Insights:

If you’re looking for the cheapest burial options, you may need to get creative, but an inexpensive funeral is possible.

Life is expensive, but death is, too. The median cost of a funeral with a casket is more than $9,000 today, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. So it’s understandable if you’re looking for the cheapest funeral options.

In fact, let’s address the elephant in the room right away: If you’re looking for the cheapest death arrangements for somebody, it doesn’t mean you care for somebody any less if you want to save money. And if you’re looking for the cheapest burial options for yourself, that’s understandable, too. Life, as noted, is expensive.

Key Takeaways

  • Final expense insurance is an insurance policy that covers funeral and burial costs.
  • Unlike most other life insurance policies, final expense insurance doesn’t require a medical exam.
  • Many houses of worship will let you have a funeral or memorial service there for free or for a small fee.
  • If you don’t want to have a service or visitation at the funeral home, you can save money by choosing one that isn’t so close to your home.

Finding the cheapest funeral cost

So if you’re looking to save money on a cost of the funeral for, what are your options?

You do have some options, probably more than you think, but it will mean skipping some basic services found with traditional funeral services and burial.

“Most of us, even if we’re really savvy consumers in other areas of life, tend to forget it completely when it comes to funerals,” says Joshua Slocum, executive director of the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA).

You should determine your budget before you make final plans for yourself or a loved one, but don’t be fooled into thinking that more money always equals a better service.

“It’s easy to confuse money spent with the love and dignity shown,” says Slocum. 

He says he’s been to funerals that lasted three days and funerals that were marked by a backyard barbecue. Both demonstrated how much family members and friends cared for the deceased.

How much do funerals cost?

The type of funeral plays a role in the costs. A burial is typically more expensive than creamation. Here’s how prices stack up if you’re comparing burial or cremation:

National median cost of an adult funeral with viewing and burialCost
Non-declinable basic services fee$2,195
Removal/transfer of remains to funeral home$350
Embalming$750
Other preparation of the body$255
Use of facilities/staff for viewing$425
Use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony$500
Hearse$340
Service car/van$150
Printed materials (basic memorial package)$175
Metal burial casket$2,500
Median cost$7,640
Vault$1,495
Total with vault$9,135

National median cost of an adult funeral with viewing and cremation Cost
Non-declinable basic services fee$2,195
Removal/transfer of remains to funeral home$350
Embalming$750
Other preparation of the body$255
Use of facilities/staff for viewing$425
Use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony$500
Service car/van$150
Printed materials (basic memorial package)$175
Cremation fee (if firm uses a third-party)*$350
Total Without Cremation Casket and Urn$5,150
Cremation casket$1,200
Urn$295
Total With Cremation Casket and Urn$6,645

Final expense insurance can help with cost of a funeral

If you wish to plan a more elaborate funeral for yourself, you may want to look into your life insurance options. Final expense insurance is designed expressly to cover funeral costs. Unlike most conventional life insurance policies, final expense insurance usually requires no medical exam. Rates for this type of coverage are based solely on the average life expectancy for your gender. The death benefit is usually lower than other types of life insurance, but could be a low-cost option for older people and those with health issues. 

12 ways to save on funerals

If a cost-conscious affair seems like a better bet, here are 12 tips for planning a dignified funeral for $1,000 or less.

Choose cremation over burial

Cremation is your cheapest choice when you’re looking to save money on burial and funeral costs. And it’s a practice that’s on the rise.

In 2003, only about 30% of people were choosing to be cremated. Ten years later, it was up to 45%. In 2019, 54.6% of Americans were choosing to be cremated, and just a year later, it was 56.1%. By 2025, the U.S. cremation rate is projected to reach 65.2% and 72.8% by 2030.

But the practice’s popularity varies greatly by region. In the West, cremations are commonplace. In Nevada, 80% of the bodies are cremated. In the deep south, it’s more like 30%, though the numbers in places like Mississippi, Alabama and Kentucky have been rising somewhat over the years, too.

