Cremation can cost $1,000 or less in most regions, a fraction of the price of a simple burial, which costs at least $4,000, including cemetery costs. That’s a welcome savings for many families in this economy and a big reason why the popularity of cremation is soaring—roughly 40% of American families now choose cremation when a loved one passes away, up from about 27% just a decade ago.
Trouble is, even with cremation, grieving family members may be tricked into spending more than they need to. Here’s a six-step plan for keeping the cost of cremation under control…
1. Call several funeral homes within 30 miles of the deceased and ask, “How much do you charge for direct cremation?” Direct cremation includes picking up the body, completing the required paperwork, the cremation itself and providing ashes to the family. There’s no embalming or viewing to drive up the price. And because there’s no viewing, there’s no need to pay inflated prices for a glitzy or conveniently located funeral home—you can choose based solely on price.
If you are quoted a price near or below $1,000, proceed to step 2. If not—or if the funeral home won’t quote a price over the phone, as the law requires it to—move on to the next funeral home near you. If you run out of funeral homes within 30 miles before finding one in this price range, expand your search to 45 miles. Ask these more distant funeral homes whether you will be charged a mileage fee for picking up the body and how much that is. If you still can’t find a funeral home offering cremation for around $1,000 or less, either expand the range to 60 miles or call back the least expensive funeral home you’ve found thus far.
Helpful: It is best to shop around before your loved one dies, not afterward when emotions are running high and there are many demands on your time. If it isn’t done in advance, perhaps it can be delegated to an extended family member or family friend.
2. Ask, “Does that price include the crematory fee?” Believe it or not, some funeral homes quote cremation prices that do not include the actual cost of cremation, which could be an additional $300 or more.
3. Ask, “Are there any refrigeration costs that are not included in that price?” Some states have laws requiring that the cremation not take place immediately. Funeral homes in those states sometimes add steep refrigeration fees to customers’ bills, potentially hundreds of dollars.
If the cremation is done in a few days, I don’t think any fee should be charged for refrigeration. If a customer asks for a delay, say, to wait for out-of-town relatives, it is reasonable to pay a fee, perhaps $100 for a week.
4. Ask, “Is an alternative casket included in that price?” “Alternative casket” is the industry term for a cardboard box that is used instead of a wood casket during cremation. You might be charged an extra $50 to $175 for this box if it’s not included.
5. Ask, “Who owns this funeral home? Is it part of a chain?” Large chains tend to have higher prices, sneakier fees and higher-pressure sales tactics. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with a chain—but lean toward a locally owned funeral home.
6. Return to step 1 if the answers to questions 2 through 4 push your total costs to well over $1,000. Otherwise, agree to work with this funeral home—but decline the following pricey add-ons when they’re offered…
Wood “cremation caskets.” It’s wasteful to pay $1,500 to $2,500 or more for a wood casket just to have it burned. If you’re told that the law requires you to use a wood casket for cremation, this funeral home is lying to you.
Funeral home memorial services and viewings. If you want to keep costs low, hold the memorial service in a home, banquet hall, VFW hall, park or nursing home community room. The deceased’s body won’t be present, but you’ll save thousands of dollars.
Helpful: If having a viewing is important to you, funeral homes offer private family viewing without embalming. If it is offered, the fee should be less than $200. Some funeral homes provide this service at no additional charge.
Funeral home urns. These usually cost $50 to $300. Despite what some funeral homes imply, there is no law that ashes must be taken home in an urn. Most funeral homes initially place ashes in a plastic bag that is inserted into a thick plastic box. This box is all you need if you intend to scatter the ashes. If you want something to display, you probably can find a nice urn or comparable container at a significantly lower price in an antiques store or online.
Helpful: Some families use a container that reminds them of the deceased, such as Mom’s cookie jar or Dad’s tackle box, instead of a traditional urn.
Source: Joshua Slocum, executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), a nonprofit consumer rights organization based in South Burlington, Vermont. The FCA has served as an independent funeral industry watchdog since 1963. Slocum is coauthor of Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death (Upper Access). www.Funerals.org