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Creative, Affordable Alternatives to Traditional Funerals

Practical tips for planning a meaningful yet affordable funeral or memorial service, including DIY ideas and how a funeral professional can assist you in making informed choices.

With the median price of a funeral with burial, visitation, and ceremony at over $8,000 in the U.S., it is unsurprising that some families look for ways to save money. Surveys show that many Americans couldn’t cover a $1,000 emergency. But there are many ways you can save money on a funeral, depending on your choices and what’s important to you.

Funeral arrangements have two parts. The first is choosing a “disposition” for your loved one, i.e., an option for their final resting place and whether they want to be buried, cremated, or something else like body donation. The second is planning a gathering, funeral, memorial, scattering, party, wake, celebration of life, or other choice. 

When discussing funeral costs, we usually refer to the costs for the ceremony with friends and family and the care of the deceased's body. There are various options available to manage these expenses. This article will focus on some ideas for keeping your funeral or memorial event costs down while still honoring your loved one. 

DIY Memorial Ideas and Creative Funeral Alternatives

You do not need a formal funeral (i.e., a service with a body or remains present) to create your own meaningful event, whether it is a celebration of life, another type of memorial, a scattering, or even a party or wake. Megan Sheldon, co-founder of Be Ceremonial, shared these three ideas for creating a ritual within your ceremony to honor your loved one that won’t break the bank.

1. The Path of Remembrance: A Celebration Walk

Create a physical pathway full of photos or mementos that honor the life you're celebrating and the stories you remember. Invite people to walk that path at the beginning or end of the ceremony.

2. Expressing Memories: The One-Word Tribute

Invite everyone to choose one word that captures something about the person being remembered and find a creative way to showcase all of those words visually. You can read all the words during the ceremony or turn them into a keepsake for the family.

3. Honoring Legacy: Creating a Memory Jar

Ask people to write down something they learned from the person who died and add it to a glass jar. Whenever you miss your person, you can open the jar and pull a piece of paper to connect with their life and legacy.

You can find more ideas on the Be Cermonial blog or their app.

Creative Places: Choosing Non-traditional Funeral Locations

In the past, funerals were held primarily at funeral homes or houses of worship.

However, in a recent survey, the National Funeral Directors Association found that more than half of the respondents had attended a funeral at a nontraditional location like a cemetery, outdoor setting, personal residence, or public setting.

Another factor is the majority of “religious nones.” A Pew study found that 28 percent of Americans say their religion is “nothing in particular.” Combine that with the increase in the popularity of cremation and the more mobile society we live in, and you have rapidly changing traditions.

There’s a nearly endless array of alternative locations. Here are a few cost-saving funeral ideas:

1. Nature's Embrace: Parks and Outdoor Venues

Consider meaningful sites at state, local, national, or private parks. Some parks may let you get a permit to have a private area reserved.

2. A Homage to Passions: Golf Courses and Clubs

These facilities often have excellent outdoor grounds for gatherings and may also have private rooms to rent. If your loved one was a sports enthusiast or a member of a particular organization, this may be a natural choice.

3. Intimate Gatherings: Homes, Restaurants, and Ballrooms

As long as the chosen space accommodates your guest count, you have the flexibility to rent a restaurant space, a local hotel's ballroom, or even host your service and subsequent reception in someone’s home. The gathering can be intimate, inviting attendees to share stories in the loved one’s living room, surrounded by objects that recall their life. Or maybe they loved gardening, and gathering in their yard (in good weather) might have been a lovely way to celebrate them.

Many Hands Make Light Work

Another easy way to save money on a funeral or memorial and any reception to follow is to ask for help from other friends and family. By including others, you will save money and give others the opportunity to feel a part of the event. A good friend or close family member can help with the logistics like finding a funeral home, writing an obituary, contacting a caterer, and notifying others.

Organize a Potluck Reception

Catering costs add up, so families planning an affordable funeral go for a potluck reception. Friends and family can bring a favorite dish or a dish that was a favorite of the person who died. Food is often an important part of our rituals around grief and can nourish both the stomach and the soul.

DIY Flower Power

Instead of spending money with a florist, ask each person attending to bring flowers. Seeing all the different kinds come together will itself be a beautiful ritual. Having the group contribute is another way to empower them to be part of the celebration.

Use Their Talents

Have a friend or relative who is an amateur photographer? Ask them to take photos. Is someone the family singer? Ask them to sing a song. Is there someone who is a great public speaker? If you don’t have a religious leader or a hired officiant, choose another “emcee” to help guide your event. Maybe someone has strong computer skills. They might be the perfect person to help put together a photo slideshow.

Whether you choose a traditional funeral or a DIY memorial, we hope these tips will help you save a little money and reduce your stress so you can focus on being with family and friends and remembering your loved one. Remembering them with sincerity, creativity, and love is priceless, and a memorial service helps with grieving. No matter your budget, we hope this is a time to reflect and find comfort in their memory. 

If you're looking for support in finding the perfect location or need advice on planning a service that honors your loved one without undue financial strain, connect with a funeral professional today. Their knowledge and compassion can help you create a fitting tribute that cherishes memory and facilitates healing.