Right now I am staring at the clock on the bedside table and wondering how it got to be so late. The clock currently reads 10:56 pm. I don’t normally work this late at night but an unexpected turn of events last week has me sitting hunched over a desk in a hotel room desperately clutching a very large cup of coffee to keep me awake.
I’m in St. Petersburg, Florida this week for my Uncle Rick’s funeral. It was an unexpected death; he was only in his 50’s and gave no outward signs of being ill. We are still waiting for the official cause of death but all signs point to a heart attack.
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Unfortunately I learned a lot about death and funeral expenses this past year. In addition to losing my Uncle Rick I’ve also lost my grandmother and my husband’s grandmother over the past 12 months. It’s not been a pleasant experience lately in the Patterson family but it has been a learning one.
My Uncle Rick’s widow, my Aunt Eva, is as expected heartbroken. What’s made this event even worse is that she is financially unprepared for the cost of the funeral and burial. They didn’t have life insurance or any kind of plans put together for this scenario.
I don’t know the final bill my Aunt Eva will receive, but I do know the average cost of a funeral and burial service was $7,755 in 2009 according to the National Funeral Directors Association. That figure doesn’t include gravestones, cemetery costs, or flowers either.
That’s a lot of cash to come up with unexpectedly. I know my family isn’t the only one who’ve experienced the loss of a loved one and wondered how to pay for it. But know that there are cheaper alternatives out there that cut down on that nearly $8,000 figure.
The least expensive way to handle the remains of a loved one is to have them cremated. Cremations cost much less than a standard burial. It can cut down on funeral costs by eliminating the need for cosmetology, embalming and a casket, the most expensive item at any funeral. Instead funeral homes will try to sell you big ticket urns. While not as expensive as caskets, urns can easily cost hundreds of dollars. Instead find a nice piece of affordable pottery to hold your loved ones ashes.
You can also save money by scattering the ashes of your loved one at a memorable location like the ocean or atop a mountain. This will reduce costs by eliminating the need for a vault and headstone, both of which can cost you over $1,000 each.
If you cremate the body right away, scatter the ashes instead of burying them and hold services outside of a funeral home you can probably keep costs around $1,000.
If cremation isn’t right for you or your loved one, there are other ways to save money. Caskets are by far the most expensive item for family members to purchase. Saving money in this area means reducing your bill by thousands of dollars.
First off know that you do not have to purchase a casket from the funeral home where you are holding the memorial series. They will certainly play upon your grief to try to get you to do so because funeral homes usually mark up their caskets by 300-500%. Although it might seem sacrilegious to do so, shop around for a cheaper casket. Most family members don’t even consider shopping around for deals because they consider bargain hunting an insult to the dead. Although paying thousands of unnecessary dollars is hardly a tribute. Pick out an appropriate casket at the funeral home then call others in the surrounding area and comparison shop. Prices can sometimes vary by hundreds of dollars. You can also try Costco and Walmart. Both have entered the funeral business in recent years and offer cheaper alternatives.
There are also online casket wholesalers…who knew, right? Online dealers sell the same quality caskets as funeral homes do but for a lot less. These wholesalers will ship the casket you pick out to a funeral home overnight or in a few days’ time. Funeral homes are mandated by law to accept any “outside” caskets, they cannot refuse to use one you’ve purchased elsewhere and can’t charge you a handling or delivery fee.
Besides the casket you will be guided to choose between expensive packages and upgrades in service by any funeral home. It’s their business to talk you into using as many of their services as possible. The fewer services you use, the less money you will be forced to spend. Consider holding services at a church or community center. You can still hold a viewing and perform any religious services at these places.
Funeral homes are required to present an itemized price list of all services. Ask for this list from several funeral homes in your area so you can more accurately compare and choose the right place to hold services.
Another great resource that can save you money is the Funeral Consumers Alliance. This nonprofit group provides information about funeral options, consumer rights and frequently arranges discounted funerals with local mortuaries. You can find a local affiliate of the charity by looking in the funeral services section of the Yellow Pages.
An increasingly popular way to cut down on the costs of funeral arrangements are prepaid funeral packages. In the wake of recent allegations of fraud and mismanagement, consumer advocate groups are calling for crack downs and increased regulations. Instead experts suggest setting up a Totten trust. This type of account is created to finance funeral expenses of the account holder. When the account holder dies the named beneficiary will receive the funds as a means of reimbursing them for the funeral expenses. A Totten trust is easy to open at any bank and should only cost a few hundred dollars to set up.
I hope you plan ahead of time for funeral expenses because when the time comes to make funeral arrangements you don’t want money to hold you back from memorializing your loved one.
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