Saving on Funeral Costs
If there’s one thing people don’t like thinking about, it’s death. As a result, they are often woefully unprepared to take on the considerable expenses that go along with the average funeral. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral in 2012 exceeded $7,000. Even if you opt to go the simplest route possible, you’re looking at a bill pushing $2,000, and that’s not exactly pocket change.
Fortunately, these prices reflect standard funerals, which are typically completely handled by funeral homes. There are lots of ways to save money on funeral costs, but the only way to take advantage of them is by planning ahead.
Understanding Funeral Costs
Before delving into how you can save on funeral costs, it’s helpful to know what they typically include. At the absolute minimum, if you hire a funeral home to handle a funeral, you’ll be responsible for a funeral fee, which includes a set of basic fees for things like sheltering the remains, general planning, preparing permits and death certificates and coordinating arrangements with the cemetery. These fees alone cost an average of $2,000.
Additional services and merchandise are what make so many funerals skyrocket in price. During a trying time, like the death of a loved one, people are highly susceptible to emotional overspending. They may feel the best way to honor their departed loved one is by tacking on a number of extras, including a fancy coffin, elaborate graveside and funeral home services and visitations, hearses and the like. This is where the $2,000 cost skyrockets to $7,000 and higher.
The Federal Funeral Rule
The overwhelming majority of funeral homes and funeral directors are upfront and honest with their customers. Unfortunately, throughout history, some have taken advantage of people’s highly charged emotional states to rake in as much money as possible. In response, the federal government instituted the Funeral Rule. The gist of the Funeral Rule is that you are only required to pay for the goods and services you specifically want and need. The rule, which is enforced by the FTC, requires funeral directors to present customers with itemized breakdowns in person and, if desired, over the phone. The rule must be stated in writing on a funeral home’s general price list. If an item is required to be purchased due to federal or state law, this fact and the applicable law must be disclosed on the price list.
Beware of Package Plans
All too often, people get the impression that they are required to choose from a list of funeral packages. These packages often include merchandise and services that aren’t needed or wanted, so customers end up overpaying significantly. Please note that you are not obligated to buy such a plan in New York State or elsewhere in the country.
Ways to Save on Funeral Costs
A great way to save on funeral costs is by understanding laws regarding funeral services in New York State. The Funeral Consumers Alliance is a great resource. In New York, funeral homes are regulated by the Bureau of Funeral Directing, so you can and should turn to them for help if needed as well.
In the meantime, keep these tips in mind to keep funeral costs in check:
- ♦ Pre-Plan and/or Pre-Pay for Your Funeral – In the wake of someone’s death, it’s easy to scramble around and spend way more than you should. In addition to sparing your loved ones the ordeal of making the arrangements, pre-planning your funeral is an excellent way to keep costs low. Pre-planning means simply selecting the services and items you’d like for your funeral. Pre-paying means advancing the funds for the funeral ahead of time. Pre-paying is advantageous for many reasons, including the fact that prices often rise over time, so paying now can save money later. New York State has very strong protections regarding pre-paying for funerals, so be sure to familiarize yourself with them before committing to anything.
- ♦ Comparison Shop – If arrangements aren’t made in advance, it’s tempting to go with the first funeral home you run across. That’s a good way to spend far too much. Go online and gather instant quotes from local New York funeral homes. You’re sure to be amazed at the wide range of prices you’ll encounter.
- ♦ Skip the Embalming – Embalming is not required by law in New York. However, funeral homes typically require it for open casket services and under other circumstances. If you’ll be having a direct burial or cremation, you can save a decent amount by opting out of this service.
- ♦ Consider a Home Funeral – At-home funerals are perfectly legal in New York. However, you and your family will be solely responsible for arranging just about everything, which can be an enormous burden at such a time.
- ♦ Donate Your Body to a Medical School – A great way to sidestep nearly all of the costs of a funeral is by donating your body to a medical school. Many times, medical schools help loved ones arrange memorial services too.
- ♦ Buy Caskets and Other Merchandise Elsewhere – You’re sure to pay a premium by purchasing urns, caskets and the like from a funeral home. Warehouse clubs like Costco and online retailers like Walmart offer terrific deals on first-rate funeral merchandise. You can often even arrange flowers and other add-ons through third-party providers and save significant amounts of money. The FTC requires funeral homes to accept any casket purchased from an outside source.
If you live in Long Island or elsewhere in New York and want to avoid overpaying for your funeral or for the funeral of a loved one, the smartest thing to do is to plan ahead. Barring that, cutting out extras that aren’t required by law, including embalming, having a funeral home handle the service and using a metal casket instead of a simple wood receptacle – which is legal in New York – can help you keep costs in check. More than anything, however, knowing your rights according to federal and New York state law will help you avoid being taken for a ride during one of the most difficult periods of your life.