Trade Secrets of a Mortician (Funeral Director)

Funeral Director Of the many questions asked of me in my more than 25 years as a funeral director, there is one that is asked most: Why are funerals so expensive?

According to the National Funeral Directors Association's web site, the national median cost for a traditional funeral in 2009 was $6,560. This figure does not take into account outside costs for the cemetery or crematory, flowers, death notices, pallbearers and vaults. Add in all these expenses and the funeral bill can easily exceed $10,000 these days.

Keep in mind that some of the costs typically ascribed to a funeral are not controlled by the funeral home. Although charges for the transfer of the body from the place of death, preparation of the deceased, visitation and the casket are within the province of the funeral director, expenses related to the cemetery and crematory are not. Also not under the control of the funeral home are clergy fees, floral tributes and death notices. Lumping together the latter costs along with the funeral home charges can result in a final bill that appears expensive indeed.

So, what can you do to control the cost of a funeral? There are a number of things that can be done, some small, others more substantial. The following are 10 sure ways -- adapted from my book, 'Grave Undertakings' -- to cut the high cost of a funeral.

1. Limit the amount of floral tributes.

The majority of cemeteries and crematories only accept a limited number of floral arrangements. Instead of each family member sending an individual piece, pool your resources and send one or two.

2. Exclude non-essentials.

Certain things are not essential to a funeral. For instance, instead of using limousines, drive your own cars to the funeral. Today, almost everyone drives and funeral attendees can carpool. Memorial cards, pre-printed acknowledgment cards, metal plates with the deceased's name and newspaper death notices are often also not necessary.

3. Make it personal.

Instead of purchasing pricey "burial" clothing from the funeral home, use a favorite outfit that had meaning for the deceased and was perhaps worn on a special occasion. If you need to buy something new, consider an off-price store. And when needed, family and friends may serve as pallbearers.

4. Omit the outer burial vault.

Vaults, which enclose the casket, are available in concrete or steel, and can be costly. Cemetery regulations vary across the country; while some cemeteries require the use of a vault, many do not. Your funeral director will know what a particular cemetery requires. You can save by omitting this if allowable.

5. Opt for shorter visitation periods or no viewing at all.

Long visitation periods (two and three days) at the funeral home have, for the most part, become a thing of the past. Today, one day of visitation is most common. Often people who would come to pay respects have moved or passed away and so there are relatively few people available to attend the wake. Depending on your needs, one day may be enough. Another option is having a limited viewing on the day of the funeral. Or you can choose a religious service and burial or cremation without any visitation.

6. Consider cremation.

The cost of cremation is approximately one fourth less than the price of a grave opening. And if you don't already own cemetery property, the savings are even more substantial, since burial plots generally sell for upward of $1,000. Cremation should not be confused with direct cremation, in which the remains are taken from the place of death to the crematory with no preparation and no services. Direct cremation is the least expensive mode of disposition.

7. Meet at the cemetery for a graveside service or don't go at all.

A graveside service involves family and friends gathering at the cemetery for a funeral ceremony, bypassing the traditional wake at the funeral home. You may also choose to have a member of the clergy officiate and have eulogies given by those who were close to the deceased, all at the graveside. A lower-cost alternative to the graveside service is the direct burial, which like direct cremation, doesn't involve any services or attendance by family. In either case, you will be responsible for purchasing a burial plot (if the deceased doesn't already have one), as well as the grave-opening charge.

8. Choose a less-expensive casket.

A casket makes up a substantial portion of the entire funeral price. Prices range from several hundred to many thousands of dollars and there are numerous options available through funeral homes. Choose a casket in a price range you can afford; your loved one does not have to buried in bronze. Most people select a particular casket for personal reasons, such as color or decoration. Remember this is a major purchase that will soon either be buried or cremated. There is no need to feel you must spend beyond your means. Your love for the deceased is not measured by the price of the casket.

9. Options for those who served our country.

Honorably discharged veterans are entitled to a free grave for themselves, their spouse and dependent children (under 21), along with a monument or grave marker, in one of the 137 veterans' national cemeteries in the United States. In addition, the Veterans Administration will reimburse the transportation charges -- hospital removal and hearse to cemetery -- if a veteran dies in a VA Hospital or VA-approved nursing home facility.

10. Pre-plan the funeral.

Prearranging a funeral before a death has occurred allows for well-thought-out decisions not colored by emotion. What's more, you can decide in advance how much to spend. If you decide to pre-pay, funds will be placed in an interest-bearing burial account through the funeral home. Most funeral homes guarantee that the future interest on the savings will offset any increase in the costs of their services.

