There are many things you can do to save money when planning a funeral, memorial service or other celebration of life. They cover items such as the cost of the funeral itself, the casket or burial urn and the location of the cemetery plot. Some apply only if you’re planning a funeral in advance and are not applicable after death. Others may not be appropriate based on your religious beliefs. And a few will be of emotional, not financial, benefit.
Plan ahead. It’s difficult for a loved one to decide on the way in which you’ll be buried and for them to have to make many critical decisions when they are under so much stress, right after your death. If left to the last minute, you funeral will probably cost a lot more than it would have if you had planned it in advance.
Shop around. You may be able to save a great deal of money on your casket, headstone and other things that could be a part of your funeral if you will just comparison shop and negotiate with funeral homes and other vendors. Remember, if you are planning your funeral in advance, you have time to do this.
Ask for a copy of a funeral home’s item-by-item price list. Since there is a single format used by all funeral homes, it makes it easy to compare prices.
Understand the hidden charges. A funeral home package will include charges for things such as a service fee, staffing fee and use of a chapel.
Check out online businesses for your casket or burial urn. You’ll be surprised at how much money you may be able to save since the average markup on a casket ranges between 300% – 500% at a funeral home. On a recent search, I found more than 1,000 burial urns available for auction on eBay and Costco regularly sells coffins on their website.
Select a simple casket. You don’t need the most elaborate, bronze and silk-lined model. If you don’t see a coffin in your price range at a funeral home, insist on seeing ones that are not on display. It’s to a funeral home’s advantage to sell you a more expensive coffin so the lower priced ones are usually stashed in a back room somewhere.
Think about having a closed casket. You may be able to avoid embalming and save as much as $3,000.
Don’t spend extra money on a coffin with special seals. Some funeral directors tout coffins that are air and water tight and will keep bugs out but, in the end, it doesn’t make much difference. All bodies will decompose once they’re in the ground.
Consider cremation. More than 30% of Americans today choose this option. In fact, in the state of Washington, more than 60% of the people are cremated. Cremation can cost a lot less than the burial of a body.
Rent a coffin. If you decide on cremation, think about renting a coffin instead of buying it. That may be a cheaper option. You may also be able to buy a cheap cardboard coffin.
Consider a burial plot in a suburban location. A plot in the middle of a major metropolitan area is a lot more expensive.
Before deciding on a plot, check online for a resale. Many people buy a plot and then later decided not to use it. So they list it for resale, often for much less than a “new” plot would cost. There are many web companies advertising resale of burial plots. You may even find a plot listed for sale in your area on eBay.
Think about a do-it-yourself (home) funeral. Though not very common, this type of funeral is legal in all but five states. Your family and/or friends will have to do all of the work that is usually left to a funeral home but it is the lowest cost type of funeral.
A grave vault is not necessary. Don’t let anyone talk you into one; a grave liner does the same thing and is accepted by most cemeteries. It costs hundreds less.
Decorate the funeral service with special reminders about the deceased’s life. Instead of buying lots of flowers, this is a less expensive, more personal thing to do. Ask friends or relatives to contribute special reminders – photos or mementos from a favorite sport, i.e. a tennis racquet or golf club, awards won or even some favorite foods.
Consider planning a memorial in a favorite place such as a park or a church. It will cost less and mean more.
Bury or cremate the body in some favorite clothes. It’s not necessary and more expensive to buy a new dress or suit to be used for this purpose.
Find out about all of the benefits to which the deceased may be entitled. They may include such things as veterans’ benefits if he or she served in the armed forces or was the spouse of a veteran or worked for the federal government, a Social Security one time death payment of $255 and employer benefits.
If you pay for your funeral in advance, know exactly what has been paid for. Some people think they’re paying for everything and, when it’s too late, their family finds out that they’ve just paid for the casket and burial plot, not for a funeral service or other needed items.
Don’t prepay for your funeral unless you are positive that you live in a state that offers solid consumer protection. In many states, these plans are not well protected by law and your family may find that money is owed on your “prepaid” plan or what you requested will not be delivered.
Keep your money earning interest and working for you until it is needed. If you are setting aside the money that will be used to pay for your funeral, put it into a Totten Trust (funds available immediately upon death; no waiting for probate), a regulated trust or a payable on death funeral insurance policy. If you prepay for a plan at a funeral home, in most states the home is allowed to keep the interest from your money.
Don’t let emotions rule decisions. Consider what makes sense based on finances and the people left behind. Would you prefer to spend a lot of money on the funeral or give it to the heirs?
If you’re making plans for someone going on Medicaid, consider prepaying for their funeral. The Social Security administration considers the “asset” of a prepaid funeral plan as excluded from being counted as a spendable asset if the funds set aside for the funeral are placed in a irrevocable trust.
Don’t hire limousines to take everyone from the funeral home to the cemetery and back. Ask friends to volunteer to drive their own cars and transport others.
Think about donating your body to medical science. The medical institution usually pays all transportation costs and will cremate your body when they are through with it and return the ashes to the person you have designated.
Join a memorial society to get pre-negotiated discounts on funeral merchandise. Because they buy in bulk, their prices may be lower.
If you want to leave a video of yourself for your friends or family to show at your funeral, make it yourself. If you hire a professional, the cost could be over $1,000.
Don’t leave the only copy of funeral plans in a bank safe deposit box. If the bank is closed when you die, your family may not know what’s already been paid for and may pay again.
Talk to your family and/or other loved ones about your plans. Make sure they understand what you want and agree to carry out your wishes. In some states, no matter how you put your wishes in writing, they can be overridden if your family contests them after your death.
Be true to yourself and your beliefs. Don’t be talked into anything that doesn’t make sense to you.