Average Cost of a Funeral and How You Can Save

The average cost of a funeral in the United States is anywhere from $6,000 to $12,000. It’s hard to put an exact figure on this, however, as there are many factors to consider, including the state, the type of funeral (cheap, lavish) whether the body needs to be repatriated, the cost of the cemetery plot, and whether there is a burial or cremation.

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The stats also differ depending on who you ask and where they get their research. One of the best sources of information is the National Funeral Directors Association, which suggests the average is $7,500 or close to $9,000 with a vault. However, this does not include cemetery costs, flowers, obituaries, and other charges that can potentially push the costs into 5-figures.

Here is a breakdown of the costs involved with a funeral, most of which are offered as optional extras and can be removed to save money.

Service Fees = $1,500 to $2,000

One of the few costs that is not optional, the service fee is the money the provider charges for their services. This will cover them for costs such as permit acquisition, funeral plan creations, and other basics.

It is one of the biggest expenses, but it’s also one that provides the consumer with the most leeway and if they try multiple services, they may find one that offers a greatly reduced price.

Transfer of Remains = $200 to $10,000

The body always needs to be transferred and this always incurs a cost. If your loved one dies at home, in a nursing home or in a hospital, the body needs to be transferred the short distance to the funeral home. In such cases, the charge should be less than $300.

If they die in another state, those costs can climb into the four-figures and make this a very costly process. If they die abroad, you could be hit with a bill of up to $10,000. It actually costs more to ship a body overseas than it does for a first class return ticket to the same destination. 

That’s because the body needs to be prepared and many arrangements need to be made. It also requires the services of at least two funeral homes, one in the country of death and one in the country of burial.

Preparation = $700 to $1,100

The body is prepared and preserved before going into the coffin and this is often the case even if there will be no viewings. The embalming process is one of the most expensive parts of this process and can cost anywhere from $500 to $700 on average. On top of this, you will be charged anywhere up to $400 for cleaning, dressing, grooming, and applying make-up.

Use of Facilities = $400

If you use their facilities for a viewing, you will be charged a fixed price based on the days and hours used. This varies greatly from company to company, but it averages around $400. You will, of course, pay more if they keep the body for longer periods and need to arrange multiple viewings.

Use of Services = $700 to $1,000

A funeral company offers a plethora of services during the viewing and the funeral itself. These fees are levied for the use of staff to help during viewings, pallbearers to help during the transport of the coffin, and more. 

This is often where many of the hidden costs come into play as many customers forget about renting the hearse, paying for a driver, and covering the costs of the additional staff who help with the arrangements.

If you hire a car or limousine to transport the family and close friends, the quote will climb. It’s worth paying close attention to these fees as you may be overcharged for something you can get a lot cheaper elsewhere or simply do yourself.

Cemetery Costs = $3,500

The funeral company will cover all bases with regards to preparing, transporting, and burying the body. However, you also need to think about where it will be buried and how. A cemetery plot costs around $1,000 on average, which is one of the reasons why it’s much cheaper to opt for cremation.

A vault can also cost anywhere up to $1,500. This is an airtight container that will hold the casket and it can vary depending on the material selected. On top of these costs, you also have to consider the headstone and the engraving on it. This costs around $1,00 on average but there are huge variations in headstone prices as there are many things to consider, from the material to the size, the finish, and the engraving.

How You Can Save

Funeral companies do a very important job at a very difficult time. The vast majority of these companies are honorable and most of the people they employ are kind, considerate, and sympathetic. However, this is still a business and many companies will still place profit before compassion.

Funeral companies are in a very unique position, as all of their customers are grieving and many of them have just come into a generous inheritance. They want the best for their loved ones and will often spend whatever it takes to give them that, especially if it means that someone else will assume all responsibility and they can focus on grieving.

As difficult as it can be, it’s important to treat this process like you would any other, focusing on costs, haggling for a discount, and spending as little as you can. The funeral company will try to sell you the biggest and the best, offering services you might not need and caskets that cost more than you can afford. If you refuse, they may tempt you with a finance plan, insisting that you’re doing the right thing. 

The first step, therefore, is to be wary of sales tactics and to be firm when refusing. If they keep pushing, ask them politely to stop and don’t let them talk you into doing something you don’t want to do.

You can also try the following tips to reduce the amount that a funeral costs you:

Don’t Pay for Embalming

Embalming is standard practice and something that is included on most itemized bills. It is a preservation technique, but it will not prevent the body from decomposing and the only real benefit is a cosmetic one. If the body is stored for several days before a viewing, it should look a lot better when it has been embalmed, but if the funeral will take place shortly after the death, it’s not necessary.

You can ask for this service to be removed from the quote, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars. Some funeral companies require all bodies to be embalmed and this procedure will be bundled in with standard services, but you can still request that it be removed.

Choose a Cheap Coffin

Funeral homes make most of their money selling caskets. These final resting places can cost anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands, but the law of diminishing returns kicks in pretty quickly. High-priced luxury coffins feature excessive gilding on the outside and opulent padding on the interior. 

They look so great you’ll wonder why you don’t have one in your living room. However, it’s a needless expense for something that will either be buried 6 feet underground or burnt. By all means, choose a nice coffin if you’re having viewings and it will be buried, but you don’t need to select the premium option if it will be cremated.

Funeral homes have been known to push the most expensive options and even to insist that cheaper alternatives are not available. This is not true. The law doesn’t require an expensive casket to be used and they have to provide you with budget choices, such as a pressboard or cardboard container.

They will be reluctant to do so initially, as there’s no money to be made from these options, but if you push, complain, and fend-off the sales patter, you’ll get what you need eventually.

Choose a Cheap Urn

As with the casket, there are both cheap and expensive options available for urns. The funeral home will try to sell you a premium option, made from the finest wood and decorated like the crown jewels. They make a lot of money selling these options and most staff members are encouraged to push them, even if the customer has made it clear that the ashes will be scattered.

However, there are always cheaper options available.

Buy Elsewhere

Not only is the funeral company obliged to provide you with cheaper options for caskets and urns, but there is no law stating that you need to buy them from the funeral home. If they refuse to provide you with an affordable alternative, look elsewhere. You can buy a very good coffin for less than a grand and a high-quality urn for under $100.

Believe it or not, Costco has affordable options for both and once you see what they charge you’ll realize just how high the funeral home’s markup is.

Donate the Body

If you don’t have any money for a funeral and the deceased didn’t leave anything to cover the costs, you should consider donating the body to a medical school. This is a great option as the school will cover all costs, including the storage and transportation of the body.

Contact a medical school after death and discuss your options. Just make sure you keep the deceased’s wishes in mind. If they were very religious, this is probably not the best option.

Summary: Take your Time

Between the ages of 30 and 50, you’re more likely to lose your parents and be tasked with footing the funeral costs. However, the average savings for people in this age range is less than $8,000, while the average debt is half that. If you’re hit with hefty funeral costs, you can say goodbye to your savings and hello to a lot of desperate, last-minute, high-interest debt.

You don’t need to rush things; everything doesn’t need to be purchased right away. The preparation needs to be done straight away and you should bury them quickly as well. However, you don’t need to pay for a headstone straight away and you can also refrain from buying an expensive urn.

Taking your time in this way can reduce your initial costs and make the funeral a little more manageable. It’s also important to take things slowly and think things through where possible. By acting on impulse and grief, you may make regretful decisions that will cost you in the future. By taking your time, you can make smarter decisions and be less influenced by grief.