If you choose cremation over burial, the least expensive option is direct cremation. Direct cremation is when the body is cremated shortly after death and the body is not embalmed. Embalming isn’t required by law if someone is cremated or buried soon after they die.

Along the West Coast and in Florida, where competition is fierce, you can find a cremation for as little as $700 if you shop around, says Slocum.

Prices can be higher in other places, but shopping around is a wise idea regardless of where you live.

“Choosing cremation over burial will save thousands. The combined average costs of a cemetery plot, casket, burial vault and headstone add up to over $6,000, all of which can be avoided with a cremation,” says Alison Johnston, CEO of EverLoved.com, a website that helps families plan and pay for funerals.

Direct burial or green burial

There may be cheaper burial alternatives than a traditional burial. Two examples are direct burials and green burials.

With direct burial, the body is buried within a few days without a formal service. There’s no embalming or service. The person is buried in a container rather than a casket.

Meanwhile, a green burial buries the person without being cremated or embalmed. The person is buried in a biodegradable coffin and interred without a burial vault. The grave site doesn’t include a headstone.

Each of those alternatives can be cheaper than a traditional funeral with a standard burial plot.

Shop around 

Johnston says people should ask for a funeral home’s general price list from several places to compare costs. Ask the funeral director for that list of funeral costs to find the most affordable funeral for what you want.

“Similar funeral homes in the same city can vary widely in price,” she says. “Just like any other major purchase, it’s a good idea to shop around and compare prices.”

Gail Rubin, president of Albuquerque’s Historic Fairview Cemetery nonprofit organization, also says that comparison shopping for funeral supplies is the way to go. 

Rubin says there is a “mind-boggling array of low-cost funeral suppliers on the internet” and that you can find all sorts of things such as discounted funeral programs, prayer cards, crucifixes, keepsake items, eco-friendly burial, pet memorialization and roadside memorial markers. 

But she says that people should comparison shop — and not assume that online shopping is always your cheaper bet.

Don’t assume you need a funeral home

While working with a funeral home may make your life easier, it may not be necessary.

The FCA says many states allow individuals, not just funeral home personnel, obtain their loved one’s death certificate, as well as the necessary permits for transporting and cremating the body. However, some crematories will work only with funeral homes.

If you use a funeral home by choice or necessity, you have to pay for paperwork, transportation, a container for cremation and perhaps a crematory fee. The price for this averages around $200 to $400, according to the FCA.

If you need to use a funeral home or prefer to use one, you should get quotes from multiple places, rather than automatically using the same funeral home that handled the last death in your family, Slocum says. You may be able to find a much better deal elsewhere.

If you’re not having a service or visitation at the funeral home, you may be able to save hundreds of dollars choosing one that’s not quite as close to your home, he says.

Select a modest casket

The median cost of a metal casket is $2,400, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, and more elaborate models can top $10,000. You could rent a casket for the ceremony, but even that could cost you $800.

Johnston suggests purchasing funeral items online, grim as this all sounds. 

“Caskets, urns and headstones are often marked up by funeral homes by as much as five times. It’s easy to save at least $1,000 by purchasing the casket online,” she says.

But won’t that be awkward, you bringing a casket to a funeral home? Or have it delivered there?

It may be an awkward conversation — but you’re well within your rights. The Federal Trade Commission has a “funeral rule,” which is a number of rules involving funerals.

And one of those is that you can use your own casket. In fact, if you’re disappointed by the idea of spending a fortune on a casket — and then having it cremated with the body, you could keep the casket for somebody else later.

As the FTC’s website says, you can “use an ‘alternative container’ instead of a casket for cremation. No state or local law requires the use of a casket for cremation. A funeral home that offers cremations must tell you that alternative containers are available and must make them available. They might be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard.”

As noted, if you’re opting for a direct cremation without a viewing of the body, the funeral home must offer you an inexpensive alternative, such as an unfinished wooden box or a cardboard or canvas container that is cremated with the body, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

In fact, some cardboard caskets or pressed wood caskets cost as little as $200.

If you choose a simple, inexpensive casket, the FCA suggests draping it with a flag or cloth to dress it up a bit.

