Ways to Limit Funeral Expenses

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By the author of the FREE online course Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture


Let’s face it: it can be difficult and painful to talk about death. If you feel this article would be upsetting to you for any reason, please put it aside for a future day. In my own experience, I have seen people who could ill afford it feeling obligated to spend beyond their means for a loved one’s funeral. There was a time many years ago when I remember being told a funeral and all related expenses would cost around $10,000. Times are changing!

This article offers an open and honest discussion about the new types of lower-cost basic services that have sprung up in recent years. I will go through a number of ideas that you can consider in order to limit unnecessary expenses to put a loved one to rest. 

Please do note, that the idea of “unnecessary expenses” is a personal one. Throughout the article, I will be questioning the unspoken assumption that permeates funeral planning that spending more represents more love and care for the deceased. The suggestions offered are merely ideas for you to do your own research and you can use them to reflect on your own values and make your decisions from there.

Know your local low-cost funeral company

I cannot emphasize enough how important this first suggestion is. If this is all you do, it will take you a long way. No one, absolutely no one, is in any emotional state to make good decisions right after the loss of a loved one. Add in the fact that there is limited time after the death to make the phone call to the service, and the stakes are even higher. 

If you live in a big city, there will be many options. If you live in a rural area, there will be a few options, but there will still be options. If you don’t know your local low-cost funeral company, Google it today and check out their website. Get informed about their costs and their services. Give them a call. Ask your questions. Gauge how they respond. If you don’t like their attitude, repeat the process. Many places would be more than happy to have you stop by and meet them to ask your questions in person. Take advantage of a time when there are no immediate pressures to get informed. You will know them, and then, when you are in need, they will know you.

Plan ahead but do not pay ahead

If you do not leave clear directions for those you love, you are adding to their stress at a very difficult time. I’m 54 years old, and I’m putting my affairs in order. Aging isn’t easy. I don’t know how many days or years I have left, but I don’t want to add stress to the lives of my loved ones if I were to die suddenly.

My own preference is to leave my loved ones with a clear plan. If I die locally, here is the number of my preferred funeral provider. They will have my plan and all of my preferences on file. You will not have to worry about any of these decisions. It’s all organized and they will take over from that one phone call. 

Why don’t I want to pay ahead? Well, if the apocalypse is really coming, I’d prefer to have that cash on hand. Although I plan to have a solid will in place that is witnessed by my lawyer, I have been told by a local funeral director that most banks will release the funds to hold a funeral from a bank account if you submit the bill and the death certificate to them, along with a copy of the will. This is the case even if the will is in probate. That is the case in my area in Ontario, Canada. I strongly encourage you to find out if this is the case in your area. Start by asking your bank.

Let’s go back for a moment to my first suggestion, Know Your Local Provider. One low-cost funeral provider I spoke with on the phone told me that they would be happy to arrange a payment plan for a family that was not able to pay all costs immediately. This might be the case if someone’s bank account didn’t have around $2,000 or so in it. I know plenty of folks in this situation myself! I think building a relationship with a local provider will go a long way toward dealing with any problems that come up regarding access to funds from an estate.

Do not buy extras for a funeral and understand why

Does your loved one need a proper casket if they are being cremated? In my opinion, they don’t. I will specify in my own arrangement that no extra expense be taken for any coffin except what is required. For most low-cost providers, that is a cardboard coffin. Locally, that still costs around $75. I think that’s the best price you will see, as they need to put you in something to take you to the crematorium or something to bury you in if you’re just going to be buried. 

If you are being cremated be cautious about renting a coffin for a memorial service. For one service provider, the cost associated with this was over $2,000!!! I have found in my own experience that direct cremation without a wake is more affordable. In our culture, I think it would still be taboo to have a wake with a cardboard coffin present. 

