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Saving money is probably one of the last things on your mind when a loved one dies. But when the drama ends and day-to-day life resumes, you will be relieved if the bills are less than expected. Funeral expenses can easily reach $10,000 or more; here are six tips to reduce that figure.
1. Plan ahead. Sometimes you have no warning, but frequently death comes with plenty of notice. And, obviously, everyone will eventually die. Planning your own funeral, and learning about the funeral desires of loved ones, can save thousands. Why? Because if you are forced to make decisions about caskets, burial plots, and services under time constraints and when you’re emotionally spent, you may be more influenced by high-pressure sales tactics.
That being said, think twice about pre-paying for funeral needs. Pre-paid funerals are popular, but you need to evaluate them as you would any investment — are you saving more money with the pre-paid plan than you could earn if you invested that money elsewhere? And there can be complications: What if you buy a plan in New York but move to Florida? Or what if you change your mind and want to use a different funeral home?
2. Buy the casket somewhere other than the funeral home. Funeral homes generally charge much more for caskets than other vendors. Funeral home operators prefer you buy their casket, naturally, but laws now prevent them from forcing you to buy their caskets or charging you a “handling” fee if the casket was bought elsewhere. Order a casket directly from a casket maker, an online retailer, or a brick-and-mortar store such as Sam’s Club and you can save hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.
3. Buy a modest casket, or even rent one. Yes, you want your loved one to lie in a beautiful casket at the funeral, but it will never be seen again. If you’re shopping at the funeral home and don’t see something in your price range on the floor, ask the manager if they have something less expensive. They may not display the lower-end caskets, but do have them available.
Fancy wood is generally the most expensive material, followed by metal. Cardboard, though it sounds like a bizarre casket material, is used today to make entirely adequate caskets, and they cost much less than wood or metal caskets. Regardless of the material, skip the totally unneeded features such as special gaskets or seals — your loved one’s body is going to decompose no matter how well the casket is sealed, so those are a complete waste of money.
Finally, consider renting a casket — many funeral homes offer this option; an elaborate rental casket is used for the showing, but a much more modest container is used for the burial or cremation.
4. Consider a home funeral. Except in a few states (check your state laws), home funerals are legal, and no state requires embalming. A home funeral can save many of the expenses of a traditional funeral. However, many people opt for a home funeral for reasons other than money: they prefer to dignity of caring for a deceased loved one at home.
Preparing the body and your home for the funeral can be an important step in the grieving process. If you want to conduct a home funeral but feel unable to deal with every step, you can ask a mortician to handle part of the arrangements, such as transporting the body or arranging the cremation or burial.
5. Buy the monument direct. The funeral director will gladly offer to sell you a headstone when you plan the funeral but, as with the casket, you can easily handle this purchase on your own and save lots of money. Headstones range in cost from a couple of hundred dollars for a flat stone to many thousands for an elaborate standing stone.
Before you buy, check with the cemetery — some only allow flat stones to make maintenance easier. Once you know what you can buy, shop around. Competition lowers prices in all commerce, including the gravestone industry. Finally, if your loved one is an eligible veteran, the Department of Veterans Affairs will provide a free headstone (eligibility rules are slightly complicated, see details here).
6. Shop around for a plot. Buying a burial plot is like buying real estate — location and timing are key. Unless the deceased told you she wanted to be buried in a particular place, visit various cemeteries and see what’s available. And don’t overlook the secondary market — sometimes people move and decide to sell plots they bought early; these can be a good deal.
Check with the cemetery about other burial expenses, such as labor costs for preparing the grave, and see if you can save on those expenses by holding the burial on a particular day of the week. Naturally cremation saves on burial costs, because dispersing ashes requires no labor.
When you’re distraught over the passing of a loved one, saving money is likely to be far from your mind. But there’s no sense in compounding the stress of this painful time by piling up bills that strain your finances.
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