By Gail Rubin

Funerals are a huge expense in a family budget and advance planning can help reduce costs. When you find out how expensive end-of-life events can be, it’s a big motivator to save where you can. Today a $6,000 funeral, if you can get it, is a bargain. There are many ways to cut costs without looking cheap.

Costco and Other Wholesalers

“I got it at Costco” is one of my favorite phrases, as the wholesale giant is a great source for quality products at low prices. They’ve been in the business of selling caskets, urns, and other funeral goods through their website,, since 2004. Retail giant WalMart got into the act when it added caskets and urns to its website,, in October 2009.

In addition to discounted funeral merchandise, consider the goods needed for a reception: the platters of food, the paper or plastic plates, cups, and utensils, coffee, tea, cases of sodas, etc. Costco is a one-stop shop for just about anything related to holding a party! There are plenty of other funeral merchandise discount retailers online, as well.

Pre-Need Shopping Around

Shop around for the best prices on funeral services and products before someone dies. Once you have a dead body on your hands, you are not in a position, emotionally or time-wise, to shop around. Meet with various local funeral homes to get their prices and a feel for how comfortable you are with the people and their facilities. You will find an amazing variation in costs, personalities, and decor.


If cremation does not interfere with your religious beliefs, cremation is among the least expensive options for disposition, hence its growing popularity. Cremated remains do not need to be buried, so you can eliminate the cost of buying a burial plot. If you skip embalming, viewing, interment of cremains, and memorial services through the funeral home, a cremation can cost under $1,000.

Donating the Body

Giving your body to science for research costs nothing, but it usually requires advance arrangements. You contact a local medical school, sign consent forms, place copies with your advance directives and wills, and arrange for the medical school to be notified when you die.

First decide if organs and tissue or the whole body will be donated, as those are two separate programs and procedures. Most medical schools only accept whole bodies, with the exception of corneal donations, which don’t affect the rest of the body. Physical condition of the body, not age, is the important factor in whole body donation.

As an alternative, check online for medical research and education programs that facilitate full body donations to science at no cost to the family. Beware of fraudulent providers — look for organizations affiliated with the American Association of Tissue Banks (

Military and Veterans Benefits

Those who have served in the military and their spouses and minor age children are entitled to free gravesites and burials in national cemeteries. Veterans’ death benefits include a cemetery plot, opening and closing of the grave, and a memorial stone. The family still needs to provide a casket or urn and transportation for burial. Most states have a department of veterans’ affairs that can help families obtain services.

Pre-Purchase a Burial Plot and Casket

If you plan to live out your days in the same town and want to be buried in a local cemetery, investing in a burial plot before you need it can result in savings. Real estate prices usually go up, not down, and your final resting place is no exception.

Depending on the type of casket desired, you can realize tremendous savings by purchasing ahead of need from an outside provider. A plain pine box made by a local woodworker can be half the cost of a similar casket provided by a funeral home. The challenge, of course, is where do you keep a casket before you need to use it?

The Funeral Rule

The Funeral Rule is a federal law that protects consumer rights in regard to funeral transactions. It states that a funeral provider may not charge a fee or refuse to handle a casket you bought elsewhere. In addition, a funeral provider that offers cremations must make alternative cremation containers available, and you can even bring in your own – a coffee can will do! More information regarding The Funeral Rule is available at


Gail Rubin is the author of the award-winning book A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. She’s “knocking ‘em dead” with her talks, “Funny Films to Start Serious Funeral Planning Conversations

A Good Goodbye