The only two things you need to remember about funeral costs

When someone has to make funeral arrangements, they often look to the funeral home for help. They select one of the three coffins suggested by the funeral home. Often it's part of a mid-priced package deal, one that includes pretty much everything you need, and then some. And in a lot of ways, it makes sense that we turn to the experts, especially if we've never had to make funeral arrangements before.

But there's a big problem with relying on a funeral home to help you make decisions: The people advising you have a vested interest in getting you to spend more.

A Sales Pitch at a Funeral Home

A funeral home is a business. And like any business, the pricier the arrangements, the more money they make. They're there to sell their products and services. Never was that made more clear to me than when my friend passed away quite suddenly last fall.

I remember sitting in the funeral home, listening to the director wrap up the viewing and direct us to the church.

And then he launched into an awkward sales pitch.

I wish I could remember it word for word, but it was a rough day so I can't. I do remember that he offered condolences, but he sounded scripted and monotone. I remember that he asked us to remember their funeral home in the future. I remember being creeped out by hearing a funeral home's sales pitch at my friend's funeral.

Now, that doesn't necessarily mean than the funeral home director was doing anything wrong, other than being weird and insensitive. But he did get one point across: This is a business.

And just like any type of business, there are some funeral homes that genuinely care about their customers, and there are some who choose to take advantage of people at a time when they're most vulnerable.

For instance, CNN Money reported that in 2011 the FTC did a spot-check of funeral homes and found that “nearly one in four had serious violations … involving their failure to properly disclose prices” and misleading customers about federal and state law. They also found “industry training tools … [that] reveal funeral pros sharing tips on how to hook grieving families into going over their budgets and to divert them from buying cheaper merchandise elsewhere.”

So if you select a funeral home just because someone recommended it or because it's close to home, you have a one-in-four chance of doing business with a shady funeral home.

And speaking of how people select a funeral home, often, they don't shop around, which could cost them thousands of dollars. CNN Money also reported that the cost of a traditional funeral varies widely. For instance, a funeral in Atlanta could cost $3,890 or $11,595, and those two quotes were from funeral homes within a five-mile radius of each other.

Why Families End Up Overpaying for Funeral Services

We know we should shop around, just like any other purchase.

The problem is that shopping for funeral services isn't just like any other purchase. It's an emotional time. Often, family members are in shock. Grief, by itself, can be all-consuming. Add to that all of the arrangements, everything that has to be done in just a few days' time: decisions, flowers, gathering photos, dealing with certain family members (you probably know the ones), and a whole slew of unexpected expenses. Maybe they've never had to make funeral arrangements before. They're lost and overwhelmed.

They also might be pressured into paying more. “Funeral directors say you don't want to skimp because funerals aren't just about the deceased,” reports Terry Sheridan for FOX Business. “The ritual involved in burying a loved one provides support and healing to the family, they say. But consumer advocates caution that this is how funeral directors make a living.”

And in addition to the emotional aspects, most people simply don't know their rights. (I didn't before writing this article!) For instance, some funeral homes will tell you that you have to buy the coffin directly from the funeral home, which goes against the Funeral Rule. Or they'll say that a certain service is required by law, when in fact the FTC does not require the service at all.

How to Get a Fair Price During a Difficult Time

No one wants to think about planning a funeral. And I suspect that any specific advice you've read today won't exactly be the first thing you think of when you're faced with the loss of a loved one and have to make plans.

So I think that the main things to remember are, one, to shop around — which you can do on the phone — and two, that you have a lot of rights under the FTC Funeral Rule, including:

  • Only buying the goods and services you want. You don't have to buy a package deal.

  • Getting price information on the phone, without providing your contact information.

  • Getting a written, itemized price list of all the items and services available.

  • Seeing a written price list for caskets before you actually see the caskets, so you can ask about any lower-priced products that may not be on display.

  • Getting a statement listing every good and service you've selected, the price of each, and the total cost immediately after you make the arrangements and before you pay.

  • Providing the funeral home with a casket or urn bought elsewhere, which they must handle without any additional fees.

