Grief isn’t the only stressor we experience when we lose a loved one. There are also the practicalities of death, including planning and paying for a funeral. If you’ve ever faced the process of funeral planning, you’ve probably asked yourself: why are funerals so expensive?
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The truth is, the funeral industry is complex. But there are many steps involved in preparing and transporting the deceased body, preparing a lovely memorial service or funeral service, and burying the body. Each step requires specific training and some costly supplies to complete.
Luckily, there are a few ways you can reduce the overall cost of a funeral. Below, we’ll detail why funerals cost so much, and how you can limit the expense of interment.
Breakdown of Funeral Costs
When we think of a funeral, we typically think eulogies and an open-casket. But there’s a lot more that goes into a funeral than just the day of the service itself. Below, we’ll break down some of those funeral costs.
Transporting or preparing the body
Before the funeral, a body typically undergoes several steps, from transportation to preparation. Those steps have associated costs, and they can quickly add up.
Body transportation. Before any funeral can take place, the deceased’s body has to travel. That could be just a few blocks, across the state, or much farther. While some states allow you to transport a family member’s body yourself, others require a licensed funeral director to do so.
The cost of body transportation depends on the distance the body has to travel, as well as who’s doing the transportation. You’ll usually have to pay a funeral home on each end of the trip: one to send the body and one to receive the body.
The price for transporting a body averages $250. If you’re transporting the body across state lines or farther, it can cost much more.
Body preparation. Next, the body has to be prepared for the funeral. If you’re holding a traditional funeral with an open-casket wake, body preparation generally (but not always) includes embalming.
The embalming process involves more than just heavy chemicals. The mortician must go through an extensive process to prepare the body for embalming, as well as make the body presentable afterward.
The National Funeral Directors Association lists the average cost of embalming at $750. Additional services, like the application of makeup, can cost up to $255 more.
Funeral or memorial service
Another big expense is the funeral or memorial service itself. This step can vary in cost a great deal depending on the type of funeral service you choose.
Church or temple service. Most churches and places of religious worship don’t charge a funeral fee for an active member of the congregation. However, you’ll need to arrange transportation of the body to the church, which can add another $250 or more. It’s also customary to make a small donation to the church.
As mentioned, you may be able to transport the body to the church yourself, depending on your state’s laws. But consider whether you’re truly prepared to do so.
Funeral home service. Another option is holding the funeral service at the funeral home. You can save on transportation costs by going this route, but you’ll also have to pay for the use of the facilities and staff.
The average fee for holding a funeral at a funeral home is $425.
Added costs can make the overall price higher. For example, if the funeral home offers print packages (printed programs for funeral attendees) or flower packages, those will cost more.
Alternative memorial. If you’re going through the process of preparing the body for viewing, chances are you’re having a more traditional funeral service at a funeral home. However, you could also choose a more “DIY” approach to your memorial service.
Holding a memorial at a park or outdoor space, or in your own home, can be very low-cost or free.
Reception. Most families hold a reception, also known as a repast, after the funeral. The reception is a time for extended family members and close friends to gather and support each other over a meal.
But the reception also comes at a cost. Keep food costs in mind when you’re planning your funeral and reception. The food and drink for a reception alone can cost $200 or more, depending on what you want to serve and the number of guests you invite.
Virtual funeral. Today, many families are holding funerals and receptions remotely. If you can't host a funeral in person, this might be a relatively low-cost alternative.
If you only have a few attendees, you may be able to arrange the service and host it yourself on Zoom. If you're inviting more than a few people, however, we recommend using a service like GatheringUs to make sure everything runs smoothly.
The hefty cost of a funeral is in no small part due to the services listed above. But the other half of your funeral expenses are related to burial.
Casket. The casket is one of the biggest costs associated with a funeral and burial. Many families choose a casket based on what will look best at the wake and funeral service. Others choose a casket that they believe their deceased loved one would like.
For some families and individuals, a luxurious or elaborate casket is a worthy expense. For others, it may be one worth avoiding. The average cost of a standard, metal burial casket is $2,500.
Cemetery plot and vault. In addition to the casket, you’ll have to pay for the cemetery plot and, usually, a cement burial vault. A standard burial plot costs an average of $1,000, while a burial vault costs $1,450 on average.
