11 Ways to Have a Memorable Funeral on the Cheap

Alternatives to a full-blown funeral and burial are much less expensive. Here are some great options.

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 11 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. This 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. In 2016, 50.2 percent of those who died in the U.S. were cremated, the Funeral Directors Association says.

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. But the green burial trend is growing. The Natural Burial Co., which distributes green 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 burial. 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 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 is done free of charge. For more information, check out ScienceCare, 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.

Marilyn Lewis
Marilyn Lewis
After a career in daily newspapers I moved to the world of online news in 2001. I specialize in writing about personal finance, real estate and retirement. I love how the Internet ... More

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