Www
You don't have to buy a fancy, expensive casket from the funeral home. Source: Jonelle B., Flickr.

As if enduring the funeral of a loved one isn't unpleasant enough, there's also the unpleasantness of paying for it. Average funeral costs are substantial -- fortunately, though, there are ways to reduce your total bill.

Before going into ways to save on funeral costs, let's review just what the costs are, on average. Below are the most recent figures available from the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA):

Median 2012 Cost

Item

$1,975

Non-declinable basic services fee

$285

Removal/transfer of remains to funeral home

$695

Embalming

$225

Other preparation of the body

$400

Use of facilities/staff for viewing

$495

Use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony

$295

Use of a hearse

$130

Use of a service car/van

$150

Basic memorial printed package

$2,395

Metal casket

$7,045

Median cost of a funeral

$1,298

Vault (typically required by cemetery)

$8,343

Median cost of a funeral with vault

If you're not sufficiently sobered by the numbers above, know that you'll likely face other costs, too, such as cemetery, monument, or marker costs; crematory fees (if cremation is selected); flowers; and obituaries. Gravestones cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, with the average price between about $1,500 and $2,000. A plot in a cemetery will typically cost between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars, depending on where it is, and the cemetery will charge up to about $1,000 to open and close the plot. An obituary in your local newspaper may well cost several hundred dollars, and sometimes more than $1,000, depending on what you want to include.

Images

Itemized prices from funeral homes can help you compare apples to apples. Source: Mike Mozart, Flickr.

Shop around
Note that the cost of any funeral you pay for or help pay for may be significantly higher or lower simply because of where you live. Some parts of the country sport steep funeral costs, while others are relatively low, and prices can vary significantly between and within neighborhoods, too. You can compare some prices near you at FuneralHomeIndex.com, and also by calling a handful of funeral homes and asking about prices for exactly the products and services you want.

Comparison-shopping is made easier by the "Funeral Rule" of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It requires funeral homes to itemize the prices they quote you so that you can compare apples to apples when checking out various providers. It also lets you select just the products and services you want from any provider, instead of being required to pay for a bundled package.

Images

You can save a lot by choosing a simple grave marker. Source: Guy Fisher, Flickr.

Lower those funeral costs
How else can you lower the price you pay for a funeral? There are lots of ways. Here are some to consider:

  • Skip the embalming. You're likely to be charged $600 or much more for embalming services, but know that embalming is generally not required. It may be needed if you want a viewing of the body, but even then, if the viewing is held soon after death, a funeral home may agree to not embalm. If you opt for a direct burial or cremation, embalming is not needed.

  • Look beyond the caskets that your selected funeral home will want to sell you. These days, you can buy a casket from a wide variety of vendors, and the Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to accept and use that casket without charging you any fees. With the median casket price well above $2,000, know that Costco offers several models for less than $1,000, and you can find even cheaper ones online.

  • Rein in the flowers. Flowers are pretty, but their cost can add up. Think twice before OKing the standard suggested flower arrangements. You may be served perfectly well by half as much, or by simpler offerings. You might even skip flowers entirely, knowing that some loved ones may send flowers. You can decorate the service space with photos of the deceased instead.

  • Skip the sealing. You may be offered the chance to pay for sealing a casket or buying a gasket for it, to "protect" the body from the elements. This often costs hundreds of dollars and doesn't accomplish much, since a body is going to decompose regardless.

  • Consider cremation. It's been growing in popularity in recent decades and is on track to become more widespread in America than traditional burials within a decade or so. Cremation costs can be as low as about $1,000, though many times you'll want to add on some products or services that can hike the price.

  • Hold the service at home. You can save a chunk of change by not using a funeral home's premises for a memorial service. Instead, you might hold a service at someone's home, or another meaningful or inexpensive spot.

  • Donate the body. For ultimate savings, consider donating the body to science, if possible. Such arrangements with medical schools often include a free cremation.

Be prepared
One good way to avoid being unprepared and blindsided by funeral costs is to prepare for them. After all, all of us will eventually die, and someone will foot the bill for our send-off -- that's not news. Thus, if funeral expenses that you are eventually likely to bear will represent a financial hardship, prepare by building up a dedicated fund to pay for them. You might set up a separate savings account at a bank, for example.

Making "pre-need" arrangements or buying "pre-need" insurance might also appeal to you, but read up on such offerings, as they can carry some risks, such as non-transferability.

Finally, it's a great idea to have occasional family discussions about final wishes, so that everyone knows what everyone would prefer. That can help you avoid spending a lot on a fancy casket when the deceased would have been fine with a simple pine box or cremation. Save yourself some stress, and possibly some dollars, by discussing funeral preferences -- including your own -- with family members.

Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns shares of Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool recommends Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool owns shares of Costco Wholesale. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.