes.

Selecting cremation as the disposition doesn't diminish the value of all the traditional elements of a disposition by burial. Funeral homes can provide viewing and visitation of the dressed and prepared body in a casket prior to the cremation. The funeral ceremony is just as important with cremation disposition as it is with a burial disposition.

4 Join a nonprofit funeral association or society
The power of community can save you money. Funeral societies contract with funeral homes to provide services at a fixed, lowered cost. Many of these societies aim for the $1,000 mark, cremation falling below that figure and burial falling a little above.

Keep in mind not all societies have low-cost goals as mission statements. Some very much for-profit outfits have stuck the word "society" on their names hoping to lure people looking for low-cost disposition. The society you want is the nonprofit variety.

Bear in mind societies contract for bare-bones disposition most often providing cremation packages but some offer burial packages as well.

Be aware societies vary, too. Some are run on a shoestring making use of volunteer help. Some have paid staff. Some have the wherewithal to conduct surveys of funeral home and cemetery costs, which are later published to great interest by general-readership newspapers as well as senior citizen-targeted publications.

5 Use your veteran’s benefit
The Veterans Administration offers many burial benefits to honorably discharged veterans. Benefits include a gravesite in any of the 125 national cemeteries with available space. Spouses and dependent children are also eligible for burial in a national cemetery. Services and benefits include opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, government headstone or marker, burial flag, and Presidential Memorial Certificate -- all at no cost to the family. Some veterans may also be eligible for burial allowances. Cremated remains are buried or interred in national cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains.

Regardless of cemetery, a government headstone or a grave marker and a burial flag can be provided at no cost.

The Navy provides burial at sea and remains scattering from aboard USN vessels. Active-duty personnel, honorably discharged or retired, civilian marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command, and dependent family of active-duty personnel are eligible. Eligible individuals should make known their desire for such disposition in writing; vets will not be surprised to learn the Navy has a form for this. Burial at sea of casketed or cremated remains is performed during deployment, thus family members cannot attend.

6 Donate your body to science
Universities will often pay to transport a willed body to their medical schools. The university will often bury cremated remains in a community plot or scatter the ashes when the university's medical school students finish their studies of a donated body, also at no cost to the family. If requested, some schools will give the ashes to the family.

Be aware that often university's willed body programs reserve the right to reject a body, which would require the family paying to transport the body elsewhere. Certain other considerations apply, so review the acceptance policy carefully.

Willed body programs require registration in the programs and administrators really, really, really want donors to have back-up plans lest some reason for rejection arises.

7 Bring your own casket or urn
You can save money with a bring-your-own-container approach. Funeral directors often mark up casket and urn costs up to two-and-half times. If they buy a casket for $1,000, they sell it for $2,500. Per the Funeral Rule, funeral directors cannot charge a fee if you wish to use a casket or urn not purchased at their mortuaries. Thus, you're free to shop around.

Visit our Product Gallery to view thousands of urns and caskets available online.

8 Hold the gathering in a park
Hold a funeral or an end-of-life celebration in a city, state or national park – especially if a particular site held specific meaning for the decedent. Many parks allow reservations of special picnic areas. Bring prepared foodstuffs from somewhere such as Costco Wholesale or from your local grocer or deli, or make it a potluck celebration. Remember that many parks don’t allow alcohol.

9 Have a home funeral
Home funerals are starting to catch on. Or come around again. The death rituals of our forebears used to include preparing loved ones for burial, setting them in the parlor for visitation as mourners come to pay respects. It was a caring demonstration.

As time went on, enterprising types realized they could offer bigger parlors to families without proper space, and they could attend the other tasks as well. So came into being death-care businesses known as "funeral parlors" and "funeral homes." We took back our parlors, and started calling them "living rooms," but lost touch with personal sendoffs and rituals that belong to respecting and mourning our loved ones.

Lately, a growing number of people have wanted to return to the old customs to restore a missing element of loved-one care. Home Funeral Specialists can advise on how to prepare the loved one's body, that is, clean, dress and cool it, navigate necessary paperwork, and make decisions pertinent to memorializing a life ended. Home funeral specialists are also called "death midwives" or "death doulas". One group, has created a home funeral guide called, Undertaken With Love: A Home Funeral Guide for Congregations and Communities. The guide can be downloaded for free at their website www.homefuneralmanual.org.

Undertaken With Love will teach your congregational bereavement care committee or other social group:

  • How to start a home funeral committee,
  • How to research and identify your legal rights, options and responsibilities,
  • How to handle, bathe and transport the body,
  • How to sustain an effective home funeral committee.

You are not required by law to use a funeral home to care for a body after death. You can prepare the body in the decedent’s home by yourself or with help from friends. Using dry ice, you can keep the body at home for up to three days while you privately mourn or hold viewings or gatherings for friends or relatives.

For more information about home funerals, www.Final Passages.org. Final Passages has an excellent step-by-step guide for $50 on how to arrange a home funeral.

10 Be creative
Flower growers sell bulk flowers. Buy them loose and arrange as suits or make individual favors for funeral or memorial attendees. Buy plain bound notebooks and decorate them into remembrance books. Create a free Web site dedicated to your loved one. Write a commemorative poem or story. Compose a piece of music. Solicit favorite phrases about your loved one from friends and combine them into a remembrance collage.

11 Purchase funeral insurance from an insurance company
(known as Final Expense Insurance, Burial Insurance, Funeral Insurance or Poor Man’s Will Insurance.)
Usually a policy worth between $3,000 and $15,000, payable to a named beneficiary immediately following the insured’s death. The funds are not subject to probate. The money is intended to cover funeral expenses but can be used in any way the beneficiary wants.

Find out more about Funeral Insurance.