Study Shows Mortuaries Vary Widely In Pricing

A non-profit group recently surveyed the prices at 49 different mortuaries and crematoriums in San Diego, and found that “prices vary widely, with some mortuaries charging nearly twice as much as others for similar combinations of services.” Although the study focuses on one city, it’s a good reminder that you should check around and not assume that pricing is consistent throughout the industry.

Although costs have gone up over the past few years, the director of the non-profit points out that you shouldn’t just compare prices on the list. You should also compare package deals, which are usually cheaper than purchasing services a la carte. (Is there a worse use of “a la carte” than when discussing burial options?)

You can download the price survey (PDF) at the San Diego Memorial Society website.

“Mortuary survey shows wide price variations” []

“Save Money On A Funeral”
(Photo: mcsquishee)


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  1. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    “(Is there a worse use of “a la carte” than when discussing burial options?)”

    What do you want them to call it…”a la morte?”

  2. HIV 2 Elway says:

    It is our most modestly priced receptacle…

    Is there a Ralph’s around here.

    • m4ximusprim3 says:

      @HIV 2 Elway: I kept thinking of that scene from diamonds are forever:

      Henchman: Is the deceased your brother?
      Bond: Unfortunately, yes.
      Henchman 2: I gots a brodda!
      Bond: Small world.

      • wheresmymind says:

        This is really something you should arrange in advance. Not only will you be able to shop around, but you’ll be able to better understand what your options are and make the arrangements that are right for you and your family. Even if you’re in the “put me in a pine box and chuck me in a hole” camp, everything will go much smoother if you look into things ahead of time.

    • EinhornIsAMan! says:

      @HIV 2 Elway: Just because we’re bereaved doesn’t make us saps!

    • humphrmi says:

      @HIV 2 Elway: Just because berieved, doesn’t mean we’re saps.

  3. ironchef says:

    It greatly depends how much $$$$ they want to make on processing a corpse. It’s a business model that does not encourage price competition.

  4. Etoiles says:

    The problem is, when you need the services of a mortuary, you’re rarely in a position (wrt time-frame, money, emotional state) to do some heavy research and comparison shopping.

    • HungryTuna says:


      “Shop before you Die”

    • Anonymous says:

      @HungryTuna: @Etoiles:

      Shop before you die doesn’t quite work. It’s one thing if you are making plans for someone else, quite another for you.

      Prices change over time and unless you’re doing an annual “survey” of local pricing, you or someone who is dealing with YOUR death, will have to do the work and other posters are quite right.

      Depending on how you die, you will need a funeral home in a matter of minutes on occasion. (Our mother died the night of Christmas last year. In the same breath as learning this, the assissted living facility told us to call and have the body claimed ASAP. We’re talking 11 p.m. Christmas nite.)

      Fortunately, we had been planning ahead about this and while we did not have the time to do pricing comparisons, we did find a reputable local firm. This worked out well since, unknown to us, they had asked our mother for a name and she had put down the most expensive place in the area.

      Also, a lot of places don’t make it easy for you to get pricing. When I was researching, I looked for places that did offer information online. If they didn’t, and required a call or visit, off the list they went.

      We also picked a family-owned local biz (in biz for 30 years), because we lived thousands of miles away and wanted a company that had been around locally. (You don’t last 30 years if you’re overpriced, give bad service, etc.) plus they were very close to the ALF and came within an hour.

      Unless you have unlimited funds and money is no problem, all of this is tough. Because there are lots and lots of extras.

      Be sure to ask about ALL the various assorted costs. it’s way beyond pickup, storage, cremation, etc.

      Cost of death certificates, shipping ashes, urns (oh, my Lord), costs for getting various papers in order that they need.

      It goes on and on and on. We thought we got the least expensive package and it still ended up almost 25% more with all the other stuff that was mandatory. (We didn’t have the money for the special stuff like cards, etc.)

    • sleze69 says:

      @Etoiles: I took a class in college called “Death and Dying” which covered a lot of the issues with the racket that is the funeral business.

