How Much Does a Funeral Cost?
A loved one dying is always difficult and the stress can be overwhelming. Despite your grief you will probably find yourself asking, “How much does a funeral cost?”
You may have life insurance to cover funeral expenses, but average funeral costs are still pretty steep. Researching the costs before planning your loved one’s funeral will help set forth a sensible plan to help you through the funeral process.
Average Funeral Costs
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the average funeral costs in the United States can be well over $10,000 by the time you add floral arrangements, prayer cards and family transportation. Traditionally, when people think of funeral expenses they think of things like a casket and flowers. However, there are other items to take into consideration when planning a funeral, especially if you already cashed out your life insurance policy.
Cemetery Cost. Most people understand that cemetery costs can be profound. Headstones often start around $500 and run upwards of $4000. The materials used for construction contribute to a wide price range. An average granite headstone in 2009 cost about $1500. If your loved one did not already have a cemetery plot, you will need to purchase one. Prices of cemetery plots depend on location. They start as low as a few hundred dollars and can be upward of a few thousand. Also, be prepared to pay someone to open the burial ground, and vault used to reinforce the grave site. Opening the grave and vault preparation are around $600 and $1000 respectively.
Casket Cost. Another major funeral cost is the casket. There are many choices of caskets available from cardboard to stainless steel. According to the Casket & Funeral Supply Association of America, metal caskets were the predominant choice with 65 percent of all caskets sold in 2007. The average cost of a metal casket then was around $2300 as specified by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) price list survey.
Funeral Home Fees. Some items that people neglect to consider are services the funeral home will charge to prepare the funeral arrangements. Most funeral homes will charge a basic services fee. This fee includes expenses such as housing the body, retrieving the death certificates, and collecting burial permits. These fees vary depending on the funeral home used. They average around $1,595.
Ways to Reduce the Cost of a Funeral
Consider Cremation. If you are worried about costs, cremation might be a more sensible choice. It can cut down on funeral costs by eliminating the need for a casket, vault and headstone. If you decide to go with direct cremation, you may be able to eliminate the need for embalming as well. Cremation is becoming a popular choice for many families. In 2008, the U.S. cremation rate was over 36 percent and projected to rise steadily. Cremation services usually start at $1000.
Buy Online. Many online floral shops have funeral service flowers that can be ordered and delivered for a fraction of the cost. In addition, you can order various funeral items online, like caskets and stationary.
Preplan Your Own Funeral
Another way to prevent your family from worrying about how much a funeral cost is to pre-plan your own funeral. Many funeral homes now allow people to pre-plan and pre-pay for their own funerals. Not only does it relieve your family from the stress of having to plan a funeral during a difficult time, it allows them to honor your final wishes.
Economically speaking, it also locks you in at the current prices instead of the inflated prices your family would pay. Though it is hard to think of your own mortality, it would benefit your family both financially and emotionally.
Pre-planned funerals also allow you to concentrate on the grieving process, which is priceless.
I realize this probably isn’t a popular personal finance topic to discuss, but it is one we should discuss. Obviously, spending money during a time of grief isn’t the best time to shop around, so we should force ourselves to think about it sooner rather than later.
Sadly, I’ve had a lot of experience in working with Funeral Directors, Cemeteries & so on. The most important thing is to know the wishes of the deceased and to try to do as much as possible to create the atmosphere that they’ve chosen.
My Grandfather purchased a ton of graves in the 1940’s so we’ve got that part taken care of. Even so, the cemetery has a steep charge for opening and closing the grave and you are at their mercy cost wise. In many states, a vault (grave liner) is required which can be purchased through the cemetery, or on-line for about 1/3 the cemetery price.
I request direct cremation for our family members so there is no service at the funeral home. We’ve used all kinds of urns, and have purchased some from the funeral director. Urns are available on-line also, at a much better price.
We have a graveside service at the cemetery which costs about $50 for an awning/tent and a few chairs.
We purchase the grave marker from a company not related to the cemetery to save the mark up that they try to add on.
http://www.funeral.com is an excellent resource for vaults, urns, and other misc. items.
Our philosophy is to not put money in the ground, so we just do the minimum. In my own case, I’ve asked to be cremated and the ashes will be distributed to various places. There will be a grave marker, but we won’t be paying to open/close the grave. My kids know my wishes and fully support my plan.
Oh, our funerals (with the opening/closing) are about $1800.
Please make your wishes known to your family and make sure that you know what your parents and kids(God forbid!)want. I have a “Final Arrangements” document that formally instructs my kids so that there’s no confusion.
Thanks for the very helpful tips on keeping the costs down. I’m sure many people would much rather spend $1800 than over $10,000.
