Save Money On A Funeral


Someone wrote to us this week that a person in his family is terminally ill, and that he was told “that the cost of the casket, funeral, viewing, and burial would possibly exceed 12,000 dollars.” He thinks that’s an “exorbitant amount of money,” and so do we. There is no reason to pay that much money for a kick-ass funeral that people will be talking about for years to come. You don’t need to be a cheapskate to manage this, either—you just need to be aware of your rights and know what traps to watch out for. Here’s our list of what to do the next time you have to plan a funeral.

Oh, and the kitten picture is just to cheer you up if you need it.

1. Learn about the Funeral Rule.
The Funeral Rule is an FTC regulation that requires several things of funeral professionals. Familiarize yourself with these points, and if a funeral home conveniently “overlooks” them, or outright refuses to follow them, run away. (But also report them to the FTC once you’ve got the presence of mind to deal with that stuff again.)

  • Funeral directors must give you itemized prices in person as well as over the phone. You have to ask for the over-the-phone quotes; in person it’s a given, and anyone who skips this is worthy of suspicion.
  • They must give you itemized prices for any other services they offer, if you ask. This goes for caskets, burial containers, whatever.
  • You have the right to buy individual goods and services; no funeral director or home can force you to buy a package.
  • If a state or local law requires that you buy a particular item, the funeral director must state that next to the item on the price list, and reference the specific law.
  • You can bring your own casket; a funeral home cannot refuse you or charge you a “handling fee.”
  • If you choose cremation, the funeral provider must offer an alternative container to a casket; you don’t have to buy a nice coffin just to burn it up.
  • Speaking of which, the funeral director must show you a list of caskets for sale, including descriptions and prices, before showing you the actual caskets. There’s a reason for this—see #4 below.
  • There is no technology, embalming chemical, coffin, liner, or vault that will preserve a body indefinitely. Funeral directors can’t promise or insinuate otherwise.

2. Consider a direct burial with a memorial service.
A “traditional” burial is really marketing speak for a “full-service” burial—funeral providers have a vested interest in suggesting that full-service equals “more appropriate,” because then they can jam a trocar right into your bank account and suck out your savings.

A direct burial, on the other hand, can still include a graveside service, a memorial, or any other rituals you feel are important to the survivors. Remember, you decide what’s considered traditional for your family, not a stranger.

3. You may not have to worry about embalming.
If you’re burying or cremating the body shortly after death, you can probably skip embalming. Here’s a chart showing the law on embalming for each state, or just do a Google search for “embalming law [your state]”. The funeral provider cannot perform an embalming without your permission, and as with other services, must full disclose whether or not it’s required and how much it will cost.

4. Learn how to shop for a casket. (And a vault.)

A. You will be subconsciously led to purchase a specific one. The FTC says, “Industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three.” Remember this before making a decision, and assume that you’re being directed to the middle-priced casket intentionally.

If you aren’t shown the cheaper caskets on the list the funeral director was supposed to have already provided, then ask to see them. If the cheaper casket that you want is in an ugly color, ask if you can order a more pleasing color—the color choice is on purpose to deter you.

B. You will be upsold on gaskets, seals, thickness, and various other protective measures that do nothing. The FTC says, “The Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features help preserve the remains indefinitely because they don’t. They just add to the cost of the casket.”

C. Buy your casket separately. The Funeral Consumers Alliance says “few consumers realize that caskets may be marked up 300-500% or more.” They say caskets can retail for $600 or so, but a more realistic baseline these days is about $1000. If you can locate a local builder or know some basic carpentry, you can build your own and probably bring the price down some more.

Here are some places to begin your search, although we personally vouch for none of ’em:

D. You may be able to rent a casket for viewing if you plan on cremating the body. Be sure to ask. Also, if you’re cremating without a viewing, you can bypass the casket option entirely and save a huge amount of money.

E. Don’t waste money on an expensive vault. A vault or grave liner is basically a concrete shell placed into the grave to keep the dirt from caving in around the casket. Some cemeteries may require it to keep graves from sinking, but no state or federal laws do. In other words, unless the cemetery requires it, you don’t have to buy one. Our reader Erik notes, “Buy a cheap vault, if you need one at all. I’ve seen people spend $4,000 on something that will never be seen by anyone.”

5. Find out if a military burial is an option.
Check out this comment from textilesdiva on a previous post:

If you even THINK the deceased might be entitled to burial in a military cemetery, look into it. For my grandmother’s burial, the plot, facilties for the graveside ceremony, stone, “perpetual care” and all that jazz was $300 at a local military cemetery. As I understand it, my grandfather’s second wife is also eligible for burial with him and his first wife. He was in service during a war, but never deployed to a combat zone.

