Plan a Dignified Memorial — Budgeting for Less than the Average Funeral Cost

Helping to plan the funeral of a loved one is more than just a great responsibility—it is a great honor. While funerals are usually seen as both terribly sad and terribly expensive occasions, it doesn’t have to be this way. A dignified celebration of a loved one’s life can bring a family closer together, and – if well-planned – can be accomplished for less than the average funeral cost in the US.  But Remember This: Cheap Funerals are almost unheard of.


According to the National Funeral Director’s Association, the  average funeral cost in the US for 2012 was more than $7000. Add in a vault, and the cost jumps up to over $8000. And these prices are not going down. Just the opposite in fact.

While we would never recommend that anyone try to honor their loved ones on the cheap, funerals often end up taking a big bite out of already tight family finances. Add in the fact that many of the families facing this burden may have just come through very expensive illnesses, and answering the question of how to save money on a funeral suddenly takes on much greater importance.

Steps to saving money on a funeral:

1: Plan ahead.

Don’t leave the burden of planning a funeral until the last minute. If you have elderly parents, or if you and your spouse or partner are middle aged or older, talk now about their desires and values.

Do they wish to be cremated? Where would they like the ceremony to be held? Start this conversation now, when your body and mind are sound. It can also have the beneficial effect of building a closer relationship between you and the family members with whom you have it.

2: How much does cremation cost in your area?

Cremation is almost universally less expensive than traditional burial. Remember that $7,000-8,000 we referred to in previous paragraphs? In contrast, the average cremation cost for that same year was just over $2000! So, the question regarding how much does cremation cost isn’t actually “is cremation cheaper than traditional burial?” It’s “why are folks willing to pay thousands of dollars more to be buried?”

Even if you purchase an elegant metal cremation urn or a timeless, classic wooden urn, chances are you’ll still be saving some money, when compared to the extravagant cost of a casket and burial plot.

3: Establish a realistic budget ahead of time.

With a planned budget, you are less likely to be talked into something you don’t need or that the deceased wouldn’t want. For those of us planning our own funerals, planning ahead ensures that the memorial service will reflect our values, and at the same time, spare our families a hefty expense.

To help you plan and stick to a reasonable budget, we’ve created a worksheet which you can use to take some of the guesswork out of nailing down the costs of these services.

The worksheet includes sample costs for different types and combinations of funeral and cremation services, including body preparation, casket, paperwork fees, flowers and other add-ons that can quickly add up, driving the cost of a funeral through the roof.

There are also ready-made columns where you can include bids or quotes for these services from your own suppliers, total them up, and compare them to the sample costs that we’ve assembled.

Remember that services for infants or children are typically offered for free or at reduced rates. If your family finds itself in difficult times financially as a result of the prolonged illness of a child, Eric Cares may be able to offer you comfort and assistance celebrating and commemorating the life of your child.

4: Shop around.

This one may seem uncomfortable at first, but as long as we’ve established that we’re planning ahead, there’s no shame in making a few calls before a final decision is made. And if you have downloaded the budget spread sheet, you will have a place to record the numbers you receive.

  • Funeral parlors and homes are required by law to provide an itemized price list upon your request.
  • Funeral homes are also required by law to accept a casket or urn you purchase from elsewhere — this allows you to shop around for the best fit for you, including styles and price ranges.
  • Many funeral homes, parlors, and crematoria provide packaged services, which usually include the services of the staff and paperwork, but can also be so extensive as to include additional services such as the organist, catering, transportation and florists. Packages are often less expensive than purchasing each of these services as a discrete line item, and can simplify your planning significantly at a time when you may feel both emotionally and financially overtaxed.

5: Keep it simple.

Once you’ve made a plan, completed your research, and set a budget, do your best to stick to it. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to simply keep the whole affair as simple as you can and, if you are working with a funeral director, to insist that this is how your loved one would have wanted it.

You may wish to have a close friend of the family accompany you when you choose to speak with the funeral director to ensure that you don’t feel pressured into unnecessary purchases when you are feeling vulnerable.

6: Spending a bit less on flowers should not make you feel cheap.

Funeral flowers are one traditional expense where it’s possible to overspend a great deal without really contributing to the dignified celebration of you or your loved one’s life. The most expensive flowers and arrangements are not necessarily the most beautiful. In fact, arrangements specifically for funerals can feel and look a little stuffy.

You could also ask mourners to bring flowers from their gardens if the season is appropriate (or from the deceased’s garden if they had a green thumb). It will look intimate and stunning rather than cheap—funeral flowers are intended to pay respect to the dead, not to pay lots of money to the florist. Remember that there are also alternatives to flowers, many of which are less expensive.

7: Hold the service at a church, synagogue or mosque rather than a funeral home.

If faith plays or played an important role in the life of the honored, you may wish to hold the funeral in their house of worship. There will likely still be a fee for the use of the facility, but it is probably going to be lower than that for the funeral home. This is a great way to demonstrate your loved one’s gratitude for the values and sense of community we get from our faith.

You will still want to include an honorarium for the pastor, rabbi, priest, or imam who performs the ceremony. You may be able to hold the traditional after-service meal in the same building as well.

8: Make sure you’ve investigated all sources of death benefits.

9: It’s OK to negotiate.

Again, this is a suggestion that can feel a little uncomfortable or even shameful for many families—but it shouldn’t. For those truly in need, many funeral directors are willing to negotiate to lower the cost of a funeral if your family is facing true hardship. If the deceased has died after a prolonged illness, for example, even the more fortunate among us may find our finances stretched to the limit by medical expenses.

There should never be a stigma against trying to keep your funeral costs under control.

This is especially true if you are pre-planning your own memorial. And chances are, your loved one would not have wanted you to drain the coffers either.

If you have further questions regarding how much does cremation cost when compared with burial, how you can economize without feeling cheap, and funerals that are both dignified and financially responsible, please reach out to us at 1-877-659-2305 for more information.

2 Responses to “Plan a Dignified Memorial — Budgeting for Less than the Average Funeral Cost”

  1. From Ben Hebrew

    My great-grandfather’s ashes were placed inside his favorite fishing tackle box. When his grandson died, he too had chosen to have his ashes placed in a woven fishing tackle container along with some of his favorite “flies”. No one was left to make that personal decision.

  2. From Une Belle Vie Customer Service

    Ben –
    Thank you for sharing! A tackle box is a great memento and memorial for a beloved fisherman.

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