Six Ways to Save on Funeral Expenses

Funerals can be very expensive, but planning ahead and finding ways to lower funeral expenses can make a stressful time more manageable.

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

You might be surprised to know that end-of-life costs are just as, if not more, expensive than the cost of living in the United States. A single, total funeral expense can cost up to two to three months' worth of one person’s living expenses, and if you’re not prepared, these costs can leave a significant financial burden on the loved ones you leave behind.

Whether you are preparing for a funeral for yourself or a loved one, it is important to know that there are ways you can arrange a funeral without breaking the bank — and most of these tips are based on planning in advance.

What is included in usual funeral expenses?

The average funeral cost in the U.S. can be anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000, depending on the type of funeral you’re planning. The usual funeral expenses one would typically incur are for:

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  • Funeral service
  • Facilities and venue for viewing
  • Facilities and venue for ceremonies
  • Casket or urn
  • Cremation
  • Vehicle transfer of body
  • Embalming
  • Cosmetic services on remains
  • Funeral plot
  • Headstone

These do not include the other costs incurred by loved ones, such as transportation from out of town, snacks and meals for visitors during the wake, ceremonies and burial.

Tips on how to save on funeral expenses

Pre-planning is the secret to saving costs on funeral expenses. Here are six ways to cut the costs on end-of-life services.

1. Know what kind of funeral is wanted.

If you are pre-planning your funeral or a funeral for someone else, it is best to get the recipient's opinion on the kind of funeral service they would like. While it seems like a taboo topic to discuss, it helps the person and the family get things in order ahead of time.

Decide on a cremation or a burial. To compare, cremation costs are usually cheaper than burial costs, as cremation eliminates the need for embalming and purchasing a plot of land for burial.

2. Purchase burial insurance.

Burial insurance is life insurance that helps your loved ones pay your funeral costs and debts in the event of death. This type of insurance usually accumulates cash value and stays in effect as long as premiums are paid.

Acquiring burial insurance for yourself or your loved ones allows you to save and pre-pay funeral costs in the form of premiums, leaving only minimal or even no fees to be paid when the time comes.

A $10,000 burial insurance benefit requires a $30 to $35 monthly premium for a 50-year-old man (this may vary depending on factors affecting health and coverage).

3. Do the research and compare prices.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces The Funeral Rule wherein you can do comparison shopping of funeral homes and choose only the services you want. The FTC requires funeral homes to disclose information such as product and service prices to customers, including an itemized list of such during phone calls or personal visits.

For example, caskets are a high cost for burial, and funeral homes should provide you with a general price list (GPL) of these caskets, including their detailed information, so you can choose the lowest-priced casket available, if that’s what you want.

Another important tidbit: Embalming is not legally required by any state after death. Embalming may be necessary if the remains are not buried within a specific time frame for some states, but many do not require it at all.

Some funeral homes may require you to embalm the remains for public viewing. We recommend asking if refrigeration is available and if a family can have a private viewing without embalming — if that option works for you.

4. Choose immediate burial or cremation.

One cost-effective option for funeral expenses is immediate burial or cremation. With direct burial, you can eliminate embalming costs, which can be anywhere from $600 to $1,500. Immediate burial or cremation also reduces the payment cost for facilities and venue for viewing.

Many funeral homes offer basic funeral packages that don’t include funeral viewing, averaging $2,300, not including the casket.

5. Opt for a simple wake and funeral service.

If you don’t want to bypass a wake and funeral service, keeping it simple is the best way to save on funeral expenses. A funeral wake and service can be as simple and as extravagant as the family would like, but holding it simple could mean:

  • Keeping the wake to fewer days
  • Choosing a less expensive coffin
  • Having a family member manage or oversee the wake and funeral service rather than a funeral director
  • Not doing a procession
  • Limiting the number of visitors or attendees

6. Consider donating your body for science.

Registering your intent to donate your body for science and medical research is a way to save costs on funeral expenses and also contribute to society. This comes at no cost to the donors, while it helps researchers learn more about the body and certain diseases.

Most donation programs start with registering your intent and signing a declaration. However, if you are already an organ donor, that would take priority over body donation.

There are many medical facilities and research centers where you can donate a body in the U.S., such as UCLA’s Donated Body Program or the Yale School of Medicine’s Willed Body Donation Program.

A family can still do a simple memorial service, but donation eliminates all the other costs incurred to preserve, transport and bury the remains.

In conclusion

Losing a loved one is difficult and emotional enough, so having as much as possible planned and paid-for funeral expenses beforehand can help ease the family’s mental and financial burden and allow the family to focus more on honoring their loved one’s memory.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Anthony Martin
CEO and Founder, Choice Mutual

Anthony Martin is CEO and Founder of Choice Mutual. Nationally licensed life insurance agent with 10+ years of experience. Official Member at Forbes Finance Council. Obsessed with finances, building tech and collaborating with other successful entrepreneurs.