I doubt the coffin or funeral home services were included in this, but my parent’s surprise at the cemetery costs leads me to think $300 is extraordinarily cheap. This was in 2004, btw.

Here’s more information on eligibility—or just call the Veteran’s Benefits Counselor at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: 1-800-827-1000.

6. Turn to religion.
Our reader Eyebrows McGee, who is an estate lawyer or something like that, points out that churches and synagogues frequently can provide help on figuring out more affordable solutions:

If there is an Orthodox Jewish community in your area, find out who they use. Generally Orthodox Jews use very, very plain coffins which cost very little, for religious reasons.

Your local church/synagogue/mosque/temple/whatever can probably also help you with low-cost planning. They usually have relationships with funeral parlors who want to keep their business more than they want to rip you off. And having a religious funeral service frequently cuts out a big chunk of the cost, since (some) funeral homes make a lot off of families with no religious “home” who have the service at the funeral parlor.

Eyebrows McGee actually has a lot of good advice on funerals and planning for them. Read these two comments for more useful tips:


We want you to save money and stick it to the man, “the man” in this case being a funeral director, so we’ve taken the checklist the FTC provides in html table format and turned it into a handy PDF suitable for printing. Download it here.

After we posted this, our reader Erik sent us a “funeral plan” form (PDF). He’s a pastor with lots of experience officiating funerals, and he says this is one of the easiest ways to collect all the important data you need for this sort of thing. But remember to distribute it:

Put it somewhere it can be found! Don’t put in a safe deposit box or with a will. Those won’t be looked at until after a burial. Instead, give it to your children, spouse, clergy or a funeral director you trust. Even better, give it to all of them, so that someone can find it when it’s needed.

FAQs on Funeral Arrangements [Funeral Consumers Alliance]
FTC Funeral Microsite [FTC]
(Photo: Kpjas)

Update: by reader demand, we have increased the kittenosity of this post:

(Photos: Kpjas, Clevergrrl, d u y g u, mathia-erhart)


Edit Your Comment

  1. theblackdog says:

    Doesn’t Costco also sell caskets online?

  2. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I think that kitty’s just trying to make us feel better about reading a post about funerals. It’s not helping enough. More kitties please!

  3. LuckyEmmie says:

    or you could have a home funeral, if you’re ok with the concept. It’s legal in most states, and brings the costs way down. Plus, for many families it makes the whole process more meaningful. Check out the PBS documentary A Family Undertaking.

  4. BPA-Free_GitEmSteveDave says:

    IIRC, only recently were people allowed to legally buy their own caskets. I always wondered how Vampires bought them before this…

  5. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    @LuckyEmmie: In the olden days of Chinese culture, I believe home funerals were widely practiced….but even if YOU are comfortable with that, you really have to check with your neighbors and people you live around because that’s not something that is widely practiced in Western countries and might skeeve people out…

  6. Anonymous says:

    Also, a few tips from a cemetery operator I once talked with:

    -Check on what’s selling well. Waterview grave sites and niches are always in demand; you may be able to get a better deal on a niche on the side of the mausoleum that doesn’t face the water, because the operator wants to get those spaces sold. Similarly, interior niches behind glass are in high demand, while exterior spaces in the same mausoleum may be more flexible on price.

    -Don’t assume the pricing is set in stone. You can negotiate the cost of burial space, especially when it’s a less popular type of space.

    -Corporate cemeteries spend money on advertising and sales. You are likely to find a much better deal at your municipal cemetery or church cemetery — ask around.

  7. JulesNoctambule says:

    My plan is simple — cheap-as-chips cremation followed by a large wake. Beer and food; that’s where the money should go!

    • TheDustball says:

      @JulesNoctambule: Ditto. I already told everyone they’re having a party and I’m not invited. Toss me out somewhere and drink it up.

    • fonzette says:

      @JulesNoctambule: Part of the beauty of cremation is you can have the wake/memorial service whenever the family wants – you don’t have to do it right away, before the deceased starts to rot. We had my dad’s wake 3 weeks after he died. Gives the family some time to grieve privately, too.

    • the_wiggle says:

      @JulesNoctambule: i already plan to have my DH creamated into a nice diamond :)

  8. The Porkchop Express says:

    7. Refuse to die, ever.

    Seriously though, they can get pricey real quick.