Doing research on the costs and options allows us to explore what is possible and what would be too expensive. It is important to do this when we are not distraught and unable to think clearly. Once your loved one has passed away, will they care if you don’t buy the $10,000 coffin that is the top-of-the-line at one local provider? Does spending more on funeral arrangements reflect how much someone was loved?

Opening up discussions with our loved ones around issues like this can be done tactfully and in a loving way. Here’s one example, “Hey Mom, I happened to come across an article this week about end-of-life planning on a website that I like. Have you given any thought to what kind of arrangements you would like to have in place for you?” 

Hold memorials elsewhere

Many low-cost cremation services save money by not having the elaborate halls and rooms in which to hold funerals. They simply have fewer expenses, and that is passed along to you. When I was in the position of making those decisions for a loved one, I decided to hold two memorials in two different cities sometime after the death.

There was no expense associated with holding the events in these venues. We all got together. I brought some desserts in, and I ordered some food trays from the venues. The expenses were limited, but the events were highly successful.

These days this is so common that it is almost expected: “Cremation has occurred. A private burial will be held with immediate family. Celebration of Life to be held at a future date.

The bottom line of funerals

Basic Immediate Cremation and related services currently cost around $1500 in my locale. That includes the cremation and basic services (6 death certificates, local transportation for holding and to cremation, filing all legally required documents) but does not include a plot for burial, embalming, or any other extras, such as a Celebration of Life.

One other local funeral home offered a price match deal. Their basic service was pretty much in line with the basic service price above.

I will emphasize here that renting a coffin alone would cost more than $2,000, so if you choose this option, it would more than double the cost of your loved one’s final arrangements. You can get a biodegradable “scattering” urn that is made out of cardboard, or you can buy a top-of-the-line urn for around $600.

Just as one example, if you decide to go with only a memorial service in a funeral home chapel and a one-hour visitation before the service, the local costs here would skyrocket to over $4,000. If you decide to rent a casket for this service, the total would be over $6,000. I think this is worth thinking about. 

Being well-informed can prevent unnecessary expenses

At the time of the loss of a loved one, being informed is important. Could you see yourself trying any of the ideas offered here to become more informed about options and prices for end-of-life? Do you have one you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments below.

About Colette

Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient.  Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, “Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture.” Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!

Picture of Colette


Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient.  Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, "Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture." Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!

24 thoughts on “Ways to Limit Funeral Expenses”

  1. Hate to say it (life insurance agent here), but a small permanent whole life insurance policy would be better in this case – because day one of that policy you’ll be transferring the whole risk to the insurance company. Saving is nice, but what if you don’t have enough right away? The median savings of an American is $1,200, and half can’t pay a $500 bill if it came up. At least with this way you’re building cash value you can access in an emergency if you need it. Add to that the tips above and I think it’ll be the best combination for the thrifters and frugalites imo.

    1. Hi Justin, Yes! We are definitely on the same page here. I don’t know too many folks with more than $2000 just sitting there in their bank accounts. In my own case, I am holding on to some supplemental health insurance for this reason: it has a small life insurance policy that would cover the cost of my modest funeral plans several times over. Thanks for revealing your career (so we know where you’re coming from), and in this case I think you are well-informed to advise that a small policy would make a difference, here! Much appreciated!

  2. Colette, this is such a vital, well researched and timely article. As a former funeral home Pre-Need Counselor, I was appalled about the way distressed family members were coerced into spending unnecessary money they didn’t have on their loved one’s funeral. Children whose parents had paid on all inclusive funeral policies for 30 years were the most affected by the greedy funeral homes. These old paid up policies were for $500 and included EVERYTHING. The funeral home had, in storage in their attic, “Dracula’s casket” that they would show the family member and tell them that that was the only casket that the policy covered. If ANY changes were made to the “funeral package,” then the entire policy would be voided. The funeral home would, however, be willing to allow $500 to be used towards an updated funeral package that started at $10,000. If anyone finds themselves in this pitiful situation, here is my advice. If your loved one was a veteran, the military issues a free American flag that could be draped over the casket and no one would be the wiser. If your loved one was not a veteran, then a beautiful quilt could be draped over the casket. Please do not allow these thieves to force your family into unneeded debt during these very difficult economic times. Thank you for your very important article. You are truly a blessing!