Prices for burial plots vary based on where you live, with more rural areas generally costing less.
Headstone. Another cost that can vary greatly depending on your choices is the headstone.
The average headstone cost in the United States is about $2,000. However, a headstone can cost much more if you opt for elaborate details or high-quality stone. It can also cost significantly less if you choose a very simple headstone like this one.
Cremation and an urn. Not everyone chooses burial after the funeral. Another common option in the United States is cremation.
If you opt for direct cremation, you can avoid paying for things like embalming. But you’ll have to pay for cremating the body and buy a container in which you’ll keep the cremains. The average cost of cremation is between $450 and $1,000, depending on where you live.
An urn can cost as little as $50 or as much as $300 or more.
5 Quick Tips for Saving Money for a Funeral
Looking at all the costs associated with a funeral, you might be wondering how you can minimize some of those expenses.
If you’re responsible for planning and paying for a loved one’s funeral, or if you’re pre-planning your own funeral arrangements, consider some of the money-saving tips below.
1. Choose a green burial or direct burial
Green burials are becoming ever more popular in the United States, and for good reason: they’re better for the environment, and they’re cheaper.
With a green burial, you forego the chemical treatment process and elaborate caskets. Instead, burial takes place quickly after death, and the casket is usually biodegradable or nonexistent.
You could also choose direct burial, which is similar. With direct burial, you don’t cremate the body or hold a funeral before the burial. Instead, you bury the body right away—with the casket of your choice—and hold the funeral or memorial at a later date.
Green burial and direct burial can save you money when it comes to funeral expenses like body preparation and transportation. It can also free you up to hold a more personalized memorial service that costs much less than one held at a funeral home.
2. Consider cremation
Cremation is another cost-saving option, and it’s one that many families and individuals prefer. With cremation, you have two options: traditional cremation and direct cremation.
Traditional cremation can cost as much as a traditional funeral service. The only difference is that, after the funeral, the body is cremated rather than buried.
Direct cremation, on the other hand, is more similar to direct burial. You have the body cremated before you hold a funeral ceremony, which saves money on transportation, funeral services, a casket, and body preparation.
3. Personalize your memorial service
Instead of paying for a funeral service at a funeral home, you can save money by holding a funeral or memorial service yourself.
A funeral service or memorial can take place in a local outdoor space, a community space, or at your own home. When you create a memorial service yourself, you also have more freedom to create the kind of service you want.
4. Save on the casket
As mentioned, casket prices range a great deal. If you want to save money on the funeral, you can opt for a more simple casket.
If you want a presentable casket for the funeral, you can rent one for that day only. Then, you can purchase a plain metal burial casket for the actual burial, potentially saving you thousands of dollars.
You may also consider purchasing a biodegradable, “green” casket. Make sure you speak with your funeral director and understand your local laws regarding burial.
5. Shop around
One of the best-kept secrets in the funeral industry is that you can save a lot of money just by shopping around. A funeral home up the street might charge hundreds of dollars more for the very same services as the one a block down.
Whether you’re planning a funeral for your loved one, or you’re pre-planning your own funeral and burial services, always make sure to check around for the best pricing.
Saving Money on a Funeral
No matter what, a funeral and burial—or cremation—costs money. But you don’t have to go broke to bury your loved one, nor should you.
As you’re planning a funeral, consider what suits you and your family best, as well as what you can afford. Always make sure to refer to your loved one’s end-of-life plan and adhere to their final wishes.
To make things easier on your loved ones after your gone, you can create a strategic (and money-saving) end-of-life plan with directions for your own funeral included.
- “2019 NFDA General Price List Study Shows Funeral Costs Not Rising As Fast As Rate of Inflation.” NFDA. 19 December 2019. www.nfda.org/news/media-center/nfda-news-releases/id/4797/2019-nfda-general-price-list-study-shows-funeral-costs-not-rising-as-fast-as-rate-of-inflation
- Sheridan, Terry. “10 Facts Funeral Directors May Not Tell You.” Fox Business. 11 April 2013. www.foxbusiness.com/features/10-facts-funeral-directors-may-not-tell-you