Direct burials and cremations
Undertakers that specialize in direct burials and cremations can cost much less than traditional funeral homes. They may provide similar services in less fancy settings. I’ve seen one business post their price for a simple cremation on a billboard on a busy street.
Direct burials or cremations give the family the option to bypass a ceremony altogether. However, please don’t skip doing some sort of ritual to acknowledge the death. Those who have lost a loved one can really benefit from the support of their community, and that’s what funeral rituals are all about.
Local Memorial Societies and The Funeral Consumers Alliance
Local memorial societies are non-profit educational organizations that were first started in the late 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression. This was a time when funerals were becoming increasingly expensive due to the growing use of embalming and more elaborately manufactured caskets. These organizations are dedicated to protecting a consumer’s right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral, and they were instrumental in the growth of cremation as a disposal option.
Now affiliated with the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), memorial societies help increase public awareness of funeral options, including how to care for your own dead without using a funeral home. The FCA has a motto: It always pays to plan ahead. It rarely pays to pay ahead. They offer advice, consumer news, FAQs, information on legal rights, and provide contacts for local memorial societies on their web site: www.Funerals.org.
Federal Trade Commission Information for Consumers
Jessica Mitford’s landmark 1963 book The American Way of Death directed a bright spotlight on U.S. funeral practices, illuminating how mortuaries maximized profits and maneuvered the bereaved into buying an expensive funeral. Her exposé helped change federal law, which is called The Funeral Rule. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides information about consumer rights under the Funeral Rule. It states:
- You have the right to choose only those goods and services you want (with some exceptions) and to pay only for those you select (don’t have to use “packages” of goods and services that may include items you do not want).
- The funeral provider must state this right in writing on the general price list.
- If state or local law requires you to buy any particular item, the funeral provider must disclose it on the price list, with a reference to the specific law.
- The funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought elsewhere.
- A funeral provider that offers cremations must make alternative containers available.
The FTC offers brochures and Funerals: A Consumer Guide brochure and other detailed information to help consumers make their best choices when planning for a funeral. The FTC’s web site for information regarding The Funeral Rule is: www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/funerals/coninfo.htm.
Online Suppliers of Funeral Goods
There’s a mind-boggling array of low-cost funeral suppliers on the Internet, other than Costco.com. There are sites featuring discounted goods and services you didn’t know you needed: funeral programs, prayer cards, crucifixes, keepsake items, eco-friendly burial, pet memorialization, roadside memorial markers, etc. As always, comparison shop before you buy, and don’t always assume something you find online will be cheaper than something you can buy locally.
Reducing reception costs
The costs for a reception following the funeral or memorial service can add up, depending on what the family chooses to do. Going to a restaurant makes it easy, letting others do the serving and cleaning up, but then there is the bill to pay at the end. Holding a gathering at the home, you can serve food that has been thoughtfully provided by concerned friends and neighbors.
You can request of those who ask what they can do to help to provide specific food or drink for afterward. For example, at one memorial service I coordinated, held at a church on a Saturday afternoon, we held a reception in the social hall that featured cookies provided by attendees. The out-of-pocket expense for the reception was minimal, yet the gathering afterward provided ample time for all to speak about the deceased and comfort the bereaved.