Reducing Funeral Costs

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Planning a Low Cost Funeral

I have been trying to find some information on planning for a less expensive funeral. Actually I just want to be cremated with a memorial service. But how do I plan for a suitable container, transportation of body, etc? It will cost me much more to leave this world than come into it.
Thanks for your help.

Insight From Memorial Society

I used to work for a Memorial Society. We did low cost cremations. If anyone in your family is willing to do the work you can keep the costs very low - probably around $1000, maybe less.

First off check on the laws in your state. In this one you need a death certificate, a transportation permit and a permit to cremate. The death certificate comes from the doctor, the transportation permit came from the police station or the town clerk and the permit to cremate came from a Medical Examiner. One has to wait 48 hours to cremate. (I think that is if any one suspects foul play.) Hospital morgues and nursing homes will sometimes store the bodies. If not, we stored the bodies in a garage or a barn. In one case the family just opened the bedroom window and left the elderly gentleman in his bed until the 48 hours were up.

All those papers go to the crematorium. We used heavy cardboard boxes (the kind of cardboard that refrigerators come in, but specially designed for the purpose). They had a pressed wood liner to keep the box rigid and metal strapping. If one has a pacemaker, that needs to be removed before cremation. Ask either the doctor or the medical examiner to do that. You will have to pay extra. If it was hot summer or the dead person had surgery we put them in a specially made for the purpose plastic bag prior to putting in the box.

After the body is cremated the crematorium will give you the ashes in a cardboard box about 1 cubic foot in size. If they are to be buried you will have the cost of having whoever the cemetery designates to dig a hole. If you wish, ashes can be scattered but let the crematorium know that ahead

If you want a memorial service the body is not there. If you want a funeral it usually is. Caskets can be rented for the service and then the body put in the cardboard box for cremation.

Talk with your family about your wishes. Often times families really don't know what the dead person wanted and so follow the usual custom, which may or may not be what they or you really want to do. Find out the information needed for the death certificate and have it ready for the family. Decide what type of service to have. I really feel something is important to give the family and friends time to say good-by. It may just be everyone sitting around the table talking.

Get the names of medical examiners ahead of time so others will know whom to call. To make this all easier your area may have a Memorial Society. If the do-it-yourself route is too much, they may have an arrangement for low cost care with a funeral director.


I worked as a family service counselor at a funeral home for several months. Pre-planning your services is a brave and intelligent decision. Many people do not realize the cost and heartache it causes their loved ones once they pass. Funeral services are expensive. In today's standards, the average funeral costs anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000 dollars per person. However, there are many, many options available to you.

Talk to a local funeral home. They will lay out all your options. You can get a cremation for less than $1000 dollars in most states. The container does not have to be expensive. In fact, by law, you do not have to buy a container. But if you wish to have a memorial service, which I agree you should to give closure to loved ones, then purchase a less expensive one. Containers can cost up to $4,000 dollars. But you can buy one just as pretty for $200.

Ask about package deals. Like every other service, funeral homes offer package deals too. You can set up your plan on payments if you do not have the money all at once. I know this is a difficult topic. However, a funeral counselor is there to help you and figure the best route according to what fits your budget. They simply go over all options, ask you what you want and go from there.

Medical Schools Offer a Low Cost Funeral

If you would like to do one last good deed before your memorial service, you may want to consider donating your body to a local medical school. My mother made arrangements before her death to do this, and the only charges we had to pay was the ambulance trip from the hospice to the university, the charge for a headstone and to bury the ashes in our family's plot.

The medical students will learn from your body for a few months, and then the hospital will cremate your body and return the ashes to your family. I'm not sure all schools do this, but ours even offered to place the ashes in a common memorial to eliminate the burying charge. It's nice to think that, even after death, you could be saving money and doing good at the same time!

Beware of State Laws

I used to work in the local coroner's office, so I'm somewhat acquainted with this subject. The main thing is: find out what the laws require in your area. There are usually state laws. They can vary widely from state to state, so if necessary, call the consumer protection office in your local district or county attorney's office. At the most, you may have to visit the county law library and ask for help in looking up your state's burial statutes.

Ask around to find the most reputable funeral home in the area; don't necessarily go for the cheapest. Ask that funeral home about what the laws require, and what they would charge to do that. Then call two or three other funeral homes and do the same thing. Do not mention the names of the other funeral homes if you need to say something like, "But I was told you did not have to be embalmed to be cremated" because it puts that funeral director in the position of having to criticize a competitor, and a reputable director will not want to do that. By the time you've made three or four calls, you'll have a good picture of what's required in your area and what it costs. Look in your local yellow pages and make note of funeral homes that belong to national professional organizations--sometimes they have to abide by a set of standards to be in the organization. Ask questions and research your situation locally, and don't listen to what somebody in some other state says, because it has no bearing on what is legal and/or required in your state.

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Funeral Consumers' Alliance is Helpful

HN's best bet would be to look around for the nearest memorial society, which might serve his or her area. I would recommend checking out FAMSA-Funeral Consumers' Alliance at The way memorial societies work is that you join for a modest fee (it was $40 when I joined a few years ago), and then the society offers you a reasonable rate on a cremation or funeral at a funeral home with which it has an arrangement. You can prepay and lock in today's rates, or you can wait and let your family pay the going rate when you "go."

The least expensive and nicest way to have a memorial service is to have one at your church where usually you give the minister and organist a modest honorarium or to allow your family to host a home memorial service. I suppose you could leave directions, and a sum of money in your will, and design your own service, or you could let your family do what seems most suitable to them.

You can look for your own urn if you like or try searching on the web for discount cremation urns. I found a great pet urn for my cat's ashes this way (handmade in cherry wood for $25), and there are some very nice urns at very reasonable prices. You can also find a memorial garden where ashes can be scattered. My mother's ashes are in the memorial garden at a relative's church and the church's fee was $75. Or your family could bury your ashes in their back yard and plant a bush over them!

I agree--the less you can spend while still having a dignified exit from this world, the better. Fortunately, there are ways to accomplish this.

Updated April, 2014

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