  9. TheUpMyAssPlayers says:

    Ok that was surreal. I’ve never looked at coffins before, and hope I don’t have to for a very long time. Good advice though! *shiver*

    • Skunky says:

      @TheUpMyAssPlayers: Agreed, very good advice. Some of this was mentioned in the related episode of Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit,” but I don’t remember if they noted the FTC list. That particular show is actually a good resource, since they show how funeral homes work and such.

  10. JPropaganda says:

    I found number 6 HILARIOUS. Want to save money? Find out what the orthodox jews use. Insert jewish joke here.

    As a note, I am very much Jewish and therefore not being an antisemite. Just thought it was funny.

    • redskull says:

      @JPropaganda: I have to admit I thought the same thing.

      I’m curious– what religious reasons require Orthodox Jews to require plain, low cost coffins?

      • JPropaganda says:

        @redskull: Honestly? Because funerals in the Jewish tradition aren’t meant to be an elaborate affair. Traditionally, there was no casket. You wrapped the body in linens and buried.

        There’s not a strong dependence on the afterlife in the Jewish tradition, so burying someone in an elaborate casket (a la pharaohs in Egypt where we were enslaved) is frowned upon. A simple pine box will do.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @JPropaganda: LOL, sorry, I just meant because of the simple coffins. If you have local Amish they can also point you to simple coffins, but they tend to make their own more often. (You could, of course, buy one direct from the Amish.) An Orthodox Jewish community is more likely to work with a supplier and know where you can buy one.

      And any church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious congregation that handles funerals can help you get a better deal, just because that’s the repeat business. This is also true of groups like AIDS or cancer support groups. Morbid, but true. I’ve had younger clients planning because of cancer, and they get a LOT of help and support in dealing with the funeral homes through their support groups, who deal with many local places over a period of time … it was pretty eye-opening for me as to which local funeral homes are shady and which ones are attempting to make an honest living providing a necessary service. (Because, yeah, there are people who prey on cancer victims. Pretty appalling.)

  11. darkryd says:

    Build your own?

    Kinda creepy and a little too on the cheap-o side, don’t you think?

  12. mrpenbrook says:


    Is there a Ralph’s around here?

  13. HeartBurnKid, creepy morbid freak says:

    I will agree with #6 wholeheartedly. I’m definitely not a religious man, but I had a friend who was, and his family pulled some strings with the local Catholic church to get my dad’s funeral done under $1000. Which I was really grateful for, because I was 17, my brother was 20, and neither of us had a job at the time. It was a cremation/direct burial with no viewing, but them’s the breaks when you’re poor.

  14. t-r0y says:

    As I’ve always told my wife…

    Don’t waste any money. For all I care, you can shove a ham bone up my ass and let the dog drag me off into the woods.

    (well, not our dog, obviously)

  15. Outrun1986 says:

    As a consumerist the last thing I would want is for someone to spend a load of money on my funeral (oh and if your burying me you should be saving money on it in the process by using these tips), you can bury me in a pine box or a box made out of cardboard and duct tape for all I care. Just don’t spend $2000 on that special coffin and for god’s sake don’t fall for the upsell!

  16. MataHari says:

    Some people think this is too weird or morbid, but donating the body to science costs absolutely nothing and can really give back to society as well. This is what my father-in-law did when he died from cancer. He told us up front that he wanted to do this and he filled out the donor forms (which require 2 witnesses).

    After he died, the University of Washington Willed Body Program picked us his body and we just had a small memorial service at home. We got a nice card 6-months to a year later that told us his remains had been cremated and where they were located so that we could visit them if we wanted. They also have an annual service for the families of individuals who have been donated to the Willed Body Program for the advancement of medical education and research.

    • EarlNowak says:

      @MataHari: That’s a good point. Though it’s a little off putting to most people, donating your body to science isn’t gross or weird- all medical schools *need* cadavers to train students, who will become the next generation of doctors and researchers. Someone is going to find a cure for cancer, eventually, and that someone’s medical training will be partially thanks to a selfless individual who donated his body to science.

    • teh says:

      @MataHari: Unfortunately, it’s uncommon, but donating your body either as an organ donor or for research should be celebrated. I look at the last gift I can give to someone: a chance at life.

    • MissPeacock says:

      @MataHari: That’s a good point. My uncle wants to donate his body to the Body Farm in Tennessee so he can help in his own little way with forensic science.

  17. philmin says:

    This is one of the most useful posts I’ve ever read on consumerist. Well done.