Using some or all of these suggestions can substantially lower the cost of a funeral; and the best advice to follow is the last one, to make plans ahead of time for the inevitable eventuality of the event. Letting your loved ones know what you would like for your funeral before the actual event relieves them of the burden of having to choose for you once you are gone.



Next: Confessions of a Mortician (Funeral Director)



Related Stories from GlassDoor

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

20 Comments

Filter by:
Good Day Joey!!!

WHAT'S THE BIG SEACRET THAT THEY ARE ALL TRAINED AT B.I.T.C.H. SCHOOL. TO ACT LIKE THEY ARE BETTER. AND CAN ACTUALLY AFFORD TO SHOP AT THE STORES THEY WORK IN. WHEN IN ACTUALITY MOST OF THEIR CLIENTEL MAKE FAR MORE THAN THEY DO.

August 15 2011 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
judithgrayson

go jewish. next day. plain pine box. no embalming. graveside service. rabbi. that's it.

March 30 2011 at 2:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Paynelaura5

I am a sexton, I work with many families over the years, The funeral and the cemeteries are for the living to have the family and friends together for a ceremony to help each other mourn and help move through the process of mourning. Scattering I hear from families all the time they have the nowhere to go for a special day to remember. So many family's come buy a bench, a plate to engrave their loved one's name so they have somewhere to go on Mothers Day , Fathers Day and just a Sunday afternoon. Whatever the family chooses is the right way for them. Money come and goes but family is forever.

March 27 2011 at 7:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ccotter11

When I die I have left instructions that I DO NOT WANT ANY funeral home, embalming, wake or burial. Just take me directly to the crematorium and I don't care what they do with my ashes. I think funerals are morbid and terribly expensive. Just think of me kindly once in a while and know that I lived a great life. I do however believe in full military funerals. My Dad and Brother were both Veterans and they had the flag folding, the gun salute and are buried in the veterans cemetary. They deserved every bit of pomp and circumstance.

March 25 2011 at 8:22 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
abenzrite

The funeral is obviously for the "Living" to impress upon others who attend, how much they cared about the loved one, Via how lavish the funeral is. As for the Deceased, anyone who actually thinks they give a rats ass, is all too ignorant to ever be practical in the prima facie.

March 25 2011 at 8:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ranchopaso

I sure hope when I go, somebody does more for me than toss me into a can, a donor program or a firey chamber. I bought a burial space, prepaid the opening and wrote and paid the name plate with a cemetery with a 100 years of good reputation with the state cemetery board so I hope the space is there when I leave the tired of body and sail off to glory or whatever. But if the family I'm leaving two houses to doesn't take simple care and scrape together a few grand for a metal box a pastor and a party, I will come back to haunt them.

March 25 2011 at 8:11 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
wstarhopper

It seems to me that you cannot have a memorial without bagpipes. I hope for mine there are alot of them. Also parents the best thing you can do for a family is to perplan and perpay youre own memorial service.

March 25 2011 at 6:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cking30080

The funeral industry has changed in many ways over the last 2-3 years. Yes, cremation is certainly an option. When you donate your body to "science" the family is not told when the cremated remains will be returned to the family, it could be 18 months or more and then how are you going to dispose of cremated remains? Studies show that only 4% of the familes that choose scattering do not scatter the cremated remains but choose to place them in a permanent place......Pre-planning is always an option. Many cemeteries have very affordable options including "scattering gardens"

March 25 2011 at 6:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
goobbies2

SPEAKING FOR MYSELF ONLY...I HAVE LOVEONES THAT HAVE PASSED AND IVE NEVER SEEN SO MANY PEOPLE THAT REALLY MADE ME SICK IN ALL MY LIFE ALL THE BOOHOOIN AND CRAP THEN BEFORE THE DIRT IS SETTLED GOOD EVERYBODY IS FIGHTING OVER WHAT WAS LEFT I WONT GO TO A WAKE BECAUSE I DONT REALLY CARE FOR THE FEELIN THAT STICKS WITH YOU EVERY TIME YOU THINK OF THEM YOU THINK OF THE LAST TIME YOU SEEN THEM IT WAS LOOKING DOWN AT THEM LAYING THERE I FEEL BETTER REMEMBERING THEM THE WAY THEY WAS

March 25 2011 at 6:26 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
adcrowel

My dad worked at a mausuleum and pre-paid almost everything. He said "no casket, they have a sturdy cardboard box. Cremate me and use the most simple square urn".
Mom wanted to do exactly as dad. We ended up having 2 services for both of them, one at the church and one at the mauseleum several weeks later. Either way, it was under 2K for each of them as the crypt was paid for in the 60's.

March 25 2011 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Top Companies Hiring

Week of July 27 - Aug 3
View All

Picks From the Web