    1. Thanks for the extra info, and yes you are right when these greedy funeral directors get you in the gut when you are down and out ! My parents pre paid there funeral expenses. Before my father died the funeral director tried to get my father back to re negotiate his prepaid plan contract because it was prepaid years in advance. …. My father dies and we are in the office making plans, the director says out loud “we lost money on this one.”
      The funeral home called me a few weeks later trying to get me to contact with them !!

      Another friend whose parent died the director tried to get the the grieving family member to pay extra for a radio the grieving guy snapped out of his grief for a moment and said “ he’s dead!” The guy wanted the burial to take place in another state ; the director came up with a large price to fly the coffin there; long story short the grieving man made his own reservation and did it much cheaper.

      1. Hi Art, Thanks so much for sharing these examples. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, these stories of true experiences are priceless, because they show what can happen during these very stressful times. I really am sorry that you went through that regarding your father’s arrangements. It is a sad lesson about what can happen with a kind hearted intention (to pay ahead and save your children the trouble and expense) when it is put into the wrong hands. I hope that many will read this and will do the necessary research and planning based on their own conclusions. Much appreciated!

    2. Kathleen, Thank you so much for including information from your own experience that I did not have access to. I hope that everyone reads your comment to have the confidence to follow through with your advice. Much appreciated!

  3. My late husband absolutely hated funerals. His family went in for expensive caskets, lots of flowers, an elaborate wake, and everything else that anyone can think of. He made me promise that he would receive direct cremation and no funeral at all. When he died my daughter and I followed his wishes. When I die I am also to have direct cremation. Our ashes are to be combined and cast at one of several places we suggested. It helps that our daughter knows the owners of a funeral home that doesn’t believe in pressuring the families who have lost a family member to death.

    1. Hi Mary, Yes, your comment is quite helpful, as it shows how finding the right funeral home that has values in line with your own can take the pressure off. I hope that this can motivate folks to find a good one in their region. There are some wonderful ones out there! I made phone calls in my area and talked with some very caring ones. We need to do the homework beforehand and be well informed. Thank you!

  4. When I go I want to see if I can give my body to the local teaching hospital. Once they are done with it they return the cremains to the designated family member at no cost to them. I won’t have any blood relatives by that time, more than likely, and I have no children, so I’m not sure if anyone will want a funeral – which is fine with me, I’ll be off doing something else (or not) and not really care. But it’ll be a comfort to me, beforehand, knowing others can use my remains for educational purposes.

    1. Hi Redbranch, That is incredibly generous and kind of you! That is how medical students learn, and they eventually save the lives of many people, so even after death, you would be contributing in a meaningful way to society. I’m glad you shared this plan, as it could inspire others. Wishing you the best!

  5. If one is okay with it, donating your body is a free way to be dead. I’d certainly speak with family before opting this route and of course do a lot of research before choosing one of the numerous options for where you can choose to send your body.

    A great web site is https://www.funeralocity.com/ . They show different options for what to do when your dead-ified. They also show funeral homes that have an alliance with them and that home’s costs. That website doesn’t charge you, just has info. In my area I can get direct cremated for less than 5 Franklins. Choose a cardboard casket for $75.00… way cheaper total than the average cost.

    Colette said with the possibility of an apocalypse, she isn’t wanting to pay ahead. The apocalypse may or may not happen. I sure as hell know I am going to die. For me, I’d way prefer not to have my costs hanging over my families head. I got an unsolicited card in the mail from a local home. It was a package for $995. The only downside with a pre-paid deal for me is that I don’t know where I will be when I die.

