Five Ways to Save Money on Death Care Costs

Dec 26, 2016 | 0 comments

Sixty and Me End Of Life PlanningDespite great advances in medical care, humans still have a 100% mortality rate. Yet fewer than 30% of adults do any end-of-life planning: wills or trusts, advance medical directives and pre-need funeral planning. That leaves 70% of the population struggling to pull together information and make decisions, not IF but WHEN there’s a death in the family.

Loved ones may be tempted to overspend on funerals out of guilt or grief. Planning ahead can save you money.

Funeral planning involves many decisions. Do you want cremation or burial? What do you want done with your mortal remains? What might make a fitting tribute to your life? Do you want a religious ceremony or not? By planning ahead and outlining your ideal send-off, you can reduce stress at a time of grief, minimize family conflict, save money, and create a meaningful, memorable “good goodbye.”

Here are five ways to save money on funerals, before there’s a death in the family. These tips are explained in depth in my books, KICKING THE BUCKET LIST: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die and A GOOD GOODBYE: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die.

Shop BEFORE You Drop

To kick the bucket on a budget, learn what you need to know before someone dies. Visit several local funeral homes, in person or online, to learn your disposition options and their costs. You can also get price quotes over the phone, but make sure your are getting an “all inclusive” price. You don’t want to find out later that the price you were quoted didn’t include a cremation container or permit fee!

Think about it – if your car died, would you run right out and buy the first vehicle at the first dealer you visited? No, of course not. You’d do some online research, visit a few dealerships and take some test drives.

So why would you avoid doing research about funeral costs, one of the biggest expenses a family will face? It’s so much easier to investigate your options while you can still laugh about death. Under duress of grief, it’s no picnic.

Pre-Plan, and Maybe Pre-Pay

When you shop around pre-need, you have the luxury of time to compare costs and sketch out your ideal send-off. Most funeral homes will “lock-in” today’s prices for the costs they control when you purchase pre-need.

If you live a decade or more, the savings can be considerable. A study by the U.S. National Funeral Directors Association revealed a 28% average increase in median funeral costs between 2004 and 2014, from $5,582 to $7,181. Those costs include the basic services fee to handle paperwork for death certificates and obituaries, removal/transfer of the remains, embalming and body preparation, use of facilities for viewings and funerals, vehicle use, a basic metal casket and a printed memorial package. Add another $1,000-plus for a burial vault.

If you do pre-pay, don’t write a check directly to a funeral home! If it goes out of business or gets bought up by another company, they may change the rules after the sale and there goes your money.

You should be offered a pre-need funeral insurance policy. You own the policy and can transfer the funds to a different funeral home if you move or change your plans. In some places, they may use a funeral trust fund instead of pre-need insurance to protect your money.

Get a Free Cremation

Cremation UrnsYou can get a free cremation by donating your body to a local medical school. However, the school may not take the body when death occurs for a number of reasons. There may be no room at the morgue. If the body has infectious disease, trauma, fluid retention or weight issues, anatomical donation may be turned down.

Always have a Plan B in place for body donation. Register to donate with accredited research organizations that need bodies and provide free cremations in exchange for anatomical donations. They work with local funeral homes to obtain the body.

And in case this avenue doesn’t pan out, have a Plan C to pay for direct cremation, the lowest cost option. Again, doing your research in advance will save stress, time and money. (More info in this blog post.)

Check Cemetery Costs and Availability

Cemetery GravestoneIf burial is your preference, don’t wait until there’s a dead body in the morgue to go plot shopping! Time pressures for scheduling a funeral will make a cemetery plot search unnecessarily stressful.

Cemetery costs are in addition to funeral home fees. These include the burial plot or cremation niche, opening and closing the grave/niche, a burial vault or liner, paperwork fees, and a memorial marker. Cemetery costs can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands. U.S. veterans and their spouses can get a free final resting place in a national cemetery, a value of several thousand dollars.

Most cemeteries operate separately from funeral homes, although there are some funeral homes that also run cemeteries. Unless you work with a funeral home that owns a cemetery, you will interact with different people and pay separate fees to different companies.

Consider a Home Funeral

Some intrepid souls are bringing funerals back into the home, where they used to be conducted before death care was entrusted to funeral directors in the 20th century. Depending on local regulations, a family can hold a DIY funeral without the cost or involvement of a funeral home.

Family members can handle the paperwork and do body preparations such as washing and dressing prior to cremation or burial. Friends may help dig or fill in the grave. Families who have personally taken care of their dead report feelings of healing and closure and finding deep meaning from conducting home death care and funerals.

There are many other ways to save money on funeral costs. Simply decide to find out the costs in your area well before you need these services. Remember – just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead – and your family will benefit from the conversation.

Gail Rubin, CT

Gail Rubin, CT, pioneering death educator

Gail Rubin, author, speaker, journalist and death educator, connects with baby boomers using humor, funny films and a light touch on serious subjects. A Certified Thanatologist, her seminars on clearing clutter and organizing for end-of-life issues always get high marks!

Watch Gail’s TEDx talk, “A Good Goodbye.”

Download a free 50-point Executors Checklist from her website,

This article originally appeared on, a huge online community for women over 60. Learn more about Sixty and Me.

A Good Goodbye