Funeral Costs

Twelve Reasons People Spend "Too Much" for a Funeral

1. Fulfilling the role of grieving "helplessness." Many people feel so devastated and overwhelmed at a time of death that they assume they should leave all funeral planning to the funeral director. Said one mortician, That's like giving the funeral director a blank check. Being actively involved in funeral planning can be very therapeutic, and you won't be grieving over the bill later.


2. Guilt or proof of love. People often think that how much they spend is a demonstration of how much they love someone. And spending is often used as a way to make up for perceived omissions-"I should have visited the nursing home more often."


3. Poor family planning. When Mom dies, it may be altogether too easy to say, "I want one just like Dad's funeral," without looking at the actual cost to see if that would make a difference. If Mom had always said she wanted something "simple" and you aren't sure what she meant, you may end up purchasing a great deal more than something truly "simple." Or perhaps Mom told everyone what kind of funeral she wanted, but she had no idea that it would cost far more than anyone could afford. One gentleman was still paying for his wife's funeral when he died eight years later.


4. "What will other people think?" Fear of being "different" or "cheap." Funeral sales literature today commonly refers to a "traditional" funeral package (meaning elaborate and a good profit margin for the mortician), with one funeral often looking just like the next. Families can enjoy making their own traditions. A unique and personalized memorial observance is what others will remember.


5. Status in the community. One may feel obligated to put on a big "show" when the deceased has been prominent during his or her lifetime. For the cremation of the author of The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford's family spent just under $500. Shortly thereafter, they hosted a grand memorial gathering. It was very much in keeping with Jessica's disdain of lavish funeral merchandise but love of a good party.


6. Didn't shop around for a funeral home with ethical prices. Many assume a funeral will cost just about the same anywhere. Or perhaps there's only one funeral home nearby, so why bother. Surprisingly, you can save thousands of dollars-if you take the time to get prices before the moment of need. If you are choosing body donation or an immediate burial or cremation, without any funeral rituals at the mortuary, then it may not matter how far away the funeral home is.


7. Failure to get or read the price list. This is related to the previous item but is especially important if you choose a funeral home without shopping around. The Federal Trade Commission protects a consumer's right to choose only those funeral goods and services you want. Although some funeral homes are not yet in compliance with the required price disclosure in a clear format and may not give the price list in a timely way, anecdotal reports indicate that many consumers aren't reading the information when they do get it. Sometimes price is not the issue when making funeral choices, but-if it is-the General Price List will let you see what each choice will cost before you decide.


8. Legal misinformation. Most people don't know what the laws are. Embalming is not routinely required, for example. Some circumstances may precipitate the need for embalming, but in no state is it necessary when burial or cremation is planned within a day or so. Some cemeteries may require a grave liner or vault, but not all. There is no state law that does. Most people also don't know that in 42 states a family or church group may handle a death without the use of a funeral home.


9. Ill-informed about deceptive funeral practices. Although the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule says that morticians may not lie to consumers, many are using devious ways to suggest that some caskets are "protective" while others are not. In a sealer casket, the anaerobic bacteria take over and the body putrefies instead of the natural dehydration that would otherwise occur. "Sealer" vaults, likewise, give no advantage except for the income of the funeral director.


10. Ill-informed about the true cost of caskets and other funeral merchandise. "You get what you pay for." Most people know what's involved in growing a head of lettuce or a few tomatoes and would think $10 each was an outrageous price; they probably would stop buying them. Yet few consumers realize that caskets are usually marked up 300-500% or more. A casket that is listed for $1,295 at the funeral home might wholesale for only $325. That same casket is probably available from a casket retailer for $650.


11. Not asking enough questions. If a funeral home price list includes a statement regarding cash advance items that reads: "We charge you for our services in obtaining these items," did you realize that the funeral director will be making a profit on placing the obituary, for example-something you could have done yourself? You've been warned in writing, but how much extra will that cost? If the GPL shows that caskets begin at $595 did you ask to see one if it was not on display?