You might not remember these bullet points, but maybe you'll remember that the Funeral Rule exists, and you can reference it if you ever have the need. Also, the FTC provides a funeral pricing checklist to help you shop around: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0301-funeral-costs-and-pricing-checklist#Funeral_Pricing.

Finally, when some funeral directors say that the “ritual involved in burying a loved one provides support and healing to the family,” I wholeheartedly agree.

Only it's not the ritual of buying the most expensive casket that heals, it is the ritual of support other people offer that gets you through. And I think part of that support can even include the logistics of making funeral arrangements, so consider ways that others can play a supportive role. It may be comforting to have a friend or family member whose opinion you trust help you shop around and make decisions. Someone who has your and your family's best interests at heart will be glad to take the burden for you.

More about...Planning, Budgeting

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
32 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jon
Jon
6 years ago

I’ve been reading personal finance blogs for years, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen the topic of funerals addressed. Hoping, of course, that mine is a long time before it arrives, but it makes sense to figure some of this out ahead of time. Thanks for the article and the link to the FTC info.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
6 years ago

Well written post on a very difficult subject! Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend, April. I just wanted to add people may not need to go to a funeral home at all. We lost a member of the family last winter, and there was a local business that handles only the cremation and paper work (and the essentials related to the two, of course). My family then went on to have a private service and luncheon organized through their church. It was much more meaningful, less stressful and no sales pitches. My family found out about the… Read more »

Dave Lalonde
Dave Lalonde
6 years ago

Thanks for the post! This is great! I never thought about getting ripped off from a funeral home. That’s just awful. I’ll be sure to send the link to this post when needed.

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

I guess the funeral business is like every other service business. No set price list, they just try to get the most out of you.

Thanks for sharing those FTC rules. Now if only I could find a cheaper way to get cremated.

Mike Collins
Mike Collins
6 years ago

Timely post as we actually just pre-paid funeral expenses for my mom 2 weeks ago. Unfortunately I’ve been through this process several times and while some places are very kind and understanding of the situation and do their best to accommodate you, many are simply doing their best to take advantage of a grieving soul and get them to spend as much money as possible.

Kelly
Kelly
6 years ago

Nice article shedding some light on a subject most of us avoid until being forced to deal with it. We went through this a few years ago and I balked at the prices and quality of the urns offered by the funeral home as part of the package. A quick online search for funeral urns turned me on to a great site where we selected 2 beautiful urns that were overnighted to us. Even with overnight shipping they were less than the crummy urns the funeral home offered. We also had a “Green” burial for our family member. The name… Read more »

Laura
Laura
6 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

You know, it occurs to me that as we make or update our wills, we should probably include information we’ve researched (long before death, of course, at a time when we’re not feeling overly emotional) as to how we want our funerals and burials to go. That seems like a good time to do the research ourselves, and the info can be separated out as a separate document and put in the same areas as important bills or other need-to-know’s. Thanks for the post.

Zambian Lady
Zambian Lady
6 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Hi Laura: I had never thought about it, but it is indeed a good idea to put one’s wishes in a will. I have told my husband that I want to be cremated, my ashes scattered in an area reserved for that purpose at the local graveyard and my name to just be on a plaque. He said he wants the same thing, but I wonder if we would remember that when faced with the reality of sending off each other.

Mark Battle
Mark Battle
6 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

Hey Kelly, Thank you very much for some of your insight in to the urn’s online and the green burial. I have told my wife that if I ever go before her to just grab the family and friends together and start a bonfire with my body in the middle. Of course she shudders at the thought even though I try to explain to her that I do not think I will feel any pain since I no longer occupy the “vessel” that I was in. That being said, this is a subject that I have been putting off too… Read more »

Paul
Paul
6 years ago

There were two people in my high school class whose families owned funeral homes. Both also attended the same church as my family. When my mother passed away, we were fortunate to have these two funeral homes from which to choose where we trusted the owners. My mother did not have a lot of money and we were able to get a nice funeral at a reasonable price. I am so glad we did not have to deal with people we did not know trying to sell us things we didn’t need or want.

