How To Plan A Funeral On A Budget

Statistics show that about 75 percent are unprepared to plan a funeral when a loved one suddenly dies. The term unprepared can cover a multitude of feelings that come along with facing death: shock, grief, hopelessness, anger, helplessness — pretty much the proverbial gamut of emotions. But what this also means is that many people aren’t financially prepared to suddenly be responsible for thousands of dollars to pay for a funeral.

If you are fortunate, your loved one had some sort of life insurance that will help offset the inevitable expenses to lay them to rest. But for those who didn’t have life insurance or maybe don’t have a lot of it, it’s better to try to work through the emotions to seek a cost-effective way to celebrate the life of your beloved.

The average cost of a funeral is about $6,000. First, let’s address the areas are not optional when planning a funeral service or (even simply just arrangements to lay a person to rest even without a full funeral):

  • Engaging a Licensed Funeral Director

    In New York, a Licensed Funeral Director must handle all of the arrangements of preparing the remains for burial or cremation, filing the death certificate, transporting the body for cremation or burial, securing a cremation permit and acting as a liaison between you and the cemetery, crematory or crypt. Essentially, the funeral director is your representative in selecting and planning a memorable service so it should be someone you are comfortable with. To begin looking for a licensed director, start with the National Funeral Directors Association directory, where you can search for professional and funeral homes near you.
    Average cost: $1,500

  • Filing a Death Certificate

    You can file the death certificate through the funeral home and they cannot charge you additional fees. They will file the certificate with the registrar of Vital Records in the town where death occurred; so don’t be confused if the filing doesn’t happen where your loved one actually lived. You should be prepared to obtain more than one copy for various agencies that may need a copy for their own records.
    Average cost: The fee for a death certificate is $15 in New York City and $10 (or less) in the rest of New York State, according to the State Department of Health.

  • Purchasing and Transporting a Burial Container

    Though you may opt out of the more pricey, full-service traditional funeral, state law in New York says that you have to have some sort of leak-proof, combustible container to transport the remains to a crematory for direct cremation or a cemetery for direct burial (we’ll talk more about your funeral service options in a bit). The bottom line is the law indicates that you must have approved encasing when you are having the remains moved and that — plus transportation itself — will incur a cost.
    Average cost: Prices can run from a basic container at $900 to the average casket at $2,300.

  • Embalming/Topical Disinfectant

    Contrary to popular belief, embalming is not required by state law; however, a funeral home may require it, depending on the services chosen. If embalming is not required because you have decided not to have a viewing with an open casket, for example, you may be required to purchase only topical disinfectant instead.
    Average cost: Embalming can run about $500 while just topical disinfectant may be as low as $195.

  • Burial/Cremation/Other Means of Disposition

    Whether you decide on a burial, cremation or even green burials, there will be some sort of cost incurred to take care of your loved one’s remains. But how you choose to handle that process could make the difference between spending $3,000 and $10,000-plus.

Where You Can Save Money

The key to saving money when planning for a funeral is knowing where you can actually cut costs without sacrificing the quality of the service or respect that you have for your loved one. Looking for ways to have a cost-effective service doesn’t take away from the care and consideration that you have to make the service a memorable one.

Often, people are so consumed with grief that they don’t question the costs for funerals or believe that many elements are required when either they aren’t essential at all or there is a cheaper alternative available. Take a look at alternative costs that will help you save in the long run.

  • Check Multiple Funeral Homes

    Just like when you’re purchasing any other big-ticket item, you don’t go with the first offer you see. Planning a funeral obviously is a more sensitive time, but the rules still apply. Experts say that many people overpay for funerals simply because they didn’t seek other options.Prices for the exact same service can vary greatly depending on where you go. Have a figure in mind before you start your research. If you absolutely decide that you will not spend more than $1,000 for a coffin, then stick with that price and find either a funeral home or other retailer that will satisfy that requirement.

  • Direct Burial/Direct Cremation vs. Traditional Funeral

    Burying or cremating the remains shortly after death can save the costs of storage, embalming and other expenses that come with keeping the remains longer and preparing them for services such as viewing/wake and an open casket during a funeral. It also saves on having to transport the remains from the venue of the funeral to the cemetery for burial or interment and buying a headstone, which can cost you another $1,500.
    According to officials, the average cost for cremation is $3,200, less than half the average cost of a traditional funeral.

  • Using Free Venue or Home for Memorial Service

    If you choose to hold a memorial service, you have options other than renting out a funeral home or church for a funeral where you have to satisfy certain costly requirements to have the remains on display, i.e. if you have an open casket viewing. Those costs will include provisions for the remains to be embalmed, dressed and transported, buried and/or interred.

    Consider less formal places that held a special meaning for your loved one, maybe a park, a community center or someone’s home. You may be able to save about $500, the average cost of using a funeral home.

  • Shop Around for Urns/Caskets

    The price of a casket can be a huge expense. If you have decided on cremation, you are not required by law to purchase a casket. All you have to do is request a container that satisfies state law, which can be as simple as a cardboard container provided by the crematory. Should you decide to keep the ashes versus scattering the remains, you can find relatively inexpensive urns. If you are having a funeral service and a cremation, consider renting a casket. Finally, if you are having a full burial, you don’t have to buy the most expensive coffin on the list (and demand to see the full list). Simple wood coffins can be as inexpensive as $900 — much less than $10,000 maple coffins.

  • Using a Cemetery That Does Not Require a Burial Vault/Grave Liner

    Another area where what seems like small things can add up is purchasing a vault or grave liner. This is not required by law, but many cemeteries require them. You can either search for a cemetery that does not require it or, if you have to choose between the two, go with a grave liner, which costs less. Most aregoing to cost between $700 and $1000, while burial vaults cost between $900 and $7,000, but can even be as high as $13,000.

  • Consider a “Green” Funeral

    Another concept that is gaining in popularity is a “green” funeral, which reportedly costs a lot less than the average $6,000 funeral. Green funerals, which eliminate embalming, cremation, or burying is better for the environment because remains don’t decompose in the ground threatening water sources and crematories don’t fill the air with hot, toxic gas.

You can find many options to go green but this idea may take a bit more research because there isn’t as much access to these choices as there is to more traditional methods. However, there are some intriguing ideas out there. From natural burials — which occur in one of the handful of cemeteries nationwide that will accept remains simply shrouded as opposed to embalmed — to eco-friendly caskets, experts predict more green funerals to increase.

Always remember that the most important thing about any funeral service is honoring the memory of the person who is no longer with us. When was the last time you heard, “Oh, wow, look at that casket!” at a funeral? You haven’t because the focus is on support that people in mourning are offering each other. You have options to plan a memorable service without paying for it for years to come.


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