There's really no way to make funeral planning sound exciting. We all know we will need to do it "someday" but we imagine that we have more time to think about it at a later date. The truth is, when your loved one dies unexpectedly, you won't have time to do adequate research and a cost analysis on the different options you have with different vendors. In fact, if it's a close loved one that dies, your brain won't even be fully functioning anymore. Suddenly basic, commonplace decisions that you've made millions of times before will become much more difficult. You'll have trouble remembering the names of people you've known for years, filling out simple forms for the funeral arrangements will seem like monumental tasks, and you could even experience physical symptoms associated with stress, such as an inability to taste or digest food (for more information on how grief affects the brain, click here). Even if you aren't an overly emotional person, exhaustion will set in as you deal with the calls and visits of everyone that wants to console you on the loss of your loved one, exasperating the situation and making your brain fog even worse.
For my logical friends out there, I know you don't think the brain fog will hit you very hard, but it will. And even if you aren't affected by it as much as the next person, perhaps my list below of the actual expenses my family had to pay for my own father's funeral will convince you to address this topic in advance. Because we had five weeks and two days to plan my Dad's funeral (read all about that by clicking here), I powered through the brain fog to do a tremendous amount of research in order to cut down on his funeral expenses. Despite all of this, my Dad's funeral still cost $14,953. And that was doing it cheaply!
Below is a breakdown of all the fees we had to pay along with my explanations for why we selected that option, what the other options were, and how we were able to save money throughout the whole process of planning a funeral.
Funeral Home Fees:
"Basic Services" Fee Package - $2,500
The word "package" makes it sound like there was an option to not select these basic services, but there was really no way around this fee. It was absolutely necessary and encompassed everything from obtaining the death certificates to coordinating with the cemetery on their service time and getting the vault installed (see below). I was actually pretty impressed this fee was so low...
Body Transfer To Funeral Home - $500
You can't exactly throw a dead body into the trunk of your car anymore, so you have to pay this fee to allow the funeral home (that has all the proper permits, mind you) to pick up the body from wherever it may be. In our case, the body was at the hospital and needed to be driven exactly 1.7 miles to the funeral home. Yep. We paid about $100 per minute for that trip.
Embalming - $700
Believe it or not, I looked into our options to not have to pay this $700. What I learned was that even though embalming is not required by law, there can be "house rules" that funeral homes make to require it in certain situations. Our funeral home required embalming if we were going to do a viewing (we did not). Otherwise, we could forego the embalming and instead pay $200 for a big plastic bag to encase the body to keep the decomposing smell to a minimum and then pay $200 per day for them to store the body in their refrigerator. This actually would've ended up costing us more than $700 because we needed time to allow out-of-town family members to make it into town for the funeral. In the end, we just decided to go with having the body embalmed.
Dressing, Cosmetizing, & Casketing - $300
Again, it may be surprising, but I tried to see if I could get around this fee. Unless you want your loved one buried naked and looking horrible, you will just pay this. It's actually quite a deal, in my opinion.
Casket - $1,395
This is actually a fantastic price for a casket. Even though we had to pay $300 for shipping when shipping is usually free, we saved so much money by going with OvernightCaskets.com that I want to tell the world about them. Apparently all funeral homes must accept their caskets, so don't be bullied into thinking that you must choose one of the caskets that your funeral home offers (our funeral home was quite nice and didn't pressure us at all, but I have heard horror stories of other funeral homes that weren't as good as ours). We actually ended up getting the exact same casket we saw on our funeral home's website, just without the $3,450 price tag. For comparison purposes, the cheapest casket offered by our funeral home was $1,475 for a very basic wooden box and the most expensive one was $11,525 for a beautiful solid mahogany casket with a velvet interior.
Use Of Facilities & Staff For Funeral Service - $550
A basic fee to use one of the funeral home's rooms for the service instead of, say, a church.
Use Of Equipment & Staff For Graveside Service - $300
Necessary for anyone that wants to have a small service at the cemetery.
Hearse - $450
There's not much to say about this one. A hearse is pretty necessary to transfer the coffin to the cemetery.
Limo - $700
Normally the limo would've been $550, but because my Dad had so many immediate family members, we had to get the 10-person limo instead of the 6-person one. Also, we found out that the minimum amount of time you can rent a limo is four hours. We should have made the driver take us through some drive thrus after the graveside service...
Flower Disposition Fee - $100
Apparently a hearse can only fit a limited number of flower arrangements in it. If you have a lot of flowers at the funeral (actually, even if you just have a normal amount of flowers at the funeral), you will need to pay for a second vehicle to take those flowers over to the cemetery. I toyed with the idea of having several people take one bouquet in their car over to the cemetery on the day of the funeral, but trust me when I tell you that it will be too hectic of a day to start trying to coordinate that with everyone.