Opt for a modest urn

Urns made out of pewter, brass or marble to store your loved one’s ashes can easily run you hundreds of dollars. But you can find plenty of options for urns online that are a fraction of the cost — if not free.

You also can use a plastic or cardboard container to transport your loved one’s cremains if you plan to spread the ashes soon after the funeral. You also may choose to inter them at a church garden for free or for a minimal cost.

You can also purchase a keepsake urn to hold a small quantity of ashes as a reminder of your loved one.

Hold a nontraditional service

There’s no requirement that you have to have a formal visitation or graveside service or a traditional meal afterward.

Instead, consider holding a memorial service at a place that was important to the deceased. That may mean arranging a backyard barbecue or remembrance at the beach or on a mountain top.

Many houses of worship will allow you to have a funeral or memorial service there at no cost or for a minimal fee.

Donate body to science

If you’re planning an inexpensive funeral for yourself, you can donate your body to a medical school, where it can be used for teaching and research. The FCA says some medical schools pay for the body’s transportation and eventual cremation. In fact, some university medical schools have an annual memorial service for the loved ones of people who donated their body to science.

The ashes may be scattered at a university plot or may be returned to the family if requested.

Another option is donating your body to a mortuary school, where students learn how to embalm the body and prepare it for viewing. The body is typically cremated and returned to the family after this.

Get your funeral costs in writing

The FTC requires funeral homes to provide you with information on pricing so you can compare costs in advance of the funeral service. You can get this information over the phone, but you may prefer to visit the funeral homes and obtain written price lists if you’re comparing multiple options.

The FTC also provides a funeral checklist online, which can be helpful for ensuring you haven’t overlooked any funeral expenses.

Crowdfunding

It may not be the most glamorous way to pay for a funeral, but it can definitely help keep what you spend on a funeral down — and it may be a pretty practical way to go if you want a traditionally expensive funeral without destroying you financially.

Crowdfunding, as you probably know, is a concept where a lot of people chip in money to help a family or individual pay for something really expensive. In other words, your family and friends would share the cost of paying for a funeral.

There are actually crowdfunding websites designed for funerals, such as Plumfund, Social Funeral Funding, MemorialFunding.com and Fund the Funeral. The aforementioned Ever Loved also helps with crowd fundraising for funerals.

Cheap funeral flowers

Funeral flowers can easily run $100 to $200 or more when you’re looking at traditional arrangements, the kind, for instance, where they’re in the shape of a wreath.

Still, there’s no law that says you need to spend a fortune on a funeral’s flowers. This is where something like final expense insurance can really help out — if you’re planning ahead and looking at your own funeral.

But if you’re planning a funeral for a loved one, and you have the time, there’s no reason that you can’t go to a supermarket and buy some bouquets of flowers and put them in an inexpensive vase — and then deliver them to the funeral home yourself.

ostRubin, in fact, suggests going to Costco and getting flowers there.

If you have your own flowers in your garden, adding those would be a nice touch, too.

It may not look traditional, but you never know — it may look far more homey and comforting than traditional funeral flowers.

VA benefits

If the funeral’s guest of honor is a veteran, Rubin says that “veterans and their spouses can get free burial in a national or state veterans cemetery.”

So that can be one of the best strategies to get the lowest funeral costs.

“This includes opening and closing the grave, the marker, and the liner,” Rubin says. “The spouse is usually interred with the veteran in a double depth grave.”

If you’re interested, Rubin says that you’ll need to get a DD214 form, indicating honorable discharge.

And if you aren’t interested because you have a certain cemetery that you or a loved one would like to be laid to rest in, you may be able to get some of your money reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

There’s no doubt about it, though. Discussing the cheapest death arrangements for you or a loved one is definitely not the most pleasant topic, but it is possible to give somebody a meaningful send-off without spending a fortune.

Unfortunately, if a death is unplanned, you may not have the emotional strength to do much bargain hunting. The best time to look for the cheapest burial options is probably when you or a loved one is alive and well.

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