Low-Cost Funeral Options

Today’s average funeral costs upwards of $6,500. That’s right – over six grand.

Fortunately, there are ways to lower funeral costs. Here are some helpful hints on how to find low-cost funeral options. A special thank you to the readers who have lost loved ones and funeral directors who all gave us their time and ideas.

Financing

  1. Read through the will
    There may already be funeral pre-arrangements, including prepayment for services. Don’t know where the will might be? Think of safe deposit boxes, safes, other special storage areas the loved one might have had.
  2. Review the life insurance policy
    Burial and funeral costs may be covered under their policy. Contact the agent and ask about the policy coverage and options.
  3. Contact organizations
    If your loved one was a member of a certain organizations, they may be eligible for certain burial benefits.
    • Some U.S. veterans may be eligible for certain burial benefits – headstones, burial flags, grave site - at no cost. Burial allowances may also be available. Visit the Department of Veterans Affairs web site to learn more.
    • Veteran benefits might be also be available at the state and county level – contact your local VFW or American Legion post to learn more about these options.
    • Additionally, spouses and children of veterans might be eligible for certain burial benefits such as a grave site and marker. To learn more, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  4. Apply for aid
    Certain states might have burial allowances or public aid available to eligible individuals and families.
  5. Apply for Social Security Death and Survivor Benefits
    A one-time payment of $255 is payable to the surviving spouse if he or she was living with the beneficiary at the time of death. Visit the SSA's website to learn more.

Low-cost Burial Options

  1. Consider the type of burial or service the loved one would have preferred.
    Don’t know? This might be written down in the will or other funeral prearrangement documents.
  2. Cremation.
    “The least expensive way to handle death, again depending on local laws, is to cremate the body, put the ashes in a can or plastic bag,” according to Deborah Bowen, author of A Good Friend for Bad Times: Helping Others Through Grief. “In most states, you don’t have to buy an urn (a coffee can will do). There are state and federal laws regarding distribution of ashes, and those vary.”

    Under the Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer direct cremations:
    • may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do;
    • must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation; and
    • must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.
  3. Green burials.
    A “green” burial often takes the environment into account and foregoes things like vaults, headstones, certain casket types, and embalming.
    • “Most states don't require embalming unless the body is being transported over state lines,” says Bowen. “If the body is being buried, and depending on the rules of the cemetery, states have laws regarding casket type, whether or not there is a vault, and headstones.” For more information on green burials, visit the Green Burial Council's website.
    • If you’d like a less expensive casket, you can always make, or have a friend make, the casket. According to the Funeral Rule, the funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought (or made) elsewhere.
  4. Total body donation to a medical school.
    After the scientific study of a donated body is completed, many medical schools will cremate the remains and return them to the family. Check with medical schools in your area to learn more about their policies and procedures. For more information, visit U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Organ Donation

Low-cost Service Options

  1. Plan a memorial service instead of a funeral service.
    In this case, there would be no need for embalming, a fancy casket, or expensive transporting of the body. Private family visitation and "good- byes" can occur in the hospital or home, before you call a funeral director.

    Then, go to a church, park, or community center for the memorial service without the attending funeral home staff (call ahead to make reservations). You can then comfortably consider using a low-cost funeral director from another community to transport the body directly to a crematory or cemetery, if the local prices are too high.
  2. Host an “Open House”-style memorial service.
    With this option, there is no body present. The open house-style service is held in the deceased’s home, a friend or family member’s home, or another location that might be willing to host you free of charge (town hall, local churches, member organizations, local park, etc.). You will probably need to make reservations if using a different facility than your home.

    To limit expenses, ask friends and family to bring:

    • food and beverages to share
    • extra chairs and tables
    • tablecloths
    • napkins
    • plates
    • silverware
    • glasses
    • music
    • stories
    • flowers/decorations

    NOTE: If you would like to have the body present for the service or visitation, you will need to make those arrangements with the funeral director.
  3. Ask a friend or family member to help with service duties.
    Ask someone to :
    • lead the service instead of hiring an officiant (funeral director, clergy, etc)
    • help with cleaning and the set-up/take down for the service
    • design, write, and print the service programs
    • assist with child care
    • provide extra lodging for immediate family members
    • transport guests to and from the airport and their lodging
    • send out invitations (It is fine to cut costs by using email or phone invitations instead of traditional mail invitations.)
  4. Obituaries can be quite pricey.
    Many papers will charge a flat fee and also an additional dollar amount per line. Consider the length when writing the obituary. Also, compare prices between papers before submitting the obituary. Read our Writing an Obituary article to learn more.

Comparing Prices

While comparing prices might take time, it might be worth it. Sam Jernigan, who lost her beloved husband about 6 months ago, paid over $9,000 for the funeral, even after eliminating embalming costs, headstone costs, and an indoor chapel service (she chose a graveside service instead). “I'm still flumoxed as to why [the cost] was so high but was, of course, shell-shocked while making these sad arrangements,” says Jernigan. “After the fact, I learned that Costco sells caskets for less than half what I paid, about $1200 as I recall, for what definitely looked to be comparable.”

  1. First, review the Funeral Rule:
    The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, is a federal law that makes it easier for you to choose only those goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select, whether you are making arrangements pre-need or at need.
    It requires funeral directors to give you itemized prices in person and, if you ask, over the phone, says Cade Williamson, owner of Legacy Funeral Home in Chattanooga, TN. The Rule also requires funeral directors to give you other information about their goods and services. Read our Choosing a Funeral Home article to learn more about the Funeral Rule.
  2. Ask friends and family members for referrals for trusted and reputable funeral homes in the area.
  3. Call funeral homes to compare prices or have a friend do this for you. Use these questions from our Choosing a Funeral Home article and take plenty of notes.
    • Sometimes family-owned homes can be cheaper than corporate chains. “Our competitors are corporate homes and their prices can be about 30% higher,” says Williamson.

    It is a good idea to plan out your funeral and service requirements now so you can pass on your wishes to family and friends. It may save your loved ones hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars and you will have the service you like.

    Last Updated: 5/2009