I agree there’s nothing glamourous about discussing funeral costs, but it is something needs to be done. We just recently started shopping life insurance and funeral costs are one of the things that popped up while thinking about it. It’s gotta be paid for one way or another and it is never going to be a good time to talk about it.
Your post gave me some more things to think about.
Good point Linda, there will never be a good time to talk about it, so you might as well do it now.
As a newspaper reporter, I’ll chime in about the obituaries. Most newspapers charge by the word, or by the line, or by the number of days the notice is published.
The cost can get really high, really fast; especially when multiple newspapers are on your contact list (this is a common situation, with families spread out geographically).
If the newspaper costs don’t allow you enough room to tell the story you wish to give of the deceased, this is what I tell my customers: put the basics in the newspaper obit such as birth date, death date, names of immediate survivors, time and date and location of services. Most obituaries that cross my desk include all of that key information in 250 to 300 words. (You might have less room at some newspapers before the cost gets outrageous).
Then provide a longer biographical writeup as you see fit via a handout for visitors at the funeral home — or on a guest book web site.
My parents both chose cremation. To me it’s kind of ugly: you’re left with a box full of ashes (ugh!) and memories that entail visualizing a human body being immolated.
Me, I’d rather be returned to the earth, but not if it costs my son 10 grand.
How sad, to be forced to something you really don’t WANT as your last wish.
Do so-called “green” burials cost any less?
Actually, if you don’t like the idea of cremation and don’t want to spend the money to get buried there are sites that will send your remains into space for as low as 900$. I don’t know the exact details but it might be worth looking into.
This is very good information. Informative, and easy to understand. As far as being left with a “box of ashes,” there’s a growing trend today in the personalization of end of life issues. For example, when my husband died, we had a beautiful memorial ceremony in the yard. It was officiated by a spiritual person and friends and family contributed with stories and blessings. We had him direct cremated.
My company, Shine On Brightly, at http://www.shineonbrightly.com, features very affordable urns and other memorials – all handmade by artists. It provides an alternative to the box or the impersonal, mass-produced urns found at most funeral homes.
Don’t Pre-pay for a funeral. Plan ahead, yes. And set money aside. And definitely shop around and educate yourself and your survivors about the options. Make your choices. But don’t pre-pay.
I have been educating myself. Check out all the scandals in recent years about pre-paid monies for funerals — not just embezzlement of money that should have been in trust (huge instances of this), but companies bought out by large conglomerates not honoring previous contracts (very frequently your local funeral home is no longer owned locally, though it might not be obvious), companies gone out of business, or the options you have chosen might not be available so you have to pay more for the same item. Or suppose you end up moving at the end of your life to live with a relative? The money may not be transferable. If you pay on a time plan, you can end up paying a lot more for the funeral. So many things can go wrong.
I have found the best source of independent info on funerals is at the Funeral Consumers Association (FCA) at http://funerals.ORG (not .COM notice) — they are the white knights of the funeral consumer movement. They have affiliates in most states, too.
There is also the Funeral Ethics Organization and Lisa Carlson who wrote a book _Caring for Your Own Dead_ — a book that tells you state by state what the situation is; I found it in my local library, and I think there is a new version out now. A friend just sent me a new FREE pamphlet (downloadable .pdf file) from there on options for pre-planning the money without pre-paying. Those are also different by state since the laws protecting your money vary a great deal.
Click on Pre-Need.
Did you know you can buy your casket online or elsewhere and the local funeral home has to accept it at no cost? Did you know they have to give you a printed price list? There is some type of federal funeral rule that regulates them, or is supposed to.
Anyway, I am just another consumer but I am learning. Educate yourself and above all, shop around before hand — you’ll be amazed at the price variations!
The funeral service provide cannot decline your choice to opt out of buying anything in their inventory. Essentially you are paying for the services they provide. The funeral homes makes their gains from selling high ticket items such as caskets, urns, etc… (many over priced) If you are reluctant in purchasing items from that they own, they be less inclined to give you a fair price for their services. (they are there to make money also)
There are rules and regulations but they are loosely monitored in this industry.
Save the $10,000 that you would spend on funeral expenses and opt for cremation. Spread the ashes at sea or in the mountains and throw a fabulous wake. Bank $9,000+ for your children’s college tuition or your under-funded retirement.
If you are concerned about the cost of your funeral, you should look into small whole-life insurance products refered to as Final Expense policies. They have somewhat more relaxed underwriting and can be purchased in amounts from 2,000 to 50,000. This type of policy is good for anyone who does’nt want to burden their family with a bill at their passing. The good thing about them is they pay money directly to your family. This is a way of pre paying for your funeral while at the same time keeping control over your money. I am biased because this is what I sell, but the need is there and this is a very affordable option.