  18. Vanilla5 says:

    Thanks for posting this, Chris. It’s an uncomfortable thing to have to talk about or deal with but it is inevitable that most of us will have to deal with this at some point in our lives. And I think it’s important that we arm ourselves with the truth about how it should work before a time comes where we have to deal with it and may not have the right state of mind to be the savvy consumer – which some shady funeral directors are betting on.

  19. BuddyGuyMontag says:

    My funeral plans:

    1) Die.

    2) Creamation.

    3) Funeral features Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart for a While”

    4) Drinking.

    5) If my wife predeceases me, instructions to my kids that our ashes are to be mixed and then released off a cliff in Maui near Lindbergh’s grave. It was one of the scariest yet most beautiful things I had ever seen.

  20. Vanilla5 says:

    And I probably need to inform my family friends that I don’t want a casket. Just burn me up, put my picture on the mantle, and throw a kick-ass kegger with an iPod hooked up to the stereo in somebody’s living room/basement – whether I’m 25 (now) or 105. Kegger, y’all. Seriously.

    • JiminyChristmas says:

      @Vanilla5: Ah, the ipod mention makes me laugh. My younger brother died unexpectedly last year and his ipod was played through the stereo during the whole visitation. I didn’t share his musical tastes very much but it was a hoot to have Grandma, et al. listening to music like Linkin Park and Wu Tang Clan.

  21. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    I guess I’ll have to be sure however I die that I manage to vaporize myself in the process and save the trouble.

  22. N.RobertMoses says:

    What about Viking funerals?

  23. h3llc4t, breaker of office dress codes says:

    Mata Hari mentioned it already and I can’t reply to her due to the glitch, but I’m planning on going the donating route. I’d like to donate as many organs as possible (which, if I lived a long, fun, booze-soaked life anything like the one I live now, might not be any) and have the local university take the rest. I think it’d be neat to have a rememberance party (think Irish wake style without the body) but it’s not really like I’m gonna be around to care.

    • FightOnTrojans says:

      @h3llc4t: Upon initial reading, I thought you wrote “I’d like to donate as many orgasms as possible…”

      Please let me know who to send the bill for a new monitor and keyboard after I spewed coffee all over them!

  24. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I agree on the not dying part…but you do have to worry about the eventual showdown with Duncan MacLeod (of the clan MacLeod).

  25. Chairman-Meow says:

    Nothing like a kitten to soften the blow of a funeral.

  26. howie_in_az says:

    The government will be kind enough to donate $250 towards one’s burial — they did so with my father’s funeral.

    They did not, however, give my mother access to his social security even though they were married for an overwhelming majority of his working career. Apparently she “makes too much” to qualify… but she wouldn’t have to “make too much” if she could get his benefits.

  27. The Porkchop Express says:

    @ pecan 3.14159265: I live on Sacred ground, I refuse to leave there as well.

  28. HogwartsAlum says:

    darkryd said:
    “Build your own? Kinda creepy and a little too on the cheap-o side, don’t you think?”

    My grandfather refused to spend a ton of money on a casket when he was planning his own funeral and he built his own. He said all they cared about was that the handles were on good (presumably so pallbearers wouldn’t drop it and get hurt). I thought it was pretty damn smart.

    He lived in Texas, if that makes any difference in the laws.

  29. nakedscience says:

    Personally, I find funerals a waste of time and money, for all parties involved. I will put in my will that I awnt to be burned to a nice crisp, use me as mulch or something I don’t care, and if you must, have a small wake at a house or something, or even better, have a rockin’ party. But please don’t have a fancy, expensive funeral. I’ll be DEAD!

  30. rawsteak says:

    that kitty is perfect for this article. reminds me of that book, Grandma’s Dead: Breaking Bad News with Baby Animals:


  31. Cortina says:

    I want a wake like the ones they had in The Wire – laid out on a pool table, a bottle of whiskey in my hand, and people getting absolutely wasted while singing The Pogues. That’s the ticket.

  32. nakedscience says:

    Actually, MataHari made me remember that I want my body and/or organs donated to either science or someone who needs the organs.

  33. Ninjanice says:

    Good article and advice on what to watch out for (as usual). One thing to keep in mind is that planning a funeral can require quite a bit of time. Sometimes the amount of time you spend planning will negate any savings. I used to work at my mom’s flower shop and have seen people plan their loved one’s funeral themselves. Some people did it because the deceased wanted something simple and they were successful at creating a special send-off for the deceased. Some people did it because they thought they could do the same as the funeral home for cheaper. These people would usually be disappointed because they wanted Champagne on a beer budget and didn’t realize how much work would be involved to achieve what they wanted.
    One other way you can save money on a funeral: renting floral arrangements and plants from a florist. We used to do it all the time for funerals and weddings. And it costs a lot (75%) less than buying them.

