5 Steps to Managing the Costs of a Funeral

It can be hard to make good decisions amid the grief of a loved one's death. Here are ways to arrange the farewell you want without overspending.

No matter how inevitable death is, many of us are still caught off-guard when it’s time to make funeral arrangements for a loved one.

When we plan funerals, we are often under time pressure. Also, as can happen with weddings, there may be social pressure to honor the deceased with an opulent event.

What can you do to plan a funeral at a reasonable price? Consider these ideas:

1. Shop

Federal law is on your side. Funeral homes must disclose the prices of their services, according to the . Many providers have menus that lay out costs for various services and options, and they should share these prices with you whether you’re meeting in person or inquiring by phone.

However, don’t let your guard down. Although price disclosure is a federal law, a 2014 survey found that about 25 percent of funeral homes don’t comply.

Go online to compare local services. lists prices from providers, and the site is searchable by ZIP code. The price listings may not be exact, the site notes, since they do change over time — but they can save on legwork and haggling during an already-difficult time.

2. Prioritize

What is the most important element of the funeral? Is it a coffin and vault? A large headstone? An elegant wake? Weigh your options and preferences, and then plan how to allocate your money.

You can purchase or other retailers that are likely to be less expensive than buying from a funeral home. Urns are available from a wide array of retailers, including , , vendors on and elsewhere online. And you may be able to bury a person on privately owned land and avoid paying for a cemetery plot, but be sure to check local ordinances.

Understand that these options might involve trade-offs. You might need to pay delivery fees for the casket you bought at a big-box retailer. And you may be able to bury a body on your property, but it could impact your property value.

3. Mix and match services and goods

Just because you go to a funeral home doesn’t mean you need to buy a package of services. In fact, you might mix and match services and goods, such as purchasing a casket at Costco but the liner from the funeral home.

The advantage of using a funeral home — whether for a traditional burial or cremation — is that funeral directors and their staff typically take care of many details at a time when your energy level might be low due to grief. These include placing obituaries, accepting flowers and other gifts for the family, coordinating vigils and even coordinating with the church for meals after the service.

4. Consider a DIY funeral

A growing number of people are returning to at-home funerals, reported a couple of years ago. These intimate end-of-life rituals are usually conducted by family members, who may also have assistance from funeral directors, clergy or home funeral guides.

They are usually much less expensive than mainstream funerals — typically costing under $200, compared with $8,343 for the average professionally directed funeral, according to the nonprofit .

The NHFA, which provides support and resources for families seeking this alternative, emphasizes the spiritual, environmental and therapeutic benefits of the home funeral.

Families who choose to care for their own report a sense of completion, a feeling of having done their best for those they love, and a stronger connection to their friends and family and community. Having something meaningful to do to help others through a crisis or sorrowful time is usually empowering for all involved.

The NHFA notes that laws governing home funerals vary, and provides a of requirements.

5. Look into pre-need funeral options

As the name implies, pre-need services usually allow you to design and pay for a funeral and burial before those services are needed. If you choose this option for yourself, you could be doing your family a great favor by lifting from them the burden of planning and making your wishes clear.

The pre-need approach allows you to discuss and choose services and goods, sometimes without paying for them in advance, . There are also pre-need agreements that allow you to pay in advance for a funeral and burial services you request.

If you opt for a pre-need agreement, verify that the price paid locks in the cost of services and goods. You can also buy pre-need insurance to cover predetermined costs of your funeral and burial. (Note: This is different from life insurance that allows beneficiaries discretion over how to use the funds.) Each of these plans can have limitations buried in the fine print. Be sure to research them carefully.

What’s your experience handling the memorial and burial costs for a loved one? Share with us in comments below or on our .

Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham

Nancy Dunham is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

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