Carol in Mpls
Carol in Mpls
6 years ago
Reply to  Paul

This is all very fresh for me, as my father died a month ago. Thankfully, it all went very smoothly, as he had made plans ahead of time. Better still, my brother and I were fully aware of them, as we have been all along with all of the financial pieces, so it’s going well. * Funeral was prepaid, and (as I understand), cost increases were absorbed by the plan, not passed on to us * Funeral home was in my hometown, mortician was my high school classmate, and well-acquainted with my father; he had also handled it all when… Read more »

johnbebad
johnbebad
6 years ago

1.) Either convey your wishes for your funeral before you die to those who will be administering it and provide the resources to do so or do so in a written document in the same way and that everyone knows where it is located. 2.) Barring an early death circumstance, you may have to initiate these conversations with your loved ones if they don’t do so or if they just aren’t very organized like my parents. Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To -I bought for them to help get their affairs in order, its… Read more »

imelda
imelda
6 years ago

Thank you for this very important post.

Has this topic been addressed at GRS before? If so, it would be great if links to previous posts could be added to this one.

It’s an upsetting, but very important, topic. And this post also acts as a reminder to think about these arrangements. So, really, thank you.

Personally, I have never been to a funeral. But it seems to me completely innapropriate that the funeral director make a sales pitch AT a funeral. Has that happened to anyone else?

Alice
Alice
6 years ago

April, thanks a million for being brave enough to write about this subject. Most people avoid it and never get around to making any arrangements for themselves or expressing their wishes. My daughter went through this last year and the Hospice workers recommended she contact a funeral negotiator, which she did. She was able to save a great deal of money and still have an extremely nice funeral for her husband. The money she was able to save can now be added to the college fund for their son. If I were to make a recommendation to anyone, it would… Read more »

April
April
6 years ago
Reply to  Alice

Thanks. It honestly was a hard post to write, and I knew a lot of people probably wouldn’t want to read it. I get that, though. I’ve just been to too many funerals lately, and I’ve seen families who have to struggle to make ends meet after losing someone, yet they pay $10K for the funeral. Of course that’s their choice, if they want to do that. I absolutely don’t judge. But I think a lot of people don’t know that there are other options out there, so they pay that much because they think they have to. That really… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago

As someone who worked many years in a mortuary with my husband (he is still a mortician), I agree with your tips. It’s important for people to get pricing in writing and understand what exactly it is they’re paying for. However, I have to disagree with the part about funeral homes wanting you to spend as much as possible. Most funeral homes just want to be paid and you would probably be surprised just how many people walk out on their bill. I can’t tell you how many times it happened when I worked in the funeral industry or how… Read more »

Susan
Susan
6 years ago

When we were attending a funeral for an aquaintance my mother was shocked to learn that the funeral expenses were running in excess of $15,000. She pulled me aside and told me in no uncertain terms we were not to spend that much money on her when she passed. She didn’t want a viewing and wanted to be creamated. When the time came we went to a locally owned funeral home, where they did not put any pressure on us at all. We did a creamation, no viewing, no limos, a church memorial service and graceside interment of her ashes.… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

My mom was cremated, we didn’t have a viewing, service, or wake. I think I’ve only been to one funeral. I definitely will be cremated!

Daniel @ usurnsonline.com
Daniel @ usurnsonline.com
6 years ago

I work in the funeral industry, and funeral homes do, almost always, offer much higher prices for products than what you can find online. Most are honest about it if asked (although the 1 in 4 statistic is unfortunately accurate), so definitely do a bit of research and price shopping. One of the best things you can do is do a little research now on options and pricing, and pre-plan a few of the main things (burial vs cremation, type of urn or casket, memorial service details, etc). Even if you just discuss these things with your spouse and write… Read more »

Andrew V
Andrew V
6 years ago

There is a website that I’ve used, Everplans, which organizes everything related to death, wills, funerals, etc. It seems pretty comprehensive.