  34. Anonymous says:

    My grandfather died suddenly when I was very young. I remember my dad, who was very close to his father, talking about how disgusted he was with the funeral parlor for trying to take advantage of his mother — so much so that he cut the niceties and just told them to get the cheapest coffin (which my grandfather would have approved of). When the director suggested he could show his love with a nice coffin, my father responded what good would a coffin my grandfather couldn’t appreciate be. I once saw the bill in my grandmother’s papers and I couldn’t tell if the price they paid was high or not for 1968.

    When my dad’s turn came he said just wanted a peach crate (or whatever Orthodox Jews use) so he could return to the earth as fast as possible. We got him one level up and a room to accommodate all the people (he died in his 50s so we had a good crowd). My mother who is now ill has already stated she just wants a simple graveside service (though I have the feeling my sister will probably overrule it).

    On the other side, my wife’s grandparents both recently passed (married 63 years, died within 6 months of each other). There was no service, just cremation and two celebrations of life at their home, a few days after each death. The last one was a great family party, the guests of honor would have loved it. Assuming our run is the same length, that’s what my wife and I want.

  35. Stream Of Consciousness says:

    Awww….how can I feel sad reading this article with that adorable kitten?? It’s like when Stephen Colbert had Jim Cramer on his show and played footage of kittens and puppies. Classic!

  36. Anonymous says:

    From someone in the cremation business (California laws):

    *If you choose cremation, the funeral provider must offer an alternative container to a casket; you don’t have to buy a nice coffin just to burn it up.*—— This “alternative” container (which is heavy duty cardboard) must be one that is state approved…and Costco doesn’t sell it. You might be able to make your own but when your loved one passes, will you have the time and energy to find out specific regulations/sizes, go buy the wood and make it yourself? We buy inexpensive ones in bulk and charge the customer $25 (plus state tax). There is no way a family can buy one at that cost. That being said, you shouldn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for this so beware if someone is trying to make you pay large bucks.

    *The government will be kind enough to donate $250 towards one’s burial* —-That “burial fee” is only given to spouses over a certain age or surviving kids under 18. Certain funeral homes give you this as a “discount” whether you get the burial fee or not (easy to discount your bill $250 when they are charging you thousands of dollars in excess fees anyway). It’s a very common mistake with folks who think the government will help pay. If you do qualify for the “burial fee” realize it may take months to actually get the money.

    *Veterans*—Veterans are allowed a free burial in any National Veterans Cemetery (along with their wives and certain dependent children). The VA will also pay certain fees for cremation and burial so ask your funeral home if they can discount this amount or if they have the proper paperwork for you to fill out to get this money (families of veterans also get a flag whether they are buried or not so ask your funeral home about that-you’ll need the deceased’s DD214). Most folks say it takes at least six months to get this money from the VA.

    *Donating Bodies/Organs* —If you just donate organs you will probably still need to have the body taken care of by yourself (depends on organization). While donating your body to science is a great idea, read the fine print. Just because you are giving the body to science doesn’t mean they will take it, even if you’ve signed things. Certain diseases, time a person has been dead, accidents, all come into play…they can refuse to take the donation and you are stuck with taking care of the body yourself and paying all charges.

  37. dewsipper says:

    My Hubby says he doesn’t want a funeral. In fact, he doesn’t want me to claim the body. He thinks I should let the state take care of it. How wierd is that?

  38. lalaland13 says:

    I also thought of last night’s Colbert segment when I saw that. That show is genius.

  39. JediJohn82 says:

    Always ask a funeral home if they have any dent/ding caskets. My dad did and they took us out to the garage and they had 15 coffins out there. We got one with for $300 that had a few scratches on the back side of it. The cheapest one they were selling in their showroom were priced starting at $1000 and went up from there!

