How Much Does a Funeral Cost?

by Dan Mattia | January 30, 2019

Two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Though you might not associate death with a financial cost the same way you do taxes, there’s a price to pay for sending you off.

How much a funeral costs depends on your final wishes and means. Some choose a traditional funeral and burial, while others opt for cremation or want to donate their body to science.

Learning how much a funeral costs and what options are available to you gives your loved ones the opportunity to honor your final wishes.

Why Do Funerals Cost So Much?

The average cost of a funeral and burial was $7,360 in 2017, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

A typical funeral cost breakdown includes:

  • Non-declinable basic services (consultation fees, cost of staff, etc.)
  • Removal and transfer of remains to the funeral home
  • Embalming and final preparation of the body
  • Use of staff and facilities for the viewing and funeral
  • The hearse and service car
  • A basic memorial printed package
  • And a metal casket

The purchase of a burial vault will increase the cost by $1,395 on average, bringing the total cost of a funeral and burial to $8,755.

Cremation is a less expensive alternative to a burial. In 2017, a typical funeral and cremation cost a median of $6,260 and included:

  • Non-declinable basic services (consultation fees, cost of staff, etc.)
  • Removal and transfer of remains to the funeral home
  • Embalming and final preparation of the body
  • Use of staff and facilities for the viewing and funeral
  • The hearse and service car
  • A basic memorial printed package
  • A cremation fee
  • And the cremation casket and urn

The average cost of a burial or cremation does not take into account the cost of a cemetery or monument or marker. You (or your loved ones) must also pay for cash advance services like flowers and an obituary.

It’s also common for families and loved ones to host a reception, lunch, or other get-together after funeral services. Rental space, transportation, staff, and food for such events add to the cost of your funeral.

Funeral Costs are Rising

In some ways, the Grim Reaper is more expensive than Santa Claus.

Death has become a costly business. In fact, the cost of a funeral rose 227% between 1986 and 2018. For the sake of comparison, consumer prices rose only 123% over the same period of time.

The rise in funeral costs has led many to seek less high-priced alternatives. While cremation isn’t much more affordable, it’s becoming more popular than burials. By 2038, the National Funeral Directors Association projects that the cremation rate will climb by a third.

The projection doesn’t seem too far-fetched, either. In 2018, the national cremation rate was believed to be 53.5% compared to a 40.5% burial rate. Some states are expected to have a cremation rate of more than 80% by 2035.

Thankfully, shrewd shopping habits and industry innovations have paved the way in less-expensive funeral solutions.

Cost-Effective Funeral Options

The cost of traditional burial and cremation has led to an influx of alternative cost-effective options. Some options essentially replace funerals, while others can help you save on funeral costs.

Plan Ahead for the Best Prices

It pays to plan ahead. Shop around for funeral homes the same way you’d shop around for a new car. Research and compare prices online and ask for an itemized list of goods and services – or General Price List – from every funeral home you consider.

In fact, the FTC requires funeral homes to provide clients with a GPL. Consumers are not forced to buy a package with items they don’t want.

This means you don’t have to buy a casket or urn from the funeral home. A casket from a retail store, for instance, might prove more affordable than one offered by the funeral home. A funeral home must accept a third-party casket or urn without charging you any additional fees. (Did you know you can buy a casket from Costco?)

Alternatives to Traditional Funerals

Funerals can be as elaborate or simple as you want. If you want to, you can choose to be buried on your own, or private, land. Of course, consult state and local laws and ordinances beforehand, as there may be some stipulations in place to prevent groundwater contamination and spreading of disease.

You might also want to host a service at a private residence instead of in a church or other venue. This cuts down on fees you’d otherwise have to pay to rent a venue’s space and time.

Another affordable alternative to a traditional funeral is a direct burial or cremation. Direct burial or cremation takes place soon after your death, so it skips the embalming process and other pricey services.

The average cost of a direct burial or cremation ranges between $600 and $2,000. Loved ones are still able to hold a graveside service or funeral without the body present, but for a fraction of the price a traditional funeral would cost.

Deciding on your final wishes ahead of time opens up the opportunity to donate your body to science. The institute you donate your body to typically covers any associated costs. In many cases, the institute will also cover the cost of sending your cremains to your family after research is complete.

Scientific and technological innovations are continually developing new alternatives to burial and cremation. Ideas like biodegradable burial pods and ecological burial are becoming more mainstream (and going through the legal process) and often cost less than a traditional funeral – or help honor specific final wishes.

How Do You Plan Your Own Funeral?

Many people have plans for how they’d like to be sent off and remembered during their funeral service. Understanding the cost of your funeral can help you plan out your final wishes and save your loved ones money.

Decisions made after the loss of a loved one can be hasty. Unscrupulous funeral homes know this and capitalize on it. By having your plans defined ahead of time, your loved ones will be more resistant to last-minute changes or tactics to upsell services.

Planning ahead of time will also spare your loved ones from being on the hook for the bill or dependent on an unreliable crowdfunding campaign to pay your funeral costs.

Putting a plan in place ahead of time means you can choose the type of casket you prefer. While the average casket costs slightly more than $2,000, some may cost up to (or more than) $10,000, based on the material the casket is made out of.

Lastly, solidify your final wishes in a will. Wills specify your final wishes and can define how you envision your funeral. While you are fully entitled to write your own will, it’s not a bad idea for an attorney to review it – or write it on your behalf. On average, the cost of hiring an attorney to write your will is $375.

How Do You Pay for a Funeral?

Once you’ve planned and laid out your final wishes, the final step is figuring out how to pay for them.

If you have ample savings, a portion of your assets can be earmarked for funeral expenses. However, even if you’ve stipulated so in your will, some assets may be subject to probate and potentially held up for a few weeks or months.

On top of that, your family might depend on your savings to continue paying bills. After all, expenses don’t fade away after you’ve passed.

If you don’t have enough savings to pay for your funeral, your family and loved ones will have to pitch in to help. They might pool their money together or turn to charity or crowdfunding. Unfortunately, these options are not guaranteed to pay for your funeral expenses.

Your family may be forced to give you a less extravagant funeral or choose a more cost-effective option than you desired if they can’t come up with the money to pay for your final wishes.

In some cases, a funeral home might offer a form of point-of-sale financing, much like buying a car. Financing allows a grieving family to honor one’s final wishes with all the benefits – and downsides – of a loan.

If your loved ones have good credit, banks also offer funeral loans, a type of personal loan that can help fund a funeral. As with point-of-sale financing, however, your loved ones will need to have sufficient credit to qualify for a funeral loan.

Unless you are covered by a life insurance policy. Covering yourself with life insurance is part of planning for the end of your life, even when there might be decades left to go.

In fact, buying term life insurance at a young age, like 35, can give you much more coverage for a more affordable price than waiting until you’re 45, 55, or older.

Life insurance benefits usually pass probate- and tax-free to your beneficiary, as well. Benefits are often paid out within 30 to 60 days of a claim being filed, which makes life insurance an effective solution for paying your funeral in its entirety and according to your wishes.

Perhaps more importantly, any life insurance benefits left over can be used to keep your family financially stable after you’ve moved on. They can also be used to establish a college fund for a child or grandchild or donate to a charity in your name.

It’s Never Too Soon to Plan for Your Funeral

Planning for your funeral doesn’t make for a pleasant experience, but it can take a burden off the shoulders of your loved ones. They will not have to spend time during their mourning and grief wondering how they’ll pay for your funeral.