Crystal
Crystal
6 years ago

I recently dropped out of Mortuary School and I wanted to throw my 2 cents out here. A lot of what is said in this article stems from the sensationalized headlines in regards to funeral homes. Funeral homes only make the news when they are breaking the law and so then the public receives skewed information about them. Just like any industry for every bad one you hear about there are several following the law and going above and beyond. Funeral directors and other death industry workers sacrifice a lot to the business. You’re on call 24/7/365, other family’s needs… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
6 years ago

Because of the high costs of funerals, cremation and scattering of the ashes at sea has become popular in Hawaii these days. Usually there is a nice service on the beach and then the ashes are taken out to the ocean on a canoe and scattered. Others will paddle out on surfboards etc and throw a lei of flowers into the water at that site. It is all very nice and what I want for me. In 200 years, nobody remembers you or your grave…why take up the space. A guy in Stratford, New Zealand, sells home made wood coffins… Read more »

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

My uncle was something of a model of fiscal restraint in some ways, a terrible miser in others. That said, he left a respectable inheritance to his kids when he died suddenly in his late 50s, and at least one of them has turned that into a very good life (in the quality over quantity sense). One of the best things he did relating to his death was to pre-purchase and arrange everything long before he died. I have no idea what the cost was (knowing him it was not overly much). But for all of us grieving family members,… Read more »

A Frugal family's Journey
A Frugal family's Journey
6 years ago

Great post…very informative and helpful. Hopefully, it will help people avoid being taken advantage of at a very difficult time.

Funeral costs is not something anyone wants to think about when while alive, but these tips should help everyone make sure their loved one is properly laid to rest without breaking the bank.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
6 years ago

Always get twice as many death certificates as you think you will need. It costs a lot more to get them when you find out that you need more.
15-20 is a good number.

DA
DA
6 years ago

Well written article on a touchy subject. My Grandma passed away on the East Coast and we, who live on the West Coast, had to rely on my Uncle to make arrangements. He was bullied by the funeral director into doing something larger and more expensive than we wanted. The mortician even didn’t bother to put my Grandma’s date of death on her gravestone until we discovered it hadn’t been done two years after the fact. A lot of this business was done with my Uncle getting advice from his local cronies, and dealing with East Coast traditions. It was… Read more »

PawPrint
PawPrint
6 years ago

My father purchased a prepaid plan, chose an urn and made his dispersal wishes known to us. What was interesting was that we actually got money back because the state he died in was cheaper than the state where he purchased the plan. When my 9 year old granddaughter died, it was a totally different thing. While I’m not sure how much money was spent, my son and his ex-wife pretty much got the best of the best. I never heard them ask for a price. My son had taken out an insurance policy on his daughter (she was not… Read more »

Milissa
Milissa
6 years ago

Since I didn’t see anyone here mention it, please consider reading Jessica Mitford’s book “The American Way of Death” It was an eye-opening description of funeral business. Having buried both my parents with a local, reputable and sensitive funeral home, it is eye-opening and instructive to understand choices, as well as how well-meaning but perhaps financially interested funereal directors can influence grieving family members to make inappropriate choices to honor their loved ones.

Marie
Marie
6 years ago

One of the recent Angie’s List newsletters had an interesting article about green funerals, and how important shopping around can be in that industry. Much of it was intriguing, including the idea of being cremated and added to a man-made coral reef. Relatives can later scuba dive to “visit you”.

I try to get my husband to express his wishes, and he says crap like “I don’t care, throw me in a ditch. Just make sure the after-party has a kick a$$ band.”

Ethan
Ethan
6 years ago

Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend, April.

Steve
Steve
5 years ago

It is amazing to me how one knows anything about funerals until they have one and that is a bad time to learn. You are right there are really bad funeral homes out there and really good ones. You really have to do your homework before the time you need one comes. I have been writing reviews on local funeral homes on a website I am working to solve these issues. To shop around and find a good funeral home all you need to do is call and ask for their price list. They have to give it to you… Read more »

Christina Zhao
Christina Zhao
3 years ago

Hello. We are a group of journalists based in London investigating funeral home scams and up-selling. We are aware that the industry is unregulated and bereaved family members have gone through bad experiences. If you have had a bad experience with organising a funeral, feel like you have been scammed or have any information on the industry please get in contact with us to tell your story. We are gathering information for our investigation. The process is sensitive and vulnerable people are at risk. Our aim is to prevent others from being taken advantage of when dealing with a funeral… Read more »

shares