  40. Anonymous says:

    They really should have a class you can take at your local Community College “Funerals 101” so you are prepared for it. It’s a surreal experience if you’ve never done it. When my mom passed away, it was pretty bad for us. It was sudden (like it typically can be for most) so you don’t have much time to spend browsing and comparing. Nor do you do much beforehand. I didn’t have her embalmed and I’m glad. Nor was there an autopsy so no one was, like, manhandling her. I couldn’t take that.
    But anyhoo, my aunt went with me to the funeral home and we got a case of the giggles. It was just one of those really terrible days that just gets you going because you are so punch-drunk by then. They don’t put the “cheaper” caskets out on the floor on display, you have to ask. That’s why they do it. To make you uncomfortable asking. To make you feel like a cheap ass. So they bring us a 3-ring binder, with pictures. She says “Oh, we get the BOOK version?”. Then I asked, “do we get a punch card? Lke we buy 10, we get one free?” That was the end of us. We collapsed giggling. Mom would have loved it. But they do try to make you feel like you aren’t spending enough on it. Like you don’t love this person if you don’t drop tens of thousands on the whole shindig. They actually give you a menu of what they offer. It was unbeliveable. You can have a horse drawn carriage, a police escort, you name it.
    Our state has a law that you must have a grave liner. It can be made of concrete at the minimum or go hog-wild and get 20-gauge steel. WTF? And have it hermetically sealed. And engraved. Excuse me, aren’t you GOING TO BURY THIS?! And never see it again? Why would you want to spend that kind of money on something you will bury in a hole in the ground? And the caskets. God. They are so beautiful. Mohogany, ebony, gold inlay, lace, satin, porcelain knobs, little pillows. These shouldn’t be buried, they should be furniture in someone’s living room. Wow. Then you get to pick out the headstone. Holy shit! Those things will cost you. They can range in the tens of thousands for one of the really fancy 8-foot long ones made of this gorgeous red marble that is engraved with a likeness of the person buried under it. Good grief.
    The funeral business really has a racket going. Mom used to call them “closers” like they have on used car lots. She was right. No doubt about it.

  41. chilled says:

    Excellent post…this could save a lot of survivors big money…especially as tough as things are in the economy..

  42. crazedhare says:

    I realize funerals are a really personal thing, so I am not trying to impose my views. My daughter died earlier this month from a rare kind of brain cancer (she was an infant). We endeavored to donate her body for autopsy for research purposes; there are a lot of places to do this, and they will cremate and return the ashes in a memorial for FREE. Because of her age, that was not possible for us, but Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was interested in doing an autopsy to save tissue for research purposes, and a local funeral home agreed to donate the cremation. So we paid NOTHING, and at the same time, helped advance the state of cancer research, which was a very positive, healing thing for us.

  43. Butte-Monkey says:

    7. Find a Ralph’s nearby

    You don’t want to be stuck with their most modestly priced receptacle. Just because we’re bereaved doesn’t mean we’re saps!

  44. Transuranic says:

    Agreed – excellent post. This kind of purchase is probably the one most people are never prepared to make, much less informed about. Difficult times like these are ripe opportunities for making unneeded financial choices. Thanks for putting it up!

  45. MasterShake says:

    We had my mother’s body cremated. Her ashes were returned to us in a $250 box. It was the least expensive container the funeral home offered. I don’t know what kind of regulations there are, but nothing about the box was not worth $250. I was not in a state of mind to question much at that point.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Just wanted to comment about cheap funerals. My cousin’s father-in-law died last year and his wishes were to be cremated and then to have memorial mass said for him. What the family realized was that they really should have had visitation hours. By the time the memorial mass came around, they were all absolutely exhausted from all the people stopping by the house constantly. If they had set hours for visitation at a funeral home, this would have given them some much needed breathing room. When the mother-in-law eventually dies, they have decided that it will be better to have the visitation at the funeral home.

    Also, my great-grandmother who died in 1983 at the age of 96, had her viewing in her house. This is what she had always wanted and some of her children stayed up all night with the body the night before the funeral mass. I can’t remember if there were set visitation hours but probably not. As no one else lived in her house, the family could leave and get some quiet time whenever they needed. It worked out well.

  47. Ratty says:

    For anyone interested in learning morea bout what happens in the funeral industry, or to bodies donated to science, I have a good reading suggestion for you. Mary Roach‘s “Stiff: The Secret Life of Cadavers.”

    Really an interesting read.

  48. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Thanks for the cats!

  49. heart.shaped.rock says:

    When my best friend died, her parent bought a simple pine casket. It was the most beautiful and appropriate casket I’ve ever seen.

  50. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    Boy, I spend the whole day at school away from the computer and I get all quoted on Consumerist! The things you miss when you unplug the electronic tether …

  51. mrscoach says:

    My mother’s funeral was just yesterday and we did the full thing for 7K, which included the service, the casket, the digging up and re-covering of the gravesite and transportation to the cemetery. Oh, and I think that also included them having the guys to finish her half of the headstone with her date of death.

    They took bones, muscles and connective tissue from the lower half of her body to use in various medical procedures for others. She would have wanted that, to help others like that. Being 74 there were a lot of things she couldn’t donate.

