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Funeral spending: where to begin?

Saving by prearranging

When you think about prearranging your funeral, the benefits that come to mind are probably abstract: peace of mind that your final wishes will be fulfilled, or satisfaction in knowing you’ve made the time of mourning easier for your loved ones. But, there’s another, more tangible benefit: saving money.

Prearranged funerals are often less expensive than those arranged at-need by the deceased’s survivors. First, when you prepay, your funeral may be guaranteed by your chosen provider. This means you are guaranteed the services you purchased at the price you paid, no matter when the funeral occurs. By paying now, you offset the potential for rising costs in the future. Second, prearrangers are able to take their time with the funeral planning process and can make careful considerations about their purchase, including comparing pricing from different providers. Mourners tasked with planning the funeral of a loved one have less time to mull their options. They must plan the funeral in a matter of days while dealing with a recent loss. Often, they are doing so for the first time. In such a brief, distracted period, mourners may fail to compare providers or consider all their options.

Care and forethought, not dollars, make the most significant contributions to a memorable, positive funeral experience, which is why we encourage you to prearrange and prepay for your funeral. If you’re prearranging, the question of how much to spend may not have crossed your mind until now. While each funeral is unique, here are some general guidelines for spending the right amount for your desired service.

What to expect

First, you need to understand the basic elements of a funeral service that affect the cost. The type of service you select – whether a traditional full-service funeral, a direct burial or direct cremation – is the largest determining factor in the cost of your service. A traditional full-service funeral, whether the deceased is buried or cremated, involves the most services from the provider and is thus the most expensive option of these three.

A full-service burial involves the transportation of the remains to the provider’s facility, embalming and other preparations of the remains, use of the funeral home and its staff for a viewing/visitation, use of a hearse with driver, use of a service car or van with driver, printed memorial materials like remembrance pamphlets and a metal casket. The median cost in 2017 for these services was $7,360 according to the National Funeral Directors Association. If a vault is also required by the cemetery, the median cost jumps to $8,508. This figure does not account for other potential costs such as a headstone, cemetery fees, flowers or an obituary.

These median costs don’t mean this is what you should necessarily expect to spend. Keep in mind that a median cost means half of all reported prices for the listed services were above $7,360 and half were below. Costs vary widely by region and city, too. Use these figures as a guidepost and keep in mind that your particular preferences and special needs may result in higher or lower costs.

A full-service cremation with viewing/visitation tends to be slightly less expensive than full-service burial because a metal casket used for burial often costs more than the cremation casket, cremation fee and urn combined. With most of the other services still used, however, the cost of the median full-service cremation with viewing/visitation totals $6,260 according to the NFDA.

Direct burial and cremation each utilize fewer services from the provider. Direct burial involves burial shortly after death, usually in a simple container, with no embalming, no viewing/visitation and no memorial service, with costs incurred only for the funeral home’s basic services fee, transportation of the remains and the purchase of the burial. Direct cremation also skips embalming, the viewing/visitation, a memorial service and the burial container, but keeps the funeral home’s basic services fee and transportation of the remains along with a cremation container and an urn.

As you can tell, the number of funeral service options precludes a simple, universal price for a well-done funeral. The best course is to do thorough research and compare providers to ensure the best value and fit for your preferences