How to Avoid Unnecessary Funeral Expenses & Save Money

How can you avoid unnecessary funeral expenses?

The funeral is a time to honor the life of a loved one who has passed away. But when planning a memorial, there are many options, products, and services to consider — all of which can be very costly. 

These costs add up quickly, often making the overall expense of a funeral a significant burden for those left behind. Much of the funeral industry is built around offering you a wide variety of funeral items, few of which are truly needed.

So it’s important to know that many of these funeral expenses are optional and even unnecessary. After all, the average funeral cost is $7,640 — a significant dent in any budget!

By identifying and eliminating these additional costs, you can save money while still honoring your loved one.

10 Unnecessary Funeral Expenses You Can Avoid

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Here are some of the best ways to avoid unnecessary funeral expenses, either by skipping the product or service entirely, or by choosing a less costly alternative.

1. Burial

One of the most significant unnecessary final expenses is burial. Currently, less than half of funeral consumers are choosing a traditional burial, instead opting for cremation.

Moreover, the National Funeral Directors Association predicts that the cremation rates could rise to as much as 80% by the year 2035.

So you can see that many people are already learning to avoid the excessive costs associated with burial. After all, cremation doesn’t take up land space, which can make it considerably cheaper than a traditional burial with a casket and headstone.

2. Casket

That leads us to our next expense that you can choose to avoid: The high-end casket. While a casket is an essential part of most traditional funerals, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on one.

You can choose a less expensive option that still looks nice and provides a meaningful service. There are options you can purchase online, or if you’re handy you might consider building one yourself as a tribute to your loved one.

At the very least, you always have the option to choose a more affordable casket from the selection at the funeral home.

Related: What Do I Need to Buy from the Funeral Home?

3. Embalming

Embalming is not legally required in most cases and can be an expensive process.

Unless you’re having a public viewing or open-casket funeral, or transporting the body over state lines, embalming is not necessary. You can choose to have a closed casket or skip embalming altogether.

Related: 15 Ideas for a Beautiful Memorial Service on a Budget

4. Cremation Urn

If your loved one chose to be cremated, you don’t have to buy a cremation urn from the funeral home.

You can get a beautiful and affordable urn from a third-party supplier such as Urns Northwest or even use a container you already have.

Just keep in mind that some cemeteries may have specific requirements for urns that are going to be buried (typically using a burial vault) or placed into a columbarium niche.

Related: The Truth About Burial Vaults: Do You Really Need One?

5. Funeral Programs

The program is an important element for the funeral service, serving as a guide for attendees and also as a keepsake for them to remember the departed. But they can also be very pricey.

Shop around for a better option. You can create your own and have it printed at a local print shop. Start from scratch or use one of these free templates. We also have many premium templates that are easy to edit online.

Related: Best Funeral Program Examples

6. Funeral Flowers

While flowers can be a nice touch at a funeral, they can also be a significant expense. You can opt for a small arrangement or skip flowers altogether. You can also ask guests to make a donation to a charity instead of bringing flowers.

7. Catered Reception

While it may seem like a nice gesture to offer a catered reception after the funeral, it can add a significant amount to the overall cost.

Instead of catering, go with a potluck. Simply ask family and friends to bring a dish to share — this not only saves money but also provides everyone with a way to contribute to the event.

8. Burial Vaults or Liners

Burial vaults and grave liners may seem like a necessary purchase, but they are actually not required by law in most states.

Some cemeteries do require a vault or liner if you are going to bury the casket or urn on their property. However, it’s not for the reason you might think: Liners and vaults are mainly designed to protect the grounds by keeping the grave from sinking over time, and not to better preserve the body or remains.

If you do choose to purchase a burial vault or liner, make sure to shop around and compare prices. Learn more about vaults and liners here.

9. Cosmetic Services for the Deceased

Cosmetic services for the deceased will definitely increase your bill. While it may be tempting to try and make the deceased look their best, it is not necessary and can be rather expensive. 

Instead, consider a closed casket, an open casket with a natural appearance, or have a visitation instead of a viewing or wake.

