11 Ways to Make a Funeral Affordable but Not Cheap

Advertising Disclosure: When you buy something by clicking links on our site, we may earn a small commission, but it never affects the products or services we recommend.

Cremation urn at a funeral
Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

Funeral planning is something most of us would prefer to avoid. But it’s important to take control of this process. If you don’t, you might needlessly spend thousands of extra dollars in costs.

Following are some key ways to save on the costs of a funeral — whether you’re planning your own or someone else’s.

1. Shop around

Call funeral homes and ask for their “general price list.” By law, this list must itemize charges. Having the list lets you compare costs accurately. Also, ask for the prices of packaged services.

2. Choose direct burial

A funeral home’s least expensive option is a direct burial, in which the body is buried soon after death, with no embalming or visitation.

A Federal Trade Commission pamphlet says:

“Costs include the funeral home’s basic services fee, as well as transportation and care of the body, the purchase of a casket or burial container and a cemetery plot or crypt. If the family chooses to be at the cemetery for the burial, the funeral home often charges an additional fee for a graveside service.”

3. Simplify the casket

Good funeral directors will help you find a casket that is within your budget. Watch out for up-selling, where a salesperson pushes higher-priced or unnecessary items.

4. Choose cremation

Cremation can be a cheaper alternative to burial. Americans’ preference for cremation is growing. According to the National Funeral Directors Association:

“By 2040 … the cremation rate in the U.S. is projected to be 78.7% while the burial rate is predicted to be just 15.7%, signifying that cremation is no fading trend — it is the new norm, set in motion by Baby Boomers’ evolving end-of-life preferences.”

5. Provide your own urn

Funeral homes and crematoriums usually give you the cremation ashes — called cremains — in a plastic bag inside a plastic box. An urn isn’t needed if you intend to scatter the ashes.

To keep cremains at home, you will want an urn or container. These are sold by crematoriums and funeral homes. You can skip this purchase by providing a nice box or container from home.

6. Opt for a ‘green’ burial

A “green” or “natural” burial is cheaper and avoids using toxic embalming chemicals and steel caskets, which don’t biodegrade.

Only a couple dozen “natural burial grounds” around the country accept shrouded bodies instead of those in a casket. But the green burial trend is growing. The Natural Burial Co., which distributes biodegradable burial products, has more information.

7. Hold the funeral at home

Home funerals can include a variety of activities, from holding a memorial service to preparing the body for burial, holding visiting hours or a wake, or building the coffin.

Threshold Care Circle offers workshops and education in home funerals and green burials. Another resource is the National Home Funeral Alliance. Reclaiming once-common death practices is done not only to save money but also to renew the meaning and intimacy of the rituals.

8. Have the funeral at church

A service at a church, mosque, temple or synagogue can be less expensive than one at a funeral home. Costs vary, so phone around for prices.

Although clergy members typically officiate for free, it’s customary — and thoughtful — to tactfully give an honorarium. The amount is up to you.

9. Learn about veterans benefits

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays certain burial and funeral allowances. Check out the VA website for eligibility and rules.

For other benefits — including the presentation of an American flag and playing of taps at a veteran’s funeral — ask your funeral director or call the VA at 800-827-1000.

10. Check into Social Security help

Social Security pays a lump-sum $255 death payment to a surviving child or spouse who meets certain requirements. The Social Security Administration has details online. Or, you can call 800-772-1213 or visit a local Social Security office.

11. Donate your body to science

Making a “whole body” donation for use in scientific research and education brings funeral costs to zero.

Afterward, cremation of the remains is done free of charge. For more information, check out Science Care, a company that connects donors with researchers and educators.

The nonprofit Anatomy Gifts Registry does similar work.

How do you plan to cut funeral costs? Tell us by leaving a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Get smarter with your money!

Want the best money-news and tips to help you make more and spend less? Then sign up for the free Money Talks Newsletter to receive daily updates of personal finance news and advice, delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our free newsletter today.