8 Practical Ways to Save Money on Funeral Costs

A woman pays her respects to a casket during a funeral service inside a church.
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You have an emergency fund. You have a retirement fund. You’ve got health insurance, a great rate on your mortgage and low credit card debt.

But what happens when you’re not here anymore?

The truth is funerals and end-of-life services can be expensive. Way expensive. And if you don’t think about this ahead of time, your funeral costs will be way expensive not for you, but for your family.

The best time to think about your funeral and how much it will cost is now, when you’re in decent health and not under pressure to make decisions.

In this article, we’ll break down the average cost of a funeral and explore some ways to save money.

Let’s get started.

How Much Does a Funeral Cost?

The national median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial in 2021 was about $7,848, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Meanwhile, the median cost of a funeral with cremation was approximately $6,971.

There are a lot of individual costs that go into those big numbers. Funeral home service fees, transfer of the remains, embalming and the cost of a casket can quickly add up to thousands of dollars.

However, funerals are like weddings: It’s easy for add-on services — like a memorial or an ornate headstone — to jack up the final price.

Some funeral homes group their prices into packages, while some spell out pricing for individual services.

So, why are funerals so expensive anyway?

While every state has an office that regulates funeral homes, the funeral homes set their own prices. But they must comply with what’s known as the Funeral Rule and disclose their general price lists to the state board. They’re also required to share that list with you if you ask about services.

As long as those prices are documented, they’re legal.

The Federal Trade Commission offers a helpful Funeral Pricing Checklist along with detailed information about funeral services and products.

8 Ways to Keep Funeral Costs Low

Planning for the costs of your final wishes can lift some of the burden from your loved ones after you’re gone.

We asked Elizabeth Fournier, owner of Cornerstone Funeral Services in the rural community of Boring, Oregon, to give us the lowdown on what you can expect.

1. Consider the Casket

Caskets are one of the most expensive parts of a traditional funeral. (Yes, we’re really talking about this.)

According to Fournier, the markup on caskets can be up to 400% at funeral homes.

A funeral home can’t refuse a casket that the family provides, whether it’s homemade, from Costco or purchased online.

There are a few rules — it has to have handles, for example — but otherwise, a funeral home must accept and use the requested casket and can’t charge an additional fee.

There’s one big exception to the rule: Caskets cannot be reused. The only caskets that can be used multiple times are rentals.

Fournier explained that these rentals are often sought when a visitation will be followed by cremation.

“Rental caskets have a liner that can come out, and that gets cremated,” Fournier said. “Then the funeral home can use the shell again.” These caskets are typically made from wood and have a traditional look.

What if you pay for a one-time-use casket before a cremation? A wood casket can be cremated along with the deceased. If it’s a metal casket, it has to be handed off to a scrap metal company.

Funeral homes often pass this cost to the family in a “casket distribution fee.”

Planning a funeral is just one of many financial decisions you’ll need to make after a spouse dies. Check out this financial checklist to help guide you through the process.

2. Shop Around

While planning a funeral might be the last thing you want to do, Fournier has a major reminder for the cost-conscious: “You have the right to call around. You don’t have to use the church your family went to or the funeral home in your neighborhood,” she said.

Request a detailed price list from the funeral home and ask about package options to ensure you’re paying only for what you need.

Online platforms like Funeralocity and Parting.com can help you compare prices in your area.

“Use what’s right for you. There’s something for everybody,” Fournier said.

3. Look at Independent Funeral Homes

Fournier advises looking at family-run or independent funeral homes if you’re trying to keep costs down.

Corporate funeral homes may offer additional services, but the convenience factor often comes with additional costs.

Pro Tip

Many states have financial assistance programs for families who are unable to afford a funeral. Check out this list of programs by state from the website Funeralwise.

4. Opt for Direct Cremation

If you’re not interested in a viewing or visitation, direct cremation is an affordable option.

Instead of using a funeral home, hire a crematorium to pick up and cremate the body.

You’re not paying for the frills of the funeral home: You’re only paying the cost of the actual cremation — which can save you thousands of dollars.

You can still hold a meaningful memorial service or celebration of life at a location of your choice without the added costs associated with a traditional funeral.

To find services in your area, Google “direct cremation” plus your city.

5. Prepay

Preplanning and prepaying for your own funeral lets you lock in current prices and alleviate the financial burden on your loved ones down the road.

Research reputable prepaid funeral plans or reach out to local funeral homes. You can choose to pay in a lump sum, set up a payment plan or even establish a dedicated savings account specifically for your future funeral expenses.