One final tip, which won’t be for everyone, but it’s worth mentioning: If you’re comfortable with the task, you can do the decedent’s makeup yourself. Remember that throughout human history, family members took on the primary responsibility of preparing the deceased for burial, so it isn’t out of the norm.

10. Venue Rental

The venue for the funeral ceremony or reception can add a significant amount to the total cost.

To save on this expense, you could hold the service at a place of worship (which are often free if you are a member, or fairly low cost), or at a family member’s home. 

This not only keeps you within your budget but also adds a personal touch to the funeral arrangements.

How to Recognize Reasonable Funeral Expenses

Here are some tips to help you recognize good deals or overpriced services.

1. Compare Prices

The best way to tell if an expense is reasonable or overpriced is to simply shop around at different funeral homes.

You can ask any funeral home for a general price list and they are legally required to provide you one, even over the phone, by email, or online through their website.

Request itemized pricing, which may help you avoid paying for unnecessary services in a package. However, the packages may include discounts that help make the overall cost lower, so compare both options.

This will give you the opportunity to look over their packages and individual prices without a funeral home staff member looking on, and you can compare costs with other providers from the comfort of home.

2. Research

Another way to recognize unreasonable costs is to do a little research. Our website has a trove of funeral planning resources that will help you understand your options.

Get a sense of the options available, then compare them with what you want and with your loved one’s final wishes. This will give you peace of mind and relieve much of the decision-making pressure you can experience when confronted with new and unknown options.

As much as possible, try not to do anything out of guilt. Rather, only include the elements that align with your values, your budget, and your loved one’s memory and legacy. 

It’s a good idea to decide ahead of time to avoid the emotional stress of making impromptu decisions at the funeral home. 

3. Know Your Rights

Lastly, make sure you know your rights. The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule states that you have the right to receive a price list ahead of time, that you may choose the goods and services you want, and that funeral providers cannot refuse or charge additional fees for using a casket or urn purchased elsewhere.

If local or state laws require that you purchase a particular item, funeral service providers must indicate this on the price list and cite the specific law. Aside from the funeral home’s basic services fee, there is little that you actually must purchase.

Read more: 10 Things the (Shady) Funeral Home Won’t Tell You

More Ways to Save on Funeral Expenses

Here are some more options to keep your funeral costs reasonable.

  • Plan your own funeral ahead of time
  • Opt for a direct burial or direct cremation without a formal service
  • Use an “alternative container” (a cardboard casket) as the cremation casket when choosing cremation
  • Instead, have a small gathering with friends and family at home, at a park, or at church
  • Avoid unnecessary extras like limousine services
  • Consider a simple graveside committal service instead of a full funeral service
  • Choose cremation with scattering of ashes instead of a burial
  • Avoid peak hours or days for funeral services to negotiate lower costs
  • Use a family member or friend as the funeral officiant
  • Go with a less expensive burial plot or consider a natural burial site
  • Select a smaller headstone or consider an alternative grave marker
  • Make arrangements ahead of time to avoid rushed decisions and potential overspending
  • Set up a free memorial website to provide event details instead of printing invitations
  • Look into your life insurance policy to see if it includes burial insurance coverage
  • Inquire about financial assistance or funeral grants in your area
  • Start a funeral crowdfund to accept donations in order to help defray costs
  • Tell your funeral director that you are working within a budget — most funeral directors truly want to help and will assist you in keeping things affordable

Read Next: Funeral Costs: Here’s What to Expect, and How to Pay

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Daniel Szczesniak

Daniel has been working in the funeral industry since 2010, speaking directly to grieving families as they made funeral arrangements. He began researching and publishing funeral articles on this website as part of his role as product and marketing manager...

2 thoughts on “How to Avoid Unnecessary Funeral Expenses & Save Money”

  1. Thank you, Daniel. It’s such a hushed industry! We need to know these things before we lose our loved ones.

  2. I worked in the “death care” industry for nearly 15 years in pre-need sales and family service, working hand-in-hand with the funeral directors. That said, this is one of the most thoughtful and honest pieces I’ve read about the cost, value and necessity of today’s funeral/burial/cremation services and pricing. Regardless of what disposition you choose, I would advise that you make pre-arrangements and lock it in at today’s price. Great article! Bravo, Daniel!

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