      Give me a pine box and find a cheap hole.

      • Etoiles says:

        @sleze69: I came at some of it the other way in college, by being a journalism major and studying Jessica Mitford. So much of it is a racket. But no one of us can choose for everyone else’s beliefs and grief style.

        At least this reminds me that my fiancé and I should cover our preferences in and among all of the other pre-wedding talk. I certainly hope we get another 50-60 years before having to act on any of it but one never knows.

    • tom2133 says:

      @Etoiles: Problem is, most mortuaries realize this as well and use your grief, etc. to their advantage.

  5. Kickstartheart says:

    Yet another reason to prepare for things like this before they happen. Save your loved ones time, money, and further emotional distress by making the accommodations ahead of time.

  6. nakedscience says:

    My will will say something like: Give any useable organs to those who need it. Give anything else to science. Anything after that, burn. Throw the ashes into the wind.

    Seriously, I’ll be dead. Don’t spend a lot on me or my ghost will be pissed!

    • ColoradoShark says:

      @nakedscience: I wouldn’t want a nakedscience ghost after me!

      Seriously, read the survey and you can see the cost of that “burn” part of the plan varies from much less than $1K to more than $2K so shopping around will also ease the wrath of your ghost.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @nakedscience: Technically speaking, wouldn’t all scienceghosts be nakedscienceghosts?

    • CumaeanSibyl says:

      @nakedscience: “Doesn’t your loved one deserve the best?”

      “My loved one deserves to know that I didn’t go into debt for a damn box.”

    • HogwartsAlum says:


      We have new insurance at work and it has a thing where they will do your will for free. I think I might take advantage of that to make my arrangements.

      Since I don’t have any money, however, it will have to be something cheap. I think I’ll make it so there’s some set aside to do whatever I decide.

      I’m leaning toward the Body Farm, but I’m not sure my family would actually do it. Other than that, just cremate me and toss me in the ocean.

  7. Trai_Dep says:

    Wish I were Canadian so they could simply throw my carcass out the back door to be recycled by the swarming legions of hungry polar bears reserved for such purposes.

    (said with luv, my Canadian brothers & sisters!)

  8. Snakeophelia says:

    I’m donating my body to science. Makes sense for me – I have no kids and I am a scientist, so any of my surviving family and friends would be happier hearing that my body was useful for something, and an urn with my ashes is easy for anyone to store. I hate the idea of being a bother when I’m gone.


    • shepd says:


      I wish that were an option for me. The places here are so damn picky they’ll only take a certain body shape/size/problems and they make even that a pain in the ass. It’s a wonder they get anyone at all. :(

      Sucks because donating to science means free cremation. Hot diggity!

      Now, for the wake afterwards. You know, the kind where people party, not the kind where people are sad. That’s where the money will go.

    • RandomHookup says:

      @Snakeophelia: The world needs doorstops.

    • subtlefrog says:

      @Snakeophelia: That’s something I’ve always considered, but never actually looked into, as a scientist. Thanks for the link! I’m going to request an information packet!

  9. Japheaux says:

    I saw this online:
    Notice: The Federal Trade Commission Rule 16 C.F.R. Part 453 states that funeral homes can no longer condition the purchase of a casket with the purchase of other funeral goods and services. If you choose to purchase your casket from a source other than a funeral home, the funeral home of your choice MUST accept the casket you have provided without duress or embarrassment to the consumer.

    I tried to get my family to go online and save a lot a few years ago when we buried my dad. But no-o-o-o-! I was outruled and we bought a casket for $2750 when I could have gottent the SAME cakset delivered freee overnight for $1350! Holy crap. So my mom started out the rest of her life without my dad $1400 poorer…but I was the bad guy for making the suggestion we go online like it somehow diminishes the process of tossing away thousands of dollars.

  10. H3ion says:

    The same way you have a medical directive and a durable power of attorney, write out what you want and make sure someone knows about it. Putting it in a will is useless because the will won’t get filed until you’re already in the ground/water/air.

