Planning a funeral is emotionally trying and can feel overwhelming.
The grief of losing a family member or loved one is what makes planning so difficult. It also doesn’t help that funeral home pricing can feel nebulous or outright confusing.
Despite a regulation passed in 1984 that requires funeral homes to provide itemized price lists, many funeral homes disguise their prices by promoting packages during the sales process. NPR even ran a two-part series exposing the death care industry, claiming that families could pay hundreds less, if not thousands less, by simply crossing the street to another funeral home.
There is no doubt that funerals are an emotional burden, but they don’t need to be a financial burden as well.
By understanding the average cost of funeral expenses, you can experience better peace of mind as you plan to commemorate the life of your loved one.
How to Budget Your Income and ExpensesRead Post
Why Are Funerals So Expensive?
Before we break down the average cost of funerals, it’s important to understand why they are so expensive in the first place.
Unfortunately, the death care industry can be predatory. In general, there are two primary reasons why it’s easy for grieving families to be taken advantage of:
- It’s (hopefully) a rare event. Most people only plan a funeral a handful of times in their lives. Because of this lack of frequency, consumers don’t know what costs are normal and what costs are not.
Think about it this way: you typically have a general idea of how much your groceries will cost before you even walk into the store. How? Because you purchase these groceries frequently, month after month, year after year. Even if you don’t purchase a specific item every time you go shopping, chances are that you have an idea of what the price will be because of your familiarity with the market.
When it comes to funerals, however, that sense of familiarity is gone. All of a sudden, families find themselves in uncertain territory. This lack of familiarity makes it easy for bad players in the death care industry to price gouge.
- Families are emotionally overwhelmed. When you’re tired, drained, and exhausted, your sense of judgment is affected. It’s not uncommon for families to make hasty decisions because they are in the middle of an emotional time.
Because of the emotional trauma, families fall into the trap of “cost equals quality.” In other words, the more expensive a funeral is, the more we are honoring and remembering our loved one — or so the thinking goes. When this perspective is in play, it’s easy for families to be guilt-tripped into spending more on a funeral than they can actually afford.
At the end of the day, funeral homes are businesses, not non-profit organizations. But there is a difference between charging fair prices and taking advantage of a vulnerable market.
Below, we outline the average cost of funeral expenses so you can plan with peace of mind.
What is the Average Cost of a Funeral?
Today, the average cost of a funeral in the United States is in the realm of $7,000 to $12,000. Whether the cost of the funeral is on the low or high end of the spectrum depends on many factors, including where you’re located, the services you choose, and where the body is buried or cremated.
However, the median cost of a funeral (the number right in the middle) is $7,640. This includes a viewing and burial. For burials that require a vault, as is often the case for cemeteries, the median cost increases to $9,135.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has an excellent breakdown of the costs you can expect when planning a funeral. Furthermore, the FTC also outlines your rights throughout the process:
The average cost of a casket is a little over $2,000. However, higher-end caskets, especially those made out of mahogany, bronze, or copper, can sell for over $10,000. The 1984 Funeral Rule requires that funeral home directors show you a list of all the caskets that the home sells. This list must include descriptions and prices. Statistically speaking, most families purchase one of the first three caskets that they are shown, so it’s critical to have this list with pricing before the caskets are shown. Because funeral home directors know that you’re most likely to purchase one of the first three caskets that you see, it’s in their best interest to show you the more expensive models upfront. Having this list will help protect you and your family from being exploited.
The expected cost range for a basic cremation is between $800 and $3,000. This is based largely on where you live. The lowest cremation cost in Las Vegas registers at $495 whereas the highest cremation cost in Houston, TX registers at $6,800. If you are looking for cheap cremation, then ask for a “direct cremation.” However, a direct cremation means that there will be no funeral, memorial, or viewing. You will receive the ashes of your loved one directly.
Embalming and preparation.
The average cost of embalming comes in at $600. Many funeral homes require this if you are planning a viewing or a visitation. However, if you are opting for cremation immediately after death rather than an open-casket funeral, then you are not legally required to embalm. As a consumer, you have the right to decide. This means that a funeral home cannot provide embalming services without explicit permission. If they do embalm without permission, they cannot charge you for those services.
Funeral Director’s Services Fee.
This is a standard fee that is charged for funerals, covering the cost of administrative fees and services. Families can expect to pay $1,500 for this fee. It’s also not uncommon to pay an additional $1,000 for the funeral ceremony itself as well as the viewing. The additional fee may cover the funeral home rental, staff, and pamphlets and materials.
According to the FTC, the bulk of funeral costs are typically attributed to the cost of the casket. However, there are several smaller miscellaneous costs that can quickly add up. Do you want an obituary written? What about a hearse? That’s an additional fee. Unfortunately, a death certificate costs money as well.
While planning a funeral, it’s important to remember that the costs don’t stop once the funeral is over. It’s important to save some money in your budget for the cemetery.
Types of Life Insurance & Which One Is Right for YouRead Post
The average family will spend $2,000 for the cemetery on top of what they paid for the funeral. This includes the grave space as well as the cost to dig the grave, which is sometimes referred to as the “open/close fee.”
Finally, the last major financial consideration is whether you want a headstone (averaging $2,000) or a grave marker (averaging $1,000). A headstone is a granite rock that rests on top of the gravesite. They’re typically two feet tall, though there are many options available. A grave marker, on the other hand, lies flat on the ground and is typically a granite or bronze plaque.
Is It Possible to Save Money on a Funeral?
While the costs of a funeral and burial can quickly add up, there are still ways to stay on budget while remembering your loved one with honor and dignity.
First, it’s important to remember your rights as a consumer. For example, you have a legal right to an itemized breakdown of costs. Thanks to the 1984 Funeral Rule, you also have a right to a full list of the caskets sold by the funeral home. This list should include descriptions and prices of the individual caskets.
Finally, don’t feel guilty about shopping around. Because this is an emotionally trying time, families often feel pressured to choose the first funeral home they go to. Or they sometimes only choose a funeral home without inquiring at others because the family has previously used it.
Knowing your rights, shopping around, and being aware of the average costs will help ensure that your family is only paying what it should.
It’s grim to think about, but one of the ways to soften the blow of funeral costs is to plan in advance. While some deaths are unexpected and untimely, there are others that we can plan for, such as the eventual passing of aging parents. Of course, this doesn’t make the situation any less tragic or emotional, but by planning in advance, you can help alleviate stress in an emotionally charged time.