    1. Hi JonesyT, Thanks for raising a lot of great points here. Yes, you are quite correct that pre-paying would mean that, to ensure you get the value, you should be well settled in one place. You gave me a chuckle with your joke…yes, we are all going to die…and maybe there won’t be an Apocalypse. ha ha! For the latter, I definitely hope not. In terms of prepaying, as I have a modest life insurance policy right now that more than covers the cost of my funeral, I have already made sure that my funeral will not be a hardship for them, so I have pre-planned and not pre-paid. What I hope with this article is that it inspires everyone to consider their own ideas about how to plan. Thanks again for sharing yours!

    2. Donating a body is an option but some organizations require the paperwork to be in place prior to the passing of the person.
      We had three family members pre-pay – the contract paid interest albeit not that much. Small town funeral home (aka we know where the funeral director lives!) but it was no pressure to do any “upgrades”. Had a simple graveside services (during the week, the cemetery charges more to open the grave on the weekend – even for the small hole required for interment of cremains. We had the post funeral get together at a local restaurant who charged a very reasonable price. I think the days of friends cooking food for the post get together are few and far between. That’s okay.
      Guilt often makes the survivors vulnerable. The deceased does not know or benefit from the fancy casket etc. And anyone who judges based on the bells and whistles are off base.

      1. Hi Selena, This is a great addition to the thread. Your experience with your small town funeral home and your family members who prepaid was encouraging to me. As you suggest, doing your homework on donating your body would be quite important, as there would not be time after you die to arrange this, I imagine. I am so grateful to all of the Frugalites, as I am learning a lot from your comments!

  6. Redbranch, I’m a hundred percent with you on this. My body is to be donated to a medical school. They can carve me up while eating PB&j sandwiches for all I care. That’s not my, s gone, that’s just the shell. My kid can do whatever they want that they like. I will be with the stars. The funeral industry is mostly a scam, in my opinion. However, I have left the kid instructions about this and we’ve talked about it

    1. Hi Denise, This is great! I’m so glad to hear that you have already left instructions and have talked with your kid about it. You are showing others a great model of how to ensure that your wishes are followed after life. Good for you!

  7. If you don’t pay ahead, your family has to come up with all that money all at once, at full price. Lots of cemeteries offer payment plans and discounts if you’re still alive, but once it’s for someone who has passed, everything owed is full price due before the service (except headstone which can wait indefinitely but the stone’s not getting installed until it’s paid in full). I recommend, if you begin making arrangements, make 1 small purchase at a time. Start with the grave itself if you plan to be buried. Monthly installments can make these payments really cheap. (Unless, like Colette, you think society is closer to the grave than you are, which, I think is fair).

    If you get a second rite two people can share the grave (2 cremains or 1 cremains snd 1 casket). In Illinois you have to specify you want a second rite before anyone gets buried there or it’s illegal to bury a second person there. I don’t know any other state laws, the cemetery I used to work in was in Illinois.

    If you get cremated designate where you will eventually be interred or scattered. You would be shocked how often people just leave urns by the door at funeral homes and cemeteries because they inherited remains they don’t plan to keep around (great uncles, etc). So have a plan that doesn’t involve your urn going to your great great great grandkids.

    A lot of people are holding memorial services at bars and restaurants now (sans casket, obviously) because it’s so much cheaper. So if you cremate there’s no reason to have the service at a funeral home. And cremated can still have a burial and headstone or an urn mausoleum if those things are important to you, for much cheaper than full casket.

    Some cemeteries and funeral homes use aggressive sales tactics, so vet them carefully to make sure your family members won’t get constant sales calls after the service (though these types of places usually offer the most aggressive discounts and payment plans to preplanners, so there are pros and cons, just know what you are getting into).

    1. Hi JT, Thanks very much for sharing. It sounds like the funeral homes in your area are quite different than here. This is something to be aware of. Locally, only 20% down is required for a service after someone dies. As I mentioned in the article, people who are in economic hardship or who can’t access money from the estate can go on a payment plan, even over six months. If the homes in your area require 100% payment immediately, I would actually recommend that you shop around and build a relationship with one that is more reasonable.

