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Understanding funeral costs

The average cost of a funeral in America today between $7,000 – $10,000 according to a national website that collected funeral prices from funeral homes across the US last year.

National Funeral Directors Association had last recorded an average funeral price of $7,360 in 2017, so arguably funeral prices have not changed much over the last 5 years.

What has changed is the huge shift towards cremation, as this offers a much more affordable funeral alternative.  A simple cremation service is likely to cost between $1,500 and $3,000, so this can present a significant saving to families struggling with the full cost of funeral services.

If you live in a major metro area, funeral costs can be even higher if you are looking for what is known as a “Traditional Funeral Service”.  When you begin to break down the funeral costs, the largest costs incurred are for items like the casket, cemetery plot and grave marker, which on their own, can end up costing you more than the average cost of a complete funeral service. In cities with limited cemetery space, the cost of a cemetery plot alone can amount to $15,000.

The single biggest issue when having to arrange a funeral is that we have very little to go on and to compare with.  It is very easy to compare grocery stores and restaurants because these are businesses that we deal with on a regular basis.  Arranging a funeral is something that many people have never had to do, and therefore we are very trusting of the funeral home.  Make no mistake about it, funeral homes and funeral companies are businesses.  Think about the funeral director as a salesperson, because that is what they are.  Funeral homes are interested in getting you to spend as much money as possible, and they are extremely good at doing this. 

The decline in traditional funerals has resulted in a drop in revenue for many funeral homes, meaning that ensuring they can sell ancillary products and services is vital to sustaining their funeral business.

Be clear about what kind of funeral services you require

It is important to decide what type of funeral you want before you even begin discussing things with a funeral home.  The first question is whether the deceased is to be buried or cremated.  If you choose burial as an option, remember that you will also need to purchase a cemetery plot, and these plots can be very expensive indeed. 

If you have decided on cremation as a more affordable alternative to burial, be sure to understand that there are various options for cremation services.  A cremation with a funeral service beforehand will still cost in the region of $2,000 – $5,000.  A cremation with a memorial service afterward with the cremation urn will cost less, and a direct cremation with no ceremony or services is the most inexpensive cremation option.

Understanding cremation options as a low-cost alternative

US Cremation prices by state graphic

Cremation is an option that more families are opting for today, indeed last year (2018) the cremation rate in the US surpassed 55%. 

As you can see from the chart, the cost of cremation does vary.  It varies by state, by city, and by the provider.  Some states are more expensive, these tend to be some of the northeast states or the very rural and smaller population states.  The west coast has a much higher cremation rate and therefore costs are generally lower.

A direct cremation is generally the lowest cost method of disposition.  A direct cremation is when the deceased is immediately cremated, with no service, and the cremated remains directly returned to the family or scattered. 

Whilst the cost for a direct cremation can vary, it can be conducted in certain areas of the United States for as little as $495.  Generally a direct cremation can be conducted for between $695 and $1,095 in most cities if you select an affordable cremation services provider.

DFS Memorials was set up in 2012 as a network of low-cost cremation providers.  Visit DFS Memorials to find your nearest provider and their direct cremation cost.

Saving money on funeral costs

A great way to save on funeral expenses is to purchase items like the casket, urn or grave marker from other third-party sellers.  Today you can actually purchase caskets from both Costco and Walmart, although you need to order from their web sites.  There are many other companies selling funeral products online, and these can often be great savings compared to the funeral homes prices.  Federal Law requires ALL funeral homes to accept funeral products bought from other companies, and they cannot charge you extra for doing this. 

“No cost” cremation when you donate your body to science

Although most funeral homes will not mention this, it is possible to get a cremation for free.  Donating a body to science for research is one way of getting a funeral cremation for no cost.  The body is used for research by the medical profession, and the body is then cremated and the ashes returned to the family, with no costs incurred.  The whole process takes between 4-6 weeks and a memorial service can then take place if chosen.

Direct cremation

Is there any state financial assistance for funeral expenses?

Sadly, there is little financial assistance for poor or low-income families.  Some states do aid residents on welfare programs, but not only is it very limited, there are also very stringent qualifying criteria and many families end up finding they do not qualify.

It is best to check with your local county human or social services, they will advise you of what may be available locally and if you would qualify.

The message is simple, if you want to save money on funeral costs, do some research, compare prices, consider purchasing funeral merchandise from a third-party seller, and even consider making an anatomical donation. 

This way it is not only possible to save thousands of dollars on funeral expenses, but you could also even find that you could have a free cremation and a funeral that virtually costs nothing at all!

Written by

Nicholas is the owner & founder of US Funerals Online. He has been involved in the death care industry for over 20 years. He spent his childhood between the UK and US. Setting up a UK funeral website in 1998, to later turn his attention back to North America, building both US and Canadian Funeral websites. In 2011 formed DFS Memorials LLC - a national cremation company, specializing in affordable cremations.