12. Skilled (or manipulative) sales tactics of the mortician. The industry knows that most people pick the price in the middle. Therefore, few casket displays will have the low-cost ones included, assuring that the "middle" casket yields a good profit for the mortuary. If you have chosen cremation, you may be told you must purchase an urn or temporary container. Not true. Or maybe it's a little more subtle-"Now it's time to pick out the urn."
Remember: Undertakers are business folks who deserve to be paid for what they do. However, it is your job, as a funeral consumer, to be well-educated about your funeral choices, to determine the kind of funeral or memorial service that meets the needs of your family, and to locate an ethically-priced facility that will honor your choices with caring and dignity.

Ten Tips for Saving Funeral $$$
1. Talk about funerals with family members ahead of time.
At the time of death, survivors may be vulnerable to the subtle ploys of the mortician to spend, spend, spend - "to show how much you care." If your plans are mentioned only in a will, the will may not be read until long after other arrangements have been made. Make sure your family knows what your wishes are.


2. Price shop by phone or in person.
There are at least twice as many funeral homes in this country as can be supported by the death-rate. Therefore, many fees include the waiting-around-until-you-die time . . . part-time work for full-time pay. That's not always the case, however, and price-shopping can save you thousands of dollars.


To see if you'd be getting a reasonable deal, mentally calculate the actual time you think each funeral option takes. Then add an hour or two for behind-the-scenes work for each one. (Remember, too, that funeral homes have large property tax bills, 24-hour phone coverage, and expensive Yellow Pages ads.) Carefully total the cost for everything and then ask, "Will there be any other charges?" If you will be paying more than $100 per hour, you've got a high-priced mortuary. If the cost for services seems reasonable, be sure to check the cost for caskets (see next item). In the past, many mortuaries depended on a high mark-up for their profit.


3. Make a simple wood casket.
As of July 19, 1994, it is illegal for a mortuary to charge a "handling fee" for bringing in an outside casket. Or choose a "minimum container" from the mortuary and drape it with attractive material of your own taste. If a funeral home charges much more than $400-$500 for a modest casket, it's a good bet it's taking a 300%, 400%, or 500% mark-up. That thought alone might be enough to decide on a simple but dignified "plain pine box."


4. Take a friend or clergy with you.
Having someone who will help you resist subtle pressures to spend more than you want can be very supportive when faced with subtle manipulation.


5. Consider cremation.
It costs a great deal less to ship cremated remains from one state to another. Cemetery space will probably cost less than the space needed for body burial. Or cremains can be buried/scattered wherever you choose.


6. Plan a memorial service without the body present.
In that case, there would be no need for embalming, a fancy casket, or expensive transporting of the body back and forth. Private family visitation and "good-byes" can occur in the hospital or home, before you call a funeral director. Use a church, park, or community center for the memorial service without attending funeral home staff. You can then comfortably consider using a low-cost funeral director from another community to transport the body directly to a crematory or cemetery, if the local prices are too high. Remember: there are two tasks at hand when a person dies: one is the timely disposition of the body, the other is commemorating the life that was lived. When you can separate those two events, you have many more cost-saving options.


7. Consider body donation to a medical school.
In some areas, there may be no cost to the family whatsoever. In other circumstances, the cost of transporting the body may be the only cost. Often - if you ask - cremated remains will be returned to the family after scientific study, usually within a year or two.


8. Remember that it is just a box-for-the-box.
If you prefer body burial, ask for a "grave liner" - rather than a "coffin vault" - at a portion of the price. And again, be sure to shop around. The "outer burial container" - as the trade now refers to it - is quickly becoming a new way for morticians to increase their income and is an added burden on your funeral finances. With prices as much or more than caskets, remember that it will get quickly covered by the cemetery lawn.


9. Handle all arrangements without using a funeral director.
This is permitted in 42 states, and families that have done so have found it loving and therapeutic. The book, Caring for Your Own Dead, tells what permits are required in each state, where and when to file them, plus a great deal of other practical information for families or church groups choosing this meaningful way to say goodby (see our on-line bookstore).


10. Join a Funeral Consumers Alliance.
Many have a contract with local mortuaries for discount services. Or some of the price-shopping may have been done for you already. There are reciprocal benefits if you move to or die in another state. Supporting an Alliance will help to keep this consumer information available for future generations, and the membership fee is modest.

All Information taken from: 
Why People Pay Too Much 
Tips for Saving Funeral $$$