    My mom had a thing about her casket and if she could have been buried in a cardboard box she would have. She and my father definitely believed in ‘ashes to ashes and dust to dust” but didn’t want to be cremated, either. What she didn’t want to do was sit there and rot and get slimy. Yeah, not an appealing thought.

  52. magstheaxe says:

    Actually, in the US home funerals were the norm as well, and the women in the family “dressed the body”. I’ve got an older cousin–he’s in his fifties–who remembers going to funerals in people’s homes. That changed when the funeral industry started lobbying state and federal goverments, so they could get the business.

  53. magstheaxe says:

    @bunneymare That was an incredible, giving act. You have saved lives with your sacrifice, whether you know it or not.

  54. AD8BC says:

    In my will I have specified the following:

    #1 I will be buried in the cheapest casket possible. Pine box is fine. No silk. Dress me in blue jeans and a T shirt. I just want a pillow and a blanket.

    #2 Nobody (from the preacher on down) will be permitted to wear anything fancy. Absolutely no ties. No suits. You may pay your respects to me and be comfortable at the same time.

    #3 I do want a funeral lunch at the church fellowship hall served by the wonderful church ladies who always do a fantastic job at these. And I want one of their wonderful ham sandwiches put in the casket with me. Just in case it’s a long trip.

  55. cinnarose says:

    I am so, so glad to see this on Consumerist. I am a huge fan of the FCA and I try to spread the gospel as much as possible whenever the subject comes up. You think Best Buy is bad? The amount of overselling, overpricing and outright fraud would make your head spin.

    People don’t want to think about their funerals, so it often gets left up to their family, who are ill prepared to deal with things such as prices because they are grieving. If you’ve been a smart consumer all your life, you don’t want to let some funeral director screw you, and your family, in the end. Shop around, pre-plan, but don’t pre-pay!

  56. Corporate_guy says:

    Can people choose not to claim the body and escape all costs?

    • orlo says:

      @Corporate_guy: Unfortunately the deceased will usually leave behind an estate that can be charged the funeral industry tax. There is no reason why public trash incinerators cannot be utilized, but of course the government can never do things efficiently. Probably the only solution is to die with large debts. ?

  57. sashazur says:

    I you just want cremation without a service and without a funeral home getting involved, contact the Neptune Society. Their prices vary by area, their website said in my area a basic cremation, including everything (no hidden extras) is $1400.

  58. AndyMan1 says:

    One important thing to note about gaskets, seals, etc.:

    Their purpose is to an air-tight seal. However, in the normal process of decomposing the body will generate gasses, and that sealing will sometimes cause caskets to explode (or at least somewhat violently rupture) when underground.

    The point of mentioning this is you are being taken advantage of based on the idea that your deceased love one is going to be better protected with this add-on, when in fact it may cause the body to end up in a worse, gooey mess.

    Plain pine box, cremation, or science donation for me, thanks.

    • Bog says:


      Why do you even want to waste money on a box? Just drop them in the ground directly. Plant a tree on top and become fertilizer.

  59. B says:

    Three words. Yard-a-pult.

  60. DeeJayQueue says:

    Oh My God. Build your own casket? Really?

  61. Anonymous says:

    The latest issue of Smithsonian magazine has a great article in it about a home funeral. The author built the casket himself, and they even washed and dressed the body (his terminal father-in-law). No embalming, then cremation. They found it very comforting.

    An interesting and helpful story. Go check it out (at your local library or online of course.)

  62. reddline says: sells caskets and urns…

  63. Kyle Kearley says:

    Morbid as it may seem, all these people making comments about their plans have it pretty solid. Planning ahead is the way to go. My grandmother passed about a month ago, and she had planned all this out, probably 10 years ago. So, while we had to go through her long final week in the hospital, everything else was done, and the extent of the family prep for the funeral consisted of picking out pictures to be displayed during the calling hours/funeral, writing the obituary, and setting up the wake afterward. Everything else, casket, services, burial plot, even flowers and music, had been prearranged. It seems awful to say almost, but once it actually happened, everything was so smooth.

  64. Yamunation says:


    you don’t have to worry about no one visiting your grave after a few years that way. if you were memorable enough, then people will remember you even if you don’t have a grave to visit.

    Also, cremation is an eco-friendly way to go. What is the point of having your body rot in the ground?

  65. Powerlurker says:

    I’m gonna follow The Simpsons’ advice here, just throw the body over the fence and let Arby’s deal with it.

  66. Bog says:

    Funerals are a waste of money. The dead don’t care, they’re dead.