      You raise a lot of great points and thoughts about how to save. Regarding the plot, our local cemetery, where I bought my plot a decade ago now allows for four cremated remains to be buried in what was one burial plot. Thanks so much for raising all these points. When I went to pick up the ashes of someone at the crematorium, the owner commented on how prompt I was, gesturing to the room full of remains that people had never picked up. How sad! Thanks again for taking the time to share with the Frugalite community!

  8. There are a number of newer options to explore. some places have a machine that will compost the body. you go and pick up the “dirt/soil” after a certain amount of time. i want to say a month or two. There are ” green burials” if you have a piece of land, a family farm or something. that site would probably need to be approved by the appropriate authorities so as not to impact wells or waterways etc. There is also a technique called water cremation or something like that where they use jets of water to decompose the body and it goes down the drain. Cremation uses a large amount of propane/ng and sends you up into the air. Regular burial in a casket , if embalmed puts a lot of toxic chemicals into the ground .Concrete caskets are energy intensive to create and everything just liquifies. I havent discussed it with my son yet but I’m leaning towards the organ harvesting idea , like the junk yard, pick and pull and take care of the rest. Good article.

    1. Hi Mike, WOW! You are very well-informed on many possibilities that I have never heard of. I am so glad you took the time to comment here. I really like how you mention the energy that goes into some of these elaborate caskets. Part of our local green burial initiatives is that the body in NOT embalmed and the casket is very basic and would quickly biodegrade. Thanks so much for teaching us all about these other methods!

  9. Ok, I have something else to put out here. Last year i took a six month class through the Universty of Vermont to become a Death Doula. they basically are a coach? for the dying. The process ideally would start before the event. To make it easier on the survivors it would be good to have a DNR (do not resuscitate) if that was your wishes. There will be alot of pressure from the medical industry to prolong life, not taking into account the quality of life. And the financial ramifications of such. A will , will avoid or mitigate probate and avoid strange behaviors from siblings or survivors. a letter detailing where things are such as the location of keys to a storage unit, name and phone numbers of such. If you want certain items to go to certain people. Phone numbers of people you would want contacted. Some people have a celebration/gathering /potluck while they are still able to say goodby. some people write, record their story for grandkids. some states allow the person dying to take a cocktail of drugs to put that decision in their own hands. Each state is different and have different rules. some people write their own obituary. Some people simply stop eating and drinking. That process takes about seven days. Hope this helps.

    1. Hi Mike, What an amazing class you took. I’m sure there was a wealth of knowledge there, so thanks for sharing this with us. Yes, there are many many, good points you raise. I hope that everybody reads this. A heard a story recently from a friend that her brother’s will went into probate: unwitnessed and many add-ons at the end of it. Don’t do this to your relatives! Read Mike’s post carefully and get that letter written for survivors telling them where everything is AND have a proper will witnessed by a lawyer. Thanks, Mike! I hope your post helps many families.

  10. I have another thought I’d like to share with those people who are hesitant about organ donation. Some say that they want to leave this world with the organs they were born with. I was shocked to learn when I worked at a funeral home that all internal organs are removed prior to embalming the deceased. I don’t know if organ removal takes place prior to cremation. In my opinion, it would be such a waste not to share your organs and corneas with people who desperately need them. So many people die needlessly while waiting for organ transplants. Can you imagine being the reason a blind child is given the gift of sight, or a parent’s life is saved with a heart transplant so they can watch their children grow up? What a priceless and magnificent gift you would be giving on your way to the other side!

    1. Thank you, Kathleen, for adding this very caring thought. I hope that many Frugalites give this serious consideration. Many years ago, I had the privilege to meet a gentleman whose life was saved by someone who donated their heart. It was amazing, just talking to him, and realizing that his life was saved by that generous gift. Thanks very much for your post, which could also save some lives.

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