6. Join the Funeral Consumers Alliance

The Funeral Consumers Alliance is a national nonprofit organization “dedicated to protecting a consumer’s right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral.”

By joining one of its regional affiliates, you’ll receive a list of prices at local funeral homes, as well as member discounts.

Lifetime membership costs only $25 to $100 (prices vary depending on the regional affiliate).

Membership in their local memorial society helped this family save thousands of dollars, and it provided support during an emotional and stressful time.

7. Host the Funeral Service or Gathering at Home

Choosing an alternative venue for the memorial service or gathering can save you a lot of money.

Consider hosting the event at home, a community center or even a park. These options are often much more affordable than renting a funeral home or chapel.

8. Know Your Rights

The Federal Trade Commission has a Funeral Rule protecting the rights of funeral consumers.

According to the Funeral Rule, you have the right to:

  • Get price quotes over the phone — without disclosing any personal information.
  • Get a written, itemized price list when you visit the funeral home.
  • Buy individual items and services, rather than a package.
  • Use an “alternative container” for cremation, instead of a casket.
  • Provide your own urn or casket — at no extra charge.
  • Skip the embalming process entirely.

If a funeral home fails to comply with any of these regulations (not all that uncommon), avoid and report it.

Is Burial Insurance Worth It?

Maybe you’ve seen commercials or advertisements in the mail for burial insurance. Sometimes it’s called funeral insurance or final expense insurance.

You can’t be denied for these types of policies, formally known as guaranteed issue life insurance. No need to go through a medical exam either. Plus, the monthly premiums are usually low compared to other life insurance policies.

These policies offer small coverage amounts of less than $25,000, and they’re usually sold to people between the ages of 50 and 80.

But here’s the catch. Since the policy value is small (usually between $5,000 and $25,000), you might end up paying more in premiums than what the policy is actually worth.

Here’s an example.

Lincoln Heritage Life Insurance offers guaranteed issue policies to seniors. According to its website, a 65-year-old woman can expect to pay around $41 to $64 per month for a $10,000 final expense insurance policy.

Sounds like a good deal, right?

But consider this: If you’re paying $50 a month, that adds up to $600 a year. By the time you reach 82, which is less than 17 years later, you would have paid more to the insurance company than what the policy is worth.

Another drawback? The death benefit, or payout from the insurance company, may not kick in until two to three years after you buy the policy.

So, unless you have serious health issues that disqualify you from other life insurance coverage, it’s a good idea to explore other policies first. You can talk to an independent insurance agent or a financial adviser who can help you shop around and find the best quote from multiple companies.

Funeral Alternatives: More Than Just Burial or Cremation

Here are the costs of a few alternatives to a traditional burial and a few options you may not have heard of before.

1. Private Land Burial

In many places, especially rural areas, burying a human on your own property is allowed — and it’s absolutely the cheapest burial option.

The tricky part is knowing your state and county rules for private land burial and having a team of friends and family in place to make it happen.

Some states require you to work with a funeral home, while others don’t.

2. Green Cremation

This procedure, which uses an alkaline solution instead of flames, is legal in several states plus Washington, D.C., according to the Cremation Association of North America.

It can cost between $1,200 and $3,000.

It’s also called alkaline hydrolysis, water resomation or flameless cremation.

3. Immediate Burial

This option skips a funeral service and embalming and does a cemetery burial as soon as possible.

The average cost of an immediate burial is $2,597, according to Funeralocity, a free funeral comparison website that lists the prices charged by funeral homes across the country.

4. Donating Your Body to Science

If neither burial nor cremation suits your desires, donating your body to science can help medical students, scientists and forensics professionals.

You’ll need to register with the organization. It typically covers the cost to return the cremated remains to your family once it has conducted its research. Just don’t plan for a visitation if you’re considering this route.

5. Burial Pods

Cremated ashes can be added to a biodegradable urn that you can plant a tree on top of.

Tree pod burials can range from $1,000 to $4,000, depending on the cost of the urn and cremation services in your state.

Planning Ahead Can Save You Big

Figuring out how you want your loved ones to celebrate your life isn’t an easy decision, or one that you should make on the fly just to save some money.

But it is something to consider now, so you can plan ahead — financially and emotionally — for whatever plan you choose to have carried out after you’re gone.

If you’re certain of the sendoff you want — or certain elements you don’t want — be sure to communicate those plans, either by speaking with your family or friends or by preparing instructions to be followed in your absence.

Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. She focuses on retirement, investing, taxes and life insurance.