    I’d have the cheapest possible thing done. Spend as little money as possible. Why waste the energy. If you can save a few thousand dollars on the disposal of your body – then do it; move on and send your family on a nice vacation to Hawaii or get new carpet for the house.

    And yes, I have no sense of nostalgia.

  67. Metschick says:

    Yes, it is a shame how the funeral industry preys on people when they’re at their most vulnerable. My husband passed away 4 years ago, and I was 26. What the hell did I know about any of this? I was lucky in that one of my brothers-in-law and my dad took charge and made the plans. All told, the funeral was $17,000. (We didn’t pay for it, though. He was killed in a work accident and the company picked up the bill.)

    Since it wasn’t on our dime, I was happy (as happy as you can be, anyway), to see him get a beautiful, shiny casket. It reminded me of his black 350Z – he loved that car. As for his clothes, it was a closed-casket, and I picked the plainest suit he had, and had him dressed in that. I wish organs could’ve been donated, as he was only 30, and in great shape, but his body was in no condition to donate.

    With regards to the actual funeral, I think it’s important to remember that yes, the point of it is to remember you, the deceased, and to celebrate your life – but it’s also to help the grieving. My husband was very popular in our town, and it filled my heart to see how many people came to pay their respects.

  68. Anonymous says:

    Ditto MataHari and bunnymare:

    My grandma passed away this week. She had been ill for a long time, so we are relived she is in peace. A few years ago she requested that her body be donated to medical science, training and research. This sounds kinda crazy. However, her wishes made things so easy for us. When she passed away, we called a pre arranged phone number. The service came and took her away very quickly. They are working the death certificates and cremating her. We should receive her ashes in 6-8 weeks. We will probably have a small memorial for Grandma at a later date.

    Here is the kicker: this avenue is 100% free of charge. This is considered a donation.

    If you can get past the weirdness of donating your body, then you may want to consider this.

    My grandmother did not go directly through a university. She went through some sort of distribution company that puts the donation in the hands of a willing recipient. It was called ScienceCare.

  69. MrFrankenstein says:

    Already told my significant other that I don’t give a crap about funerals. Get a nice oldschool burlap sack, and chuck me in that damn hole and forget about it. If necessary find a token $50 plywood box to wrap around the body. And if a priest comes within a 100 feet of my dead corpse, she has full permission to kick their money-grubbing ass.
    When you’re dead, you’re a hunk of rotting meat. Like with weddings in America, the naive and dumb end up being milked by the vultures out to fleece those who think paying for ‘rituals’ somehow sprinkles magic over it.

  70. stands2reason says:

    Consumerist: “If you’re lazy to find out the truth for yourself, just turn to religion.”

  71. Yarrrm8e says:

    I do appreciate that this post says you can have a kick-ass funeral on the cheap. Absolutely. You do NOT have to spend $12,000 on a funeral.
    I’m in the burial vault industry. Yes, we make expensive vaults, because there are those people who want an expensive vault. We also make affordable products that will exceed cemetery requirements. So, since the cemetery you go to may very well require an outer burial container, here are a few tips:
    Get what you feel is right. If you want the bare minimum, get it. Get what makes you happy, because believe it or not, most of us in the funeral industry feel that we are providing a service to those in need. We try very hard to treat everyone as if they were our own family. What is more important, honestly, than the particular burial vault is the graveside service. The quality of a graveside service can vary wildly, from terrible (I’ve seen people put some boards down and some rusted folding chairs and call it a day) to amazing (we provide ice water or blankets depending on the weather, everything is clean, polished, and great care is taken to ensure your comfort.)
    Beware of anyone who tells you a concrete shell is a vault. It’s not. A vault is lined and sealed for strength and water resistance. Many corporate establishments, especially corporate cemeteries, will try to sell you a concrete liner, or rough box, because that is where they get their greatest markup. It’s not uncommon for cemeteries in my state to make upwards of $800 on a concrete shell. It’s almost pure profit for them. So shop around. In many cases, you will spend more for an outer burial container at a cemetery than you will at a funeral home, although many times cemeteries will cut you a deal to undercut the funeral home. Generally, funeral homes are not allowed to do price matching, but the cemeteries can and will.
    Lastly, don’t ever, EVER, shop at a corporate place. Don’t go with Dignity, Stewart (they all have a rose illustration in the establishment’s logo), Keystone, Cornerstone, or any others. You will get ripped off. These bastards have taken what has always been a long-term, generational business, and perverted it in the name of shareholder interests. Stay away from them.