Insurance Assignment Fee - $250
Thankfully, my Dad had a life insurance policy to cover his funeral expenses. However, his policy would not pay out until at least 30 days after his death. 30 days! Luckily our funeral home allowed us to assign part of the policy's proceeds to them and went ahead with the funeral in the meantime. Of course, delaying their payment cost us this small fee.
Outer Burial Container (AKA: Vault) - $750
Our cemetery required a vault, so we bought the cheapest one possible. Having gone through other deaths in the family, we have learned that it doesn't matter how much you spend on a vault—they all leak. If you really want to try to find one that doesn't allow water to seep in, that's fine, but it could very well be a waste of your money (because who is checking on that anyways?). The next cheapest vault was $1,125 and they varied in price all the way up to $11,250 (nope, that's not a typo...$11,250!). The funeral home's vaults were cheaper than the cemetery's, which is why we ordered it through them.
Ground Open & Close Fee - $1,895
This encompasses them mapping out where your plot is, digging the hole, and filling it back in again once the casket has been lowered into the vault.
Vault Installation - $175
Our cemetery required a vault for every casket that was to be buried there. Even though we bought the vault through the funeral home (because it was cheaper through them), we still had to pay the cemetery to install it in the ground once it was delivered.
Gravestone Installation - $750
Even though I was able to find the gravestone we wanted for much cheaper online (see below), we still had to pay the cemetery to install it.
Admin Fee - $125
$15 of this was to pay the notary's fees for some of the paperwork that needed to be notarized. $110 of it was just another way for the cemetery to get more money...
Major Newspaper Obituary - $611
Can you believe it?! We used a black and white photo so we wouldn't have to pay for color and kept it to 147 words, but it was still $611 to run a very basic obituary in a major city's newspaper.
Local Newspaper Obituary - $182
Same photo and 147-word obituary as the one we used in the major newspaper, but this one was published in my Dad's hometown newspaper from the town in which he grew up.
Flowers (Full Casket Spray) - $425
If you're having a closed casket, you will need a full casket spray. Otherwise you can get away with a half casket spray which is...you guessed it...about half the price of a full casket spray. It took a lot of research to find a small, local florist that would do a full casket spray for less than $500. Just to give you an idea of the cost range, the first florist I spoke to said a full casket spray would cost $750.
Presiding Pastor Donation - $250
If the deceased was a member of a church, the Pastor of the church will usually do the funeral for free. However, it is customary for the family to offer the Pastor a small monetary gift for all of the effort that goes into performing a funeral. This amount can vary greatly depending upon where you are located.
Gravestone - $2,045
Our cemetery has very specific requirements about what kind of gravestones are allowed. Fortunately for me, I was able to find several gravestone markers that were acceptable on Memorials.com...and at less than half the cost of what the cemetery wanted to charge us! We still had to pay the installation fee to the cemetery, but we saved about $3,000 on this one purchase by shopping online.
Some other fees you might encounter when planning a funeral include:
Weekend or evening (3 p.m. or later) service - $300
Special care of autopsied remains - $200
Special care of tissue and organ donation - $300
Setup of visitation at facility other than funeral home - $400
International shipment service fee - $300
Cemetery plot cost - ??? (This depends on your location but can run anywhere from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars. My father had already prepaid for his cemetery plot, so this was one thing we did not have to worry about.)
Another thing that surprised me when planning a funeral was how expensive being cremated is. I honestly thought cremation was for people that couldn't afford or didn't want to pay for the expense of a funeral, but nowadays cremation is almost just as expensive! Seriously...if you are considering cremation, you should look into how much it really costs. It's shocking!
If my father had not had a life insurance policy, I have no idea how my family would have come up with the $14,953 for his funeral. Could you or your family come up with that kind of money at a moment's notice? If not, you need to call my buddy Adam Harriger over at State Farm to talk about getting yourself a life insurance policy...even if it's just a small one to cover your funeral expenses. None of us are promised tomorrow, which is why I gave Adam a call last year to get myself a policy right after I had my daughter. We all want to leave this world in a better condition than we found it and that starts at home with our families. Don't riddle your family with debt upon your exit from this world. A 5-minute phone call and an easy monthly payment could make all the difference in the world to those you leave behind. Call Adam today at 240-686-6426 or visit his website at www.myagentisadam.com. You will never regret taking the time to address this subject.
Click here for the final installment in this series where we examine what life after death looks like.