    I smoke so I asked that I be cremated and the ashes placed in a large ash tray in the living room. As smokers add to the pile, it will look like I’m doing well in the afterworld.

  11. Rose Robards-Forbes says:

    My father chose to donate his body to science and I’m so glad he did.

    He died, University medical center came and picked the body up, we had a lovely memorial service absent of the creepy factor of having a dead body in the room.

    Medical center will keep the body for up to two years, learn lots of cool stuff and train medical students and send me the ashes or bury the ashes in their memorial garden when they’re done. All at no cost to me or my family.

    This is a wonderful option that I wish more people would consider. But you really have to set it up before hand. Plan ahead and find the medical center that you want to take the remains. Fill out the paper work and rest easy (no pun intended!).

  12. Notsewfast says:

    I’m going to be cremated and put in a cardboard box wrapped with brown paper and twine. I want a stamp on the box reading ‘Return to Sender’.

  13. Ileen Valenti Verble says:

    An excellent site for those who wish to honor their loved ones in a meaningful and respectful way, while avoiding the financial predations of the funeral industry.


  14. xredgambit says:

    I say either after I’m dead, just coat me in fake blood and toss the body at a peta office and leave a note saying I fought for all the tigers in the zoo or something like that.

    Or have my friends put me in a box and bury me at the state or national capitol. I’ll try to have them dress me like a mobster and when they find my body the next day or years away I will be like some sort of mob boss.

  15. dabofug says:

    Years ago in Med School, we had our cadaver. 77 year old guy, hip replacement coupla tatoos. We never were allowed to know his ID. But I spent months with him. Sure there was dark humor, but also awe. His body after the departure from life was a gift to me & my partners, and allowed us to learn anatomy, something I have used every day in surgery & care of my patients. At the end of Anatomy & Physiology, there was a ceremony/cremation/lunch, where it was reinforced in us that people who lived gave us their remains for the good of ourselves & others. I stll thank him. I’ve also seen the results of sight, kidney & liver function, etc. People need to get off their hangups on their remains. Mahogany, Brass, Formaldehyde, Granite, ground, all the waste. Live your life. When you depart, leave the world a better place. If you can’t do any of the above (love the refs above), there’s always the Folgers’ can. Donny lives!

  16. LiC says:

    You should also check your phone book. I found a coupon for $50 off an urn purchase with cremation!

  17. dclamster says:

    I drive past that funeral home (the one pictured) almost every day. I don’t know why this excites me so much. I suck.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I’ve worked in the funeral biz and let me say its not easy. Try running a service business 24/7/365 with a turnaround time of a week. People don’t realize that it takes about 40 man hours to handle a complete traditional service – and that must be done in about 3-4 days.

    When you look at the profit margin for either cremation or burial in the entire scope of things, most funeral homes are only carrying a 25-30% net profit margin which is on par if not below the standard retail business model. Most service fees are designed to cover the expense of what they are (ie use of hearse covers gas, maintenance, insurance, car payment, etc…) and there is very little actual profit.

    When you hear about caskets being marked up so high that is where the actual profit is made for the owner of the funeral home after some of that markup offests the cost of the lower service prices.

    Corporate funeral homes shouldn’t be making a huge profit – but when you consider that many funeral homes across America are still locally owned, generally by the same family for a number of years, don’t they deserve to make a living?

    • cinnarose says:

      @ShyamaliPompeii: There is nothing wrong with making a living. People need to be made aware that they should price shop for funerals and related services, and not just go with the first place they come to. Long live the FTC Funeral Rule and Funeral Consumers Alliance!

  19. krista says:

    When I die, I want to have my cremains turned into a manufactured diamond. Much nicer than an urn on the mantle. They are kind of pricey, but at least (unlike real diamonds) nobody dies for this gem. Oh, wait…

  20. cinnarose says:

    Yay, another funeral story! I